Driving up the hill towards Rabat it’s easy to spot the aqueducts dotted around the green fields – an ancient reminder of Malta’s ever present need to collect previous rain water. On the hill itself, lies a much more modern building, the Ghajn National Water Conservation Centre.
Inside, 29 people are training to become sustainability ambassadors. They’re among the 500 people taking part in one of the one-day programmes organised by the Malta CSR Institute, funded by HSBC Malta, which are running until the end of the year.
The training programmes are specifically aimed at businesses, with the idea being that by educating even one member of staff, they can make environmental changes in the workplace.
Dr Alexandra Mifsud from the Centre for Environmental Education and Research (CEER) at the University of Malta, is giving the first talk of the day. She uses a brilliantly simple analogy of a football, to explain how producing something so small can have a huge carbon footprint. That’s because the ball is passed around between three countries to be stitched, painted and packaged before reaching its goal.
It’s estimated that each person living on the Maltese islands uses around 135 lts of water a day. But businesses use a lot more. Dr Mifsud says one industry is worse than most.
“Our main concern is construction,” she tells me. “While the sector is thriving and that’s a good thing, it’s subject to a lot of controversy. So, we’re trying to talk to people about bridging that gap. While the industry creates a lot of jobs, activities like making concrete are very bad for the environment.”
“I think Malta has gone too far when it comes to climate change, but it’s not on its own. Governments around the world have been warned they have 10 to 15 years to pull it together. If not, we’ve reached the point of no return. While Malta is working towards EU targets, it’s still failing quite miserably. We need to adhere to the goal of not allowing the Earth’s temperatures to increase by any more than 1.5 degrees. While there are educational programmes going on in Malta and policies have been made by Government, it’s the implementation that’s the problem and is where culturally we’ve always fallen down. Maltese like to bend the rules.”
Those attending the latest session were from a variety of business sectors across Malta.
Gaby Vella is a training co-ordinator with the Malta-based NGO Right to Smile. She works with a small team of staff and volunteers who help communities in Kenya, Cambodia and India.
“I wanted to do this sustainability course as it focuses on water and I thought it might give me some ideas on how to implement training for our volunteers abroad. While the focus is to help people living in ‘poorer’ communities in developing countries, we’ve found that we also get information about what we should be doing in Malta. These people already have a water crisis and have had so for quite a long time. While we don’t have the same level of problems in the Mediterranean right now, because we have a higher standard of living here, we could eventually be on the same path if we don’t change things.”
Another attendee is 27-year-old Denise Mizzi. The secondary school geography teacher is already a successful environmental campaigner, after winning two national awards for water conservation with her students.
“We got €2,500 the first year and €2,000 the second year to invest in water conservation at school. With this money I bought reusable bottles for everyone. In the staffroom we’ve moved away from plastic cutlery and bring our own instead. I find the best way to teach my students is to involve them, so we get them to help with the compost and recycling bins when we can.”
As well as taking part on the day, the soon-to-be ambassadors were asked to make a pledge about what habits they would try and change.
Greek native Menelaos Martharis has lived in Malta for five years and works as a chef in Ramla Bay Hotel. “We don’t really talk about sustainability in Greece, but it’s something we have in the catering business. We try and not waste food, recycle and conserve water. I’ve made a pledge today to stop letting the tap run when I brush my teeth and shave, and turn off lights as much as a I can”
While the mood in the room is upbeat and energised, it’s hard not to be sceptical that once everyone goes home, they’ll return to their old habits, something that also concerns Dr Mifsud. “I work a lot on behaviour changes and as part of this programme we ask people on the day to write down a short, medium and long-term action plan. I’m hoping to contact them in six months and ask them if they have implemented their promises. People have made pledges here today to change, but if they don’t have the backing of their company for this it can be frustrating for them and they give up.”
But the Manager of HSBC’s Corporate Sustainability Department has a plan. Glenn Bugeja believes setting a follow up meeting is key to getting companies in Malta to commit to their environmental promises. “In June we’re planning to host a business breakfast with the CEOs who sent their employees to our training day. Many of the people who are here today are not the decision makers and need the backing of their bosses. So, by speaking directly to the leaders, we think this will help address what needs to be done in their companies.”