The Erasmus+ Green4C project has developed four market perspectives for different Green Care sectors: forest care, green care tourism, social agriculture, and urban green care. All four analyses share the same message in their conclusions: the need for professional training and education programmes to foster entrepreneurship and innovation in Green Care markets.
This finding is particularly important for the validation of the Green4C project as its work focuses on contributing to the development of Green Care business opportunities for students, researchers, and practitioners. In this regard, one of the key project activities that can address this gap is the Green Care e-learning course developed by the Green4C team that aims to move academic theory into entrepreneurial practice.
The four market outlooks have largely been developed through consultation with European sector experts in the form of interviews and/or focus groups to understand how the four Green Care sectors could evolve. The experts’ views related to professional training and education are summarised below per Green Care sector.
Forest-based care refers to all organised interventions in forests including “aspects of healthcare, social inclusion and rehabilitation, health prevention with clinical assistance to broaden wellness and relaxation, education ranging from pedagogy to opportunities for disaffected people, spiritual and inspirational values, employment, and livelihood” (Doimo et al., 2021; Mammadova et al., 2021). The forest-based care experts interviewed consider professionalism to be crucial to ensure better quality of services, especially in forest therapy interventions that require health professionals. Improving the quality of services contributes to a higher visibility of forest-based care approaches and paves the way for formal recognition of the practice and sustainable investments by health institutions.
According to a Finnish expert: “Entrepreneurs may have the passion for nature but need more business and marketing skills to become economically sustainable”. Training and education of course play a key role in increasing the professionalism and skills, both skills related to entrepreneurship and skills specific to the Green Care sector, of forest-based care entrepreneurs. However, a European certification system is key to provide common standards to monitor and evaluate the activities and the green area used in a market still based on informal rules.
Green care tourism
Green care tourism is defined as “a wide range of organised tourism experiences and products that rely on nature and wild spaces for tourists in search of health, wellbeing and regeneration” (Mammadova et al., 2021). While some of the green care tourism experts interviewed stated that the mindset and core values of the entrepreneurs must match their green care tourism offer, the experts also stressed the importance of personal motivation and specific training of green care tourism entrepreneurs. Competent people are needed, which implies the need for training and education in green care tourism activities.
Destination management organisations, public-private partnerships that support tourism development in a destination, can lead the development of a holistic green care tourism product. Due to their broad vision/image of the destination and their organisational power at a higher scale, they are well placed to assess the direction the local tourism offer should take. Consequently, they can provide specific training to potential green care tourism entrepreneurs to promote the supply of exactly those tourism products and services that are missing.
For example, if there is a sufficient offer of green care tourism activities, such as forest bathing, nature yoga, etc., but not enough supply in the hospitality sector to cater to these tourists, then the destination management organisation can train hospitality managers to adapt their offer to green care tourists by offering local and seasonal menus, healthy menus, quiet areas, green spaces for relaxation, etc.
Social agriculture (or social farming) can be understood as activities that rely on an agricultural context and use agricultural resources for the provision of care activities and social services (Di Iacovo and O’Connor, 2009). Today, we see the demand for social agriculture is diversifying. Whereas traditionally social agriculture catered to the needs of participants with a disability or a mental health condition, today there is a greater demand to address the needs of the elderly, school children, school drop-outs, cancer patients, refugees, asylum seekers, etc. An increasingly diverse group of participants requires a more varied offer of activities and a greater diversity in the types of entrepreneurs offering social agriculture initiatives.
One example would be the potential for education professionals to offer educational social agriculture services to school drop-outs. In addition, tailored and specific training and education of (potential) social agriculture entrepreneurs is an important aspect of offering such more diverse activities to more diverse groups of participants. National or regional social agriculture associations have the potential to play an important role in the provision of training and education.
Urban green care
Urban green care represents diverse projects, initiatives and/or organisations operationalising urban green spaces and incorporating human health and well-being in their mission, vision, and activities. It is only logical that the stakeholders and actors are as diverse as the projects they represent, with the professional background of the urban green care initiative’s staff primarily being in the health care sector.
As in the other thematic sectors, also in urban green care the work between and across different sectors is difficult, at least in the Flemish context. In the Irish context, we learned that Green Care practices need to be standardised and quality assured.
In general, projects and initiatives need to integrate ethics into their business models. The number of trainings and certifications for prevention, health promotion and therapy seems to be increasing, however, there is a certain risk of separation. One expert mentioned the example that, depending on the training a person receives, he or she must meet certain standards, for example, to practice as a garden therapist. As soon as that person does not have this specific training, he or she cannot be called a garden therapist and cannot carry out any activities outside this field, even if he or she is perfectly trained for health promotion measures in general.
Nevertheless, the general trend is that activities using green spaces and aimed at promoting health and well-being will increase but will probably remain a niche market.
Green4C e-learning course
Green4C aims at improving interdisciplinary skills and encouraging innovation and entrepreneurship attitudes among university undergraduate and graduate students, research staff and professors across the fields of Agriculture, Forestry, Urban Planning and Environmental Management as well as Medicine, Psychology and Social Work, and more broadly business owners and practitioners from these different fields.
Seeing the need to establish activities focused on promoting innovation and entrepreneurship in the field of Green Care, the Green4C team has designed the Green4C e-learning course, which started in October 2021 and will run until January 2022. Short after the end of the e-learning course, students will be encouraged to participate in a Business Innovation Challenge, organised by the Green4C project, promoting the entrepreneurial mindset of the students. Considering the common message among experts from the four Green Care sectors that professional training and education programmes are needed to foster entrepreneurship and innovation in Green Care markets, Green4C activities are highly relevant to boost this market and consolidate promising entrepreneurship initiatives.