Local Goal Getter: Anouk Viegen from CNME

As part of our Local Goal Getters campaign, SDG House Maastricht highlights local heroes that contribute to one or more of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals. The first Local Goal Getter who we have invited to share her passion with us is Anouk Viegen. Anouk is the director at the Center for Nature and Environmental Education (CNME) in Maastricht since a year and a half and fulfills this position with pleasure.

How did you start doing what you do? 

I started to work at the CNME because of my own midlife crisis. I had worked for nineteen years at the local Rabobank. I started thinking about my future career, about what I wanted to do. Sustainability and diversity are themes that drove this. Then, there was a vacancy at CNME for a director with a green heart and a business approach. I thought, this is my chance! 

What drives you?

What drives me is that I believe in a better collaboration between business people, the government and green organisations. We should bring these three parties together in order to move towards a sustainable world. 

Besides this, I had never thought about the possibility to make nature your job. Nature was always something private. As a child, I would go on walks with my granddad, he would point out flowers with his cane and I would have to name them. Experiences like that stay with you. And to be able now to have a position where I can contribute to nature and education is a real gift. 

Please tell us more about CNME! 

CNME is divided into three sectors. 

The first one is education. It consists from the vegetable garden at schools to the lessons about air pollution, plastic waste, energy, but also about the Sustainable Development Goals. The purpose of this is to involve children in their own world and to give them a perspective on what they can do. Of course, the education is also for citizens. On a municipal basis, we provide information to the public, for example through our nature gardens where educational activities take place. Or through our coaches who provide information to citizens at home about an energy-efficient home. 

The second sector, participation, means that together with the citizens, we are making the city more green. For example, if people feel the need for a small garden or a nature play area in the park, the consultant of CNME will, together with the citizens, examine what’s possible. 

The last thing we do is ecological management. The municipality manages the green places, so basically they weed all parks. But places where you find trees, plants and animals are managed by CNME. For example, the mowing process requires a different approach. An example of our ecological management is the Hoge Fronten. The wall lizard lives there, which means we make sure that access to the area is restricted in certain seasons.

What SDGs are you working towards? How are you doing that?

We are working on SDG#4 Quality Education. That is to say, we are making education more sustainable. We are working to make schools more sustainable, from board and management to the building, and from the curriculum to teachers. 

We are also working on SDG#7 Affordable and Clean Energy. We do this through our energy coaches who provide information and advice.

We are making the city more green, mainly through social cohesion. For example, we do this with our nature gardens where twenty-five to thirty volunteers help out. This contributes to a Sustainable City and Community, SDG#11. 

The SDG#12 Responsible Consumption and Production is also applicable to CNME because we co-designed Jong Leren Eten. With this project, children will plant greenery and through this, will be made aware of where food comes from – if it is produced in a fair way, for example. 

We also participate in SDG#13, Climate Action. But I must add that we are not activists. For example we do not participate in a climate march on behalf of CNME. We try to not point fingers, but rather to give tips when you want to eat differently. We help you on your way, but we don’t judge. CNME tries to connect people with nature, in a gentle way.

SDG

What are the biggest challenges you encounter?

I think the biggest challenge is that our entire system is actually incorrect. The whole economic system is based on more, more, more. Everything must yield money or, if you have money, it needs to be multiplied. The whole system should be focused on the well-being of humans. But that is such a big change, it is the biggest challenge for me. 

For #PickItUp from CNME, we have hundreds of people who clean up waste in and around Maastricht. I am very proud and very happy with it. Nevertheless, it is a drop in the ocean if we continue to consume, continue to produce plastic. I think it is a genius proposal to produce products with a lifetime warranty. If we oblige all producers to make such products, they will automatically produce products that are less likely to malfunction. At the moment, we have a system in which every producer makes his product in such a way that it breaks after five years so that we have to buy a new product. That’s what I mean by system change. There should be more ideas like that! 

How do you deal with these challenges from CNME? 

CNME is a small player in this. We try to give people tips, so we would clean up with them and then say: “hey, do you realise that…”. We mainly contribute by telling the story. 

What is something everyone could do in their daily routine to inspire change?

Actually something very simple: go hiking, but with respect for nature. I really like what is happening now during Covid-19, the reevaluation of the green environment. I think if you start to see how beautiful that can be, you will do other stuff too. You will no longer throw away plastic in nature. So, go for a walk and see the beauty around you!

If you were granted one wish, what would it be?

My wish is that we transfer everything with love and respect to future generations. People are busy with the here and now and very much with themselves. I would like everyone to be concerned about what we are going to give to future generations. When everyone feels like that just a little bit, it will be fine.

In the context of International Women’s Day: what is your view on the female contribution to sustainability?

My answer is diversity. I don’t necessarily want to argue about men or women, but I believe in the power of diversity. You have to have different talents so that you can achieve things together. I do think that female leadership gives an impulse in a world dominated by men. Not necessarily because they are women, but because they are different people. 

Look at nature, which thrives because of biodiversity, because everyone is different and everyone has their part in the whole. In that sense it would be great if we started to appreciate each other’s qualities, whether you are male or female, or of whatever origin.

Which local hero do you find inspiring and why?

My hero is Anouk Willems. She is director of the IKC de Geluksvogel, which is an eco-school. Anouk is truly an example of being a director that adopts a philosophy and implements it completely.