The Risk-Monger

Green Week is dead. Long live Green Innovation Week!

I have been active in Green Week for the last 12 years (ten years ago, I manned a stand for GreenFacts and can sympathise with the personal sacrifice the exhibitors endure). Back then, there was a wide mix of stakeholder dialogue: NGOs, scientists, industry and government participants all engaged in dialogue and opening themselves to other ideas. This spirit is long gone and unless they are given a microphone, the environmental NGOs are not participating at all in Green Week. No stands from any members of the Green 10 – no evidence of members participating (except if they were allowed to be speakers).

Fine, who needs them! Outside of righteous criticisms and uncompromising idealism, the Green 10 NGOs don’t actually contribute anything positive to the environment and I was far more impressed by the organisations developing new technologies and green innovations (most funded by FP7 or LIFE programmes). We shouldn’t even allow those trouble-makers to attend … except for one little thing: the European Commission gives an enormous amount of money to them in order that they have resources to participate in EU policy debates. If they don’t even bother to show up for Green Week, what sort of integrity do they have?

For example, the European Commission (DG Environment), in 2011, gave the following organisations buckets of money (in brackets) with apparently no strings attached.

Friends of the Earth Europe: (€ 777,917)

Heath and Environment Alliance Network: (€ 362,992)

WWF-European Policy Office (€ 594.157)

European Environment Bureau: (€ 860,400)

Climate Action Network Europe: (€ 248,332)

Birdlife Europe: (€ 366,147)

Bankwatch: (€ 379,451)

Transport and Environment (€ 249,516)

International Friends of Nature (€ 244,494)

Greenpeace is the only member of the Green 10 who did not receive Commission “Money for Nothing” in 2011 (probably because they were very naughty).

In a future blog, I plan to examine what these activists actually do with the money (as much as they are transparent), but if I got €778,000 from DG Environment, you can rest assured that I would be grateful enough to show my face at their main stakeholder dialogue event. There are also some really nutty groups, like Women in Europe for a Common Future (€ 294,222) and Slow Food (€ 439,760), but they are not part of the Green 10, so basically harmless. See the full list for 2011.

On the DG Environment website, they justify their policy of Christmas for cretins by saying:

For development and implementation of EU environmental policy there needs to be an open and wide-ranging dialogue with all stakeholders. It is important that NGOs are able to take part in such a dialogue since they have a good understanding of public concerns on the environment. Their presence is important to provide a sound balance in relation to the interests of other actors.

But these environmental NGOs are not at all interested in dialogue – that involves listening to others that they may disagree with, and, although anecdotal, my experience shows that they are not very good at that. Now that they have big social media accounts, they don’t need dialogue – they can just post and tweet their campaigns to their fans and members. I kept asking people at the stands: Where are the environmentalists? Everyone shrugged. Perhaps we are all environmentalists now (and only differ in levels of integrity).

Stakeholder dialogue, as considered in the Commission’s White Paper on Governance, is truly dead. I would suggest that the European Commission saves face and redirects this money that has been freely given to a bunch of spoilt brats for more than a decade, towards researchers that are achieving great things in environmental innovation. None of the large NGOs mentioned above have made any significant contributions to the debate, and it is time for DG Environment to wake up and smell the sustainably sourced coffee. Next year, cancel Green Week (in any case, it is in no way a sustainable way to put on a show) and focus on several days showcasing EU funded green innovations (perhaps travelling to different cities). Researchers have had a good history of appreciating EU funding and returning value (and not behaving like children). Next year, call it Green Innovation Week and don’t even invite the Green 10 members.

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  1. What a shame!… In the areas of biotech (GM crops + industrial biotech), nanotech and synthetic biology, stakeholder dialogues between industry, government, research institutions and NGOs/CSOs have become less and less meaningful over the last decade or so. There seems to be a kind of stakeholder dialogue fatigue, in particular among NGOs/CSOs. Why? Often because NGOs/CSOs have too limited resources (despite ‘generous’ funding from the European Commission and/or national governements) to participate in the many stakeholder dialogues that are being convened by the others who mainly wish a (societal) license to operate. Secondly, because they often seem to lack the intellectual flexibility to engage in societal debates on the governance of new and emerging technologies. The usual reaction to these new and emerging technologies is: No! In particular, the second reason shows the rather conservative attitude of many NGOs/CSOs. But the others are often too progressive when it comes to commercialisation of these new technologies. So, the presence of NGOs/CSOs cannot be missed, if a sound balance should be achieved in relation to the scientific and commercial interests of the others parties.

    1. Well said Piet. Saying “No” is easy – a two-year-old can say no to anything and everything. Eventually a two-year-old grows up, but if not, the rest of us should not bother to wait around.
      I should add that there were some impressive new technologies on show at Green Week capable of making a difference (solar operated water purification units that fit in a suitcase and can be transported to hamlets in developing countries, water saving tools, educational packages for schools …). Shouldn’t DG Environment fund these instead of a bunch of spolt two-year-olds?

    1. True Dale, but FP7 funds major infrastructure research projects, security systems, space research and builds networks of excellence across the EU. The NGO funding is meant to support them so they can be part of the dialogue … it would be good if they showed up.

  2. David, as you know every FP7 project must include a work package which includes dissemination and Promotion of Project Results while the The LIFE+ Regulation provides for funding of “operational activities of NGOs that are primarily active in protecting and enhancing the environment at European level and involved in the development and implementation of Community policy and legislation.

    From the Green Week Intro (below) I’d see a great opportunity to meet my deliverables in an FP7 project, less so as part of a LIFE + Grant.

    ‘Over some 40 sessions, the conference will focus on water. This valuable resource needs to be used properly and sparingly, making sure that we have enough for all of its uses, and avoiding polluting our rivers, seas and oceans. Along with all other natural resources, this is one of the most vital for our continued existence on this planet.Green Week offers a unique opportunity for debate and exchanges of experience and best practice.’

    1. Agreed Dale – Anyone who receives EU funding, however little, should participate in EU any dialogue and engagement opportunities with other stakeholders. As I mentioned in the blog, FP7 funded participants do get involved. There is always a need for better FP7 dissemination measures (more than just a website, peer reviewed articles and a closing conference) so any extra opportunities to engage with others about how their EU funded activities add value should be taken. I don’t understand why Green 10 recipients think they don’t have to bother.

  3. Thus far I have been involved in several FP research projects, in which the communication with stakeholders attempted to go beyond a website and a closing conference. See for example the TRANSCONTAINER project on biological containment of GM crops (http://www.sbcbiotech.nl/news/item/Stakeholders_views_biologically_contained_GM_crops/) Several stakeholder workshops were organized, while views of all stakeholders, including those of environmental NGOs, have been captured in reports and in six mini-documentaries as well (http://www.youtube.com/user/TransContainer). I admit it took considerable effort to engage NGOs but to a certain extent I believe we succeeded.

    1. I like the approach Piet to address all stakeholders on their terms and appreciate that you did indeed go beyond the basic communication strategies most FP7 projects propose. You used Parliamentarians in your mini-documentary and not the NGOs that make the most noise. I wonder whether Greenpeace or Friends of the Earth (who campaign heavily on this issue) may not have accepted your offer of a microphone because they suspected their views would be “contaminated” (controlling the message is activist communications 101).
      The Commission has tried many different ways to get activists to come to the table – the most creative and successful being to give them the organisational control and budget to bring everyone else to the table. But only participating if it is on my terms, or only coming to Green Week if I can be a speaker on the main podium (and if I continue to get money from you) is not an acceptable attitude in the age of dialogue and engagement.

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