Green Skills Award 2024 Finalist

Hemp School from Latvia - Green Skills Award 2024 Finalist

Andris Višnevskis and Débora Paulino are on a mission to promote the ecological advantages of an ancient fibre and component of naval ropes that has a more modern reputation for the use of the seeds, leaves and extracts of some varieties as a drug. 

The founders of Europe’s only Hemp School – based on a hemp farm in the village of Obeliškas deep in rural eastern Latvia – raise hemp and teach the sustainable benefits offered by the hardy and versatile plant. 

The project is now one of ten finalists in the European Training Foundation’s Green Skills Awards 2024.  

The award is a global initiative, first introduced in 2021. It provides ideas and inspiration from all over the world about innovation happening thanks to individuals and institutions. The initiative has become a source of good practices that can inspire people everywhere to make real change happen in creating circular and carbon-neutral economies and societies. 

“Motivated by our discovery of the vast potential of hemp, in 2017 we began cultivating the plant and experimenting in product innovation.  The school promotes awareness of the uses and benefits of hemp,” Andris says. 

Long used for rope production, hemp’s tough fibres are ideal for creating organic concrete – ‘hempcrete’ – building materials, paper, and wool substitutes. 

“As the farm expanded, we recognised the importance of education in promoting sustainable practices, and fostering awareness of the uses and benefits of hemp,” Andris adds. 

Today, the school offered educational programs on hemp-related topics, from cultivation and processing to the diverse applications of industrial hemp. 

Through hands-on activities and interactive sessions, participants gain valuable insights into sustainable farming practices, environmentally friendly materials, and are able to explore hemp’s many contributions to sustainability and economic growth. 

The programs are not just informative: evidence from surveys of participants show that many adopt lasting changes for a greener lifestyle after attending hemp school. 

The couple see their hemp farm as a tool for shifting attitudes across the board. 

“We’ve witnessed a profound shift in knowledge, attitudes and behaviours from thousands of participants towards hemp and sustainability,” Andris notes. 

More than 10,000 people have attended hands-on courses, learning how to use hemp products in construction, and how hemp-substitution in the paper industry can help address deforestation.  

They see the potential for hemp to be a kind of entry-point for boosting sustainable awareness: as many as two-fifths of course participants take up a broad range of green practices, and there has been a 20% rise in public awareness of hemp and its positive environmental impact since the school opened. 

“Through hemp education, we envision a future where our Hemp School plays a pivotal role in promoting sustainability and contributing to a greener, more prosperous, and more resilient future for all.” 

The school has demonstrated impressive results in the few years it has been operating: more than 10,000 people, adults and children have attended courses, acquiring “significant understanding regarding hempcrete and its ability to mitigate carbon emissions, sustainable farming methods that support ecological balance, the potential of hemp paper as a substitute for convention paper production… and the advantages of hemp wool as a sustainable choice, characterised by durability, insulation, and breathability.” 

More than 4,000 people have been trained in the practical skills to construct “eco-friendly structures using hemp-based materials” and more than 2,000 farmers and others been taught the importance of regenerative agriculture, soil health and biodiversity conservation. 

An educational program on papermaking and textiles results in the production of a regional booklet “showcasing interesting facts about the region and the farm’s offerings concerning hemp and hemp paper.” 

“By reaching a diverse audience and fostering a culture of environmental responsibility, we believe that we are paving the way for a more sustainable future for generations to come,” Andris says.