IMAGE: Steffen Zimmermann

Lisbon European Green Capital 2020

December 28, 2020

Lisbon is one of the oldest cities in the world, founded around 3,000 years ago. This ‘capital of the seven hills’, which sits at the mouth of the River Tagus, has been under the sway of Phoenicians, Romans, Visigoths, Suevi, Moors and Christians in its time, and they have all left their mark on the city.


Today, Lisbon is home to 2.8 million people. While these citizens aren’t as racially and culturally diverse as those of many cites—only around 10% aren’t Portugal natives—the city’s history and location ensure a multicultural atmosphere.


The city’s continued commitment to sustainability made it a worthy winner of this year’s European Green Capital Award. The awarding committee felt that Lisbon, which started its sustainability journey during an economic crisis, could be an inspiring role model for other cities across the EU, “demonstrating clearly that sustainability and economic growth go hand in hand.”


Receiving this accolade in 2020, a year dominated by the Covid-19 pandemic, wasn’t ideal for Lisbon, hindering its attempts to maintain its green momentum. However, the city has tried to forge ahead with new sustainability initiatives and its ‘CHOOSE TO EVOLVE: 2030 measures for 2030’ campaign, which challenges everyone to adopt a new urban model: one that can cope with and mitigate climate change, encourage economic and social prosperity, and provide “opportunities for all, leaving no citizen behind.”




IMAGE: Lisbon Municipality

Lisbon’s Climate Commitment


Lisbon achieved a 28% reduction in energy consumption between 2012 and 2017 and surpassed its 2030 target of 40% carbon emissions reduction in 2016! So, its ambitious new target is now a 60% reduction of CO2 emissions by 2030—and carbon neutrality by 2050.


Lisbon was the first capital in Europe to sign the New Covenant of Mayors for Climate and Energy in 2016 and developed its local Sustainable Energy and Climate Action Plan (SECAP) for participation in the Covenant. This formalised initiatives already underway, such as its Green Corridor Strategy, and helped it develop new ones. Lisbon’s 2018 SECAP is the main policy tool for the climate action underway today.


The City is also a member of other sustainability organisations, including:


  • C40: 97 major cities worldwide sharing knowledge on sustainability and taking ‘bold climate action’
  • ICLEI (Local Governments for Sustainability): over 1,750 local and regional governments worldwide committed to sustainable urban development
  • Eurocities: 190 cities working together to eliminate carbon emissions down to zero, govern through dialogue with residents, and become more healthy, prosperous and inclusive places.


Citizen participation is an integral part of the decision-making and implementation of initiatives in Lisbon. The city’s annual Participative Budget allows residents to propose and vote on specific projects. This year the Budget doubled to €5m and turned entirely ‘green’, challenging citizens to back urban sustainability projects. The City also opened an official ‘store’ in the city centre to host talks and debates about the environment, sustainability, and climate change throughout the year.




IMAGE: Lisbon Municipality

Green Initiatives


Lisbon’s ‘2030 measures for 2030’ include eliminating the use of single-use plastics, installing solar energy equipment and providing employees with sustainable mobility solutions. 200 institutions and businesses and public bodies committed to concrete actions they would take to implement their chosen measures.


Urban planning and green spaces


Since 2008, Lisbon has seen a 16% increase in new and renewed green space and intends to achieve 20% by 2021. Urban planning and re-zoning of ecologically sensitive areas to curtail construction laid the groundwork for its Green Corridor Strategy, designed to preserve and increase permeable areas and rehabilitate underground waterways. Now, 85% of people live within 300 metres of green urban spaces, and ongoing projects will increase this to 93%. Over 80,000 trees have been planted since 2017, with 20,000 more due to be planted by 2021.


Residents are keen to contribute too. In the north of the city is the Garden of the Marias. Five neighbours, all with the surname Maria, have turned an abandoned, garbage-filled plot into a wonderful community garden with ponds, statues and flowerbeds. Pond water is used to water the plants, tyres are used as plant pots, and plant bartering thrives in the community.


Head south and you’ll find Lisbon’s ‘Green Street’, Rue de Silva. Here, Armando Sousa, Tânia Gil and restaurant-owner João Dias set out to line their part of the street with plants and put a vase in every neighbour’s doorway. This grew into a community project, and today Green Street attracts tourists keen to take a picture. However, the project’s founders are keen to make the street greener in other ways, encouraging businesses and residents to adopt greener habits—finding plastic substitutes, for example.



IMAGE: Lisbon Municipality

Cleaner Water and Less Waste


Since 2008, Lisbon has been cleaning up the Tagus Estuary with the help of substantial investment from EU Cohesion and Structural Funds. The resulting increase in biodiversity saw dolphins return after a 50-year absence. Currently, 2% of Lisbon’s treated wastewater is reused for the treatment process and street cleaning, but plans are underway to use it for the irrigation Parque Tejo, too, saving 400,000 cubic metres of fresh water per year.


On Avenida da Liberdade, the first of two hundred city water fountains has been installed, allowing residents to fill reusable bottles.




IMAGE: Lisbon Municipality

Mitigating and Preparing for Climate Change


Lisbon’s green corridors and tree-planting don’t just increase green spaces and biodiversity. They also mitigate pollution and climate change effects, and provide land for urban farming. There are now 700 organic allotment gardens using collected rainwater and compost organic waste, with 300 more planned by 2021. Natural drainage solutions to prevent or reduce damage from flash floods have been implemented or planned, and nine rainwater retention stations now provide natural rainwater collection and storage.


Entrepreneurship and Innovation: Smart Lisbon


Lisbon emerged from its economic crisis partly by inspiring innovation and entrepreneurship, and it’s now recognised as a leader in these areas. Named as a European Entrepreneurship Region in 2015, it also leads the Sharing Cities Horizon 2020 Smart Cities & Communities project.


Lisbon focuses on smart systems, integrating traditional services with digital technologies to increase inclusivity, sustainability, efficiency and connectivity. Its projects include:


  • The Integrated Operational Centre, coordinating several security, safety and emergency response services
  • The Intelligent Management Platform, a winner in the Smart 50 Awards’ Digital Transformation category, gathering and processing large data sets from cameras, sensors, social media and municipal information systems
  • The Urban Data Lab, a collaboration between academia and municipal services, which develops prediction and response processes and algorithms
  • The Data Workshop, supporting municipal services with digital integration and transformation
  • The Open Data Portal, which can be accessed, used, and shared for free
  • Real-time monitoring of environmental and weather data and its impact, to inform climate change reduction and environmental strategies
  • The new ‘Lisboa 24’ app, allowing access to real-time information such as the availability of car parks, traffic conditions and even details about the city’s trees.


The Lisbon Municipal Authority and Lisbon Tourism Board also play a role in ‘StartUp Portugal’, a national think tank linking government, entrepreneurs and incubators. Other initiatives include Made of Lisboa, a community of Lisbon-based innovators who network and share collaborative workspaces, and StartUp Lisboa, a private non-profit association supporting company creation and new businesses.



IMAGE: Lisbon Municipality

Sustainable mobility


One of the biggest milestones in Lisbon’s journey to sustainable mobility came in 2017, when the City took over local bus and tram services. It improved the bus service, reopened a historic tram line and opened new ones, and unified the ticket system. In April 2019, the City cut tariffs by 32% and introduced the €1/day ticket, which has significantly increased public transport use.


In the same year, it also established a bike-sharing scheme in which, with the city’s hills in mind, two-thirds of the bikes were electric! A scheme to construct 200 km of cycleways and bridges is now underway, due for completion by 2021, and thousands of bicycle parking spaces are being created at transport hubs, underground car parks and public institutions. There are financial incentives for residents to buy bikes, electric bikes or cargo bikes from local shops too, and the City has run a pilot project to loan out cargo bicycles as part of the European City Changer Cargo Bike project. Wider sidewalks and more rest areas are also being created. These measures have already seen walking and cycling increase from 18% of all travel in 2011 to 32% in 2018.


Lisbon is a leader in EV infrastructure, with one of the largest city networks of EV charging stations and a municipal light-duty car fleet that’s 91% electric. One of Lisbon’s bus routes is already served by electric buses, and another by biofuel buses. The city is investing in a new fleet of electric and natural gas buses while considering increasing its use of biofuel, made from collected waste cooking oil, too.





Renewable Energy


Lisbon is one of the sunniest capitals in Europe but has been slow to take advantage of this with widespread adoption of solar energy. However, change is coming. In 2018, 60 photovoltaic solar panels were installed on the roof the City Hall as part of a green modernisation, producing up to 15 kWp of energy. Lisbon plans to cover 27% of the roofs with the best solar potential with solar panels, providing 100 MW. A new hydrogen power station is also planned, as is ‘Shore-to-ship’ electricity for cruise ships, eliminating their need to use diesel when they’re moored in the capital.


Circular Economy


The City and Valorsul created Lisboa a Compostar, providing composters to homes with room for one in their garden. A community composting scheme may follow for those without room for a personal composter. In the private sector, The Equal Food Co. is a small startup that works with products and companies to ensure overly ripe or ‘ugly’ produce that would be wasted is directed to new markets where it will be used. This project was a winner of the Santa Casa Challenge, which asked, “How can we promote knowledge, actions and responses of communities to climate change?” Since it began, it’s saved around six million tonnes of fruit and vegetables from the waste bin.

IMAGE: Lisbon Municipality

Ecotourism in Lisbon


Your Sustainable Stay



Alongside the many waste, water and energy-saving measures it employs, the hotel’s involvement with the community is particularly outstanding. Its monthly initiatives include collection and donation campaigns, and social and environmental volunteering. Its restaurant prides itself on regional produce, working as closely to a ‘zero-kilometre’ policy as possible, and offers plenty of gluten-free options. It also filters and bottles its own water, serving it to your table in special recycling bottles that support the NGO PumpAid Water for Life programme, which gives rural communities in Malawi access to safe and reliable drinking water.


However, it’s far from the only sustainable hotel in Lisbon, with many hotels here holding a sustainability certification. Both the Sheraton Lisboa Hotel & Spa and the Neyo Lisboa hold a Green Key certification, while the Memmo Alfama participates in the EarthCheck programme.


Alternatively, head to the Eco Hostel in Estrela, which offers dormitory spaces and a few private rooms. The guiding principle here is a circular economy. You’ll find upcycled furniture, a social and sustainable shop, an art gallery for disabled artists and a vertical garden. Sustainable, local procurement is integral to the running of the hostel. Plastic is kept to an absolute minimum and guests can fill their own bottles from juice and water containers.



IMAGE: Lisbon Municipality

Culture and Cuisine


Visit Lisbon in June and you can enjoy its Festival, dancing with its citizens in the streets of the old town into a huge dance venue. But any month or day is an occasion to listen to Fado, a style of guitar-accompanied, sung music unique to Lisbon and recognised on UNESCO’s World’s Intangible Cultural Heritage list. There’s also a host of art galleries and cultural centres around the city, including the iconic Centro Cultural de Belém, and theatres, such as the modern Maria Matos Municipal Theatre and the smaller, Parisian-style Teatro Municipal S. Luiz, where you can catch a matinee or evening show.


Bars and nightspots are plentiful, and eating out is a cheap, everyday activity in Lisbon. You can’t leave without trying its famous custard tarts with cinnamon, pastels de nata, created by the monks of the Jerónimos Monastery—and unless you’re vegetarian, you must try a cod dish too. Whether the Portuguese have a different cod recipe for every day of the year is debatable, but you’ll find plenty to choose from, including the popular Salted Cod with Chickpeas.


Exclusively vegetarian restaurants aren’t widespread, but the Restaurante Psi is one you should seek out. It sits in a garden inaugurated by HH The Dalai Lama, featuring a waterfall, a playground, and a pond full of fish, ducks and turtles! The menu offers a wide range of vegan options, too, and dishes influenced by cuisine from around the world.

IMAGE: Lisbon Municipality

Lisbon’s Must-See Sights


Lisbon’s Tropical Botanical Gardens and Oceanarium aren’t to be missed, and at Lisbon Zoo, the conservation of animal species and plant species is a priority. There are also numerous gardens, parks and nature reserves in and around this small city. Monsanto Forest Park, a 900-hectare wood filled with eucalyptus, oak and pine trees, is a particular highlight, offering great views over the Tagus estuary—a worthy location for a trip on another day, as it has a beautiful Nature Reserve.


For history, visit the UNESCO-listed Jerónimos Monastery and Belém Tower, the Ajuda National Palace and Lisbon’s 12th century cathedral. Go underground at the Núcleo Arqueológico da Rua dos Correeiros to discover traces of Lisbon’s previous occupants or climb up to Castelo de São Jorge, which has spectacular views over the city. There are also numerous museums—nearly everything seems to have a museum for it in Lisbon!—and soaring aqueducts, churches and palaces. A historic tram tour takes you through the main sites of interest and is a relaxed way to see the sights, but Lisbon is small and it’s easy to walk between most locations. However, due to its hilly nature, you might want to take advantage of a trip in an electric rickshaw if you’re heading to a hilltop attraction!


The UNESCO World Heritage Site of Sintra is around 35 minutes away by road, but it has a wealth of natural and man-made beauty, with stunning historical palaces, churches, monasteries and castles set in parks, gardens and woodlands.



IMAGE: Lisbon Municipality

Eco Activities


The 15km-long beaches of Costa da Caparica are just outside Lisbon. The area is accessible by public transport and a mini train runs between them, allowing you to find the one that suits you best! If surfing is your thing, Lisbon and the surrounding area have surf schools, or head over to the beaches of Ericeira, home to the World Surfing Reserve. For swimmers who like the ocean but not the beach, though, Lisbon has the perfect answer: the Oeiras Ocean Pool, with one section for children and another, with diving boards, for adults.


The Marina Parque das Nações is home to the Oceanarium and adjacent to the estuary’s Mature Reserve. It offers riverside walks, canoeing, sailing, windsurfing and bike riding, or you can just take some time to relax in the gardens. It’s also an excellent spot for bird watching. Various companies offer electric boat trips up the Tagus River, some of which stop at places of interest in the capital.


On the edge of Lisbon, you’ll find the Adventure Park, offering treetop trails and zipwires for those with a head for heights, and canoeing, football, archery and tennis for those who prefer to stay closer to the ground! For a calmer outdoor activity, the city’s parks and gardens offer tranquil strolls to end your day.



IMAGE: Lisbon Municipality

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