Towards a Sustainable Europe


The European Union aims to create a sustainable Europe by 2030 through its European Green Deal: Europe’s new agenda for sustainable growth. This transition to a low-carbon, climate-neutral, resource-efficient, and biodiverse economy should bring benefits for all. But to achieve Green Deal objectives and align with the United Nations 2030 Agenda with its 17 Sustainable Development Goals will require radical transformation of many aspects of society – and time is short. Fortunately, COST is on the case.


Plants are essential parts of our ecosystem, but we often know surprisingly little about the rarest and most threatened species, and even less about their conservation status. Climate change and rural development can bring about rapid change in habitats that cause accelerated decline in species, COST Action Conserveplants (CA18201 – An integrated approach to conservation of threatened plants for the 21st Century) is working to improve plant conservation in Europe by establishing a network of scientists and other stakeholders including plant taxonomists, ecologists, conservationists, biologists and social scientists.

Portrait photo of a women with her arms folded wearing a black vest standing outside infront of a large green and pink plant
Dr Živa Fišer – Chair of COST Action Conserveplants

The network is taking a broad view on conservation with a focus on herbacous flowering plants in Europe,” explains Action Chair Dr Živa Fišer from the University of Primorska in Slovenia. “Our aim is to increase our knowledge on threatened plants from many different aspects such as their pollinators, how their seeds germinate and their specific biology. The biology of some common species of plant is still not well understood so we need to identify the critical factors, which push certain plants to the brink of extinction.” The Action is working to harmonise conservation protocols across Europe and to update the methodologies that different authorities use to define their ‘red lists’ – the species most at danger. “This is an area of great divergence across Europe,” says Dr Fišer. “Some areas have very old lists and some do not have lists at all. We will hold an in-person Training School in Montenegro in March 2022 to teach participants how to apply the plant categories with a focus on countries without a current red list. The school is already oversubscribed.”


The transition to zero-carbon energy sources is an essential element to achieve a sustainable Europe. Wind and solar power have made major advances and are widely implemented across Europe. However, the potential of other energy resources such as wave energy is yet to be tapped. COST Action WECANet (CA17105 – A pan-European Network for Marine Renewable Energy) aims to promote the large-scale deployment of Wave Energy Converters (WECs).

“For the large-scale deployment of marine renewable energy technologies, an interdisciplinary approach is necessary,” says Dr Vicky Stratigaki of Ghent University in Belgium who is Chair of the Action. “The Action pools together diverse sources of expertise cross-cutting the environmental, social and economic dimensions of marine energy projects.” A major issue is to increase confidence of potential investors by reducing (non-)technological risks and related uncertainties. Significant bottlenecks need to be addressed such as installation practices and procedures. “The development of arrays is a key factor to achieve an optimal installation size that is attractive to the energy sector,” Dr Stratigaki continues. “Research needs to re-focus on techno-economic perspectives, which considers the full life-cycle costs of the technology.” During 2021 WECANet has been moving ahead with around 30 STSMs and a Round-Robin testing campaign was completed. “Different laboratories from across the WECANet network tested the same WEC device to assess experimental reproducibility,” explains Dr Stratigaki. This will develop a reliable database for validating advanced numerical models.


Humans have been making, manipulating and discarding textiles for millennia: what can we learn from past practice to inform a future sustainable textiles industry? That is the essential question for COST Action EuroWeb (CA19131 – Europe Through Textiles: Network for an integrated and interdisciplinary Humanities). The Action brings together scholars from across the human sciences including fashion, art and design to identify expertise across time in sustainable textile practices. Dr Agata Ulanowska from Warsaw University is chairing the Action. “Textiles act like a prism to explore and understand economic, social and cultural competences of societies in the past. Innovation in textile production has been central to many industrial revolutions that have profoundly changed society,” she explains.

The Action follows multiple aspects such as the use and reuse of textiles in various contexts, raw material use, historical technological and organisational innovations, and the symbolic relevance of textiles. “Past textile production used a range of fibres,” says Dr Ulanowska. “Such as nettles and tree bark using methods that may not have harmed the tree. These strategies we need to consider now.” A major finding of the work is the role of recycling and reuse. “In the past textiles were used and reused constantly – literally until the material itself disintegrated,” says Dr Ulanowska. “’No waste’ was the watchword.”


Food packaging plays multiple roles: it must protect the food, communicate to customers, and ensure high food quality, safety and optimal shelf life.

COST Action CIRCUL-A-BILITY (CA19124 – Rethinking packaging for circular and sustainable food supply chains) is going beyond the state of the art to address the major technical and non-technical barriers to implementing sustainable food packaging solutions for future circular food supply chains. “The network is truly focused on the full food chain,” says Action Chair Professor Milena Corredig of Aarhus University. “Our members have lots of expertise on materials, including new biobased materials, but we also need to understand the barriers to implementation and the impact from a consumer point of view. One of the big issues is post-consumer waste and how to ensure that circularity has a fair and equitable socio-economic basis.” The Action acts as a hub to tackle the many technical issues, such as new methodologies to measure microplastics in the environment and the recycled content of packaging, through international and multidisciplinary teams. The real impact, however, is its ability to provide a European-wide status-quo of food packaging and suggest and develop best practices for future circular packaging solutions. “Future circularity will require a holistic, multi-disciplinary approach and CIRCUL-A-BILITY provides the springboard for its implementation,” states Dr Philip Scholten Science Communication Officer for the Action.

“Future circularity will require a holistic, multidisciplinary approach.”

Dr Philip Scholten, Bloom
Biorenewables, Belgium


At the end of the day sustainability must be about people. And the road to sustainable societies must be inclusive: leaving no one behind. COST’s youth network – COST Action RNYN (CA18213 – Rural NEET Youth Network: Modelling the risks underlying rural NEETs social exclusion) – is looking at the factors that affect young, rural NEETs (Not in Employment, Education or Training) and how their inclusion can contribute to sustainable development in Europe’s rural regions.

Dr Francisco Simões, Chair of COST Action RNYN

Mobility is one issue and in 2021 Action members contributed to a special edition of Sustainability ‘Lessons on Building More Sustainable Rural Societies: Youth and Mobility’ that looked at how different interventions help to increase NEETs inclusion and therefore the sustainability of rural communities. Sustainable farming is a key element of the Green Deal for Europe.

“Our contribution is to help turn policy into practise; to combine societal development with the Green Deal,” concludes Dr Simões. “For this reason, the Action created a new Working Group on the issue of Rural NEETs and sustainability in October 2021.”