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Switzerland - Learning to teach sustainable living

2004, by Wendy GOLDSTEIN

Driving economically can save 25-40% in fuel. But how best to persuade people to adopt this new approach to cars?

East European nations, coming out of decades of communism, lack the non-governmental organizations that have been responsible for promoting much of the new environmental ethic at a grassroots level in the West. How to reach and motivate people locally to tackle the problems of sustainable living?

Departments of government tend to develop their own way of viewing issues and functioning. How can politicians get them to cooperate and adopt coherent environmental information policies? Does it matter?

Politicians, government officials and NGO representatives from 25 countries came together at the Gland Headquarters of IUCN-The World Conservation Union in November 1994 to look at some of the issues and their solutions in Europe.

All these topics are questions of environmental education and communication, and most countries committed themselves to step up their efforts in this sector by approving Agenda 21, a blueprint for sustainable development in the next century, when they attended the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro.

Nevertheless, countries vary widely in the state of their programs and the solutions they are trying to apply to problems. The European network of IUCN’s Commission on Education and Communication called the meeting to exchange experiences, get national decision-makers in this field to put together a list of needs from governments and international organizations, seek their advice and proposals of ways their suggestions on the best way to go forward, and help IUCN and international bodies see how they can provide the most effective help.

Dr Vladislav Kotchetkov from the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), a co-sponsor of the meeting, suggested that the European region is an ideal area in which to introduce environmental education into policy at a national level because:
- the political will for change already exists;
- education is of high quality, reducing the cost of initiatives;
- Europe has many professional organizations concerned with the environment, development and education;
and
- several economies are in transition and need help in adapting to the new realities.

UNESCO’s newly created interdisciplinary and interagency cooperation project on Education and Information on Environment and Population for Human Development (EPD) is project- and people-centered, a laboratory of innovation to discover the behavioral changes needed to attain the objectives proclaimed at the Rio conference. Action-oriented rather than research-based, it offers pilot projects and technical assistance. It provides for cooperation with the private sector to influence children’s culture (video games), development of a methodology with the help of education sectors, and training of media specialists and educators. All EPD activities can contribute to the establishment of national environmental education strategies.

The Netherlands provided an example of how to implement an energy-saving campaign. Jan Wester of the Dutch Ministry of Public Works and Water Management told the meeting that the campaign entitled "Buy economically, drive economically" used education and communication as a support tool to implement energy saving methods and technologies. NGOs are used as the channel to many target groups: they aren’t hampered by bureaucracy. The key to success of the environmental arguments was to support them with economic benefits: for insurance companies safer driving means fewer accidents; for transport companies, lower fuel consumption. The campaign has had a snowball effect, with NGOs taking over components of the program and its logo, even without financial contributions from authorities.

Participants cited Poland as an inspiring example of building a civil society that gives a legitimate role for NGOs in motivating and carrying through the change to en environmentally sustainable society. Mr. Krzysztof Kafel of Poland’s Ministry of National Education and Mr. Slawomir Karwowski, head of international cooperation for the National Environmental Education Center (NEEC) spoke about the Polish strategy. In 1993 is established a network of 20 centers in Poland’s main towns, using existing institutions such as NGO’s, teachers’ training centers, agricultural advice bureau and local government offices. At least 800 schools are now very active in environmental education, and 400 are involved through the network. A "clean up the world" campaign through Regional Environment Education Centers brought in two million people.

Norway, which started its program to incorporate environmental education into the general system in the 1970s, gave participants one solution to the problems of inter-Ministerial cooperation. Ms Sylvie Ofstad of the Norwegian Royal Ministry of Environment said that the system is functioning very well, because authorities respect the internal cultures in each ministry and have defined roles and worked out strategies. The Ministry of Environment provides a supporting role by providing environmental expertise, information, supporting NGOs and encouraging regional and local environmental and educational authorities to cooperate. The Ministry of the Environment also has a cross-sectoral responsibility to promote environmental education at all levels. The Ministry of Education, has the pedagogic responsibility to implement EE in school systems. So neither duplicates the work of the other. "Cooperation", she noted, "leads to a win-win situation, where we achieve common interests and efficiently use resources."

Hans Alders, Director of UNEP’s Regional Office for Europe and a former Dutch Minister of the Environment, noted that policies where introduced in the Netherlands several decades ago to treat water, air quality and similar problems. Individually these policies were quite successful. But when the state of the environment was looked at in total it still had not improved. Sectoral environmental policies meant that solving problems in one sector produced wastes that affect another area of the environment. The classic solutions of reacting to problems were applied using legal instruments. There was no influence on the way people behaved because they saw the problems as by-products of production and not an integral part of their lifestyles.

At the end of the 1970s NGOs pointed out that the Dutch way of life was unsustainable. Politically this was not accepted but an independent study, Concern for Tomorrow, had recently made a great impact in the Netherlands by supporting the environmentalists and pointing out the economic damage that would result from failing to change behavior. As a result, the Dutch Government had adopted a policy that goes beyond the Brundtland report: it aims to achieve a clean environment by 2010 to hand on to future generations.

The main policy instrument is now information. If people understand the issues and the relationships to their lifestyle of production process and how to handle it, they will respond, Alders said. The best investment by government is to go to meetings, be available and be a part of the discussions. The same for NGOs: provide them with the possibility of getting scientific information.

He warned, however, that environmental problems may be extremely complex, but information needs to be as simple and accessible as possible. People need more proof of the holistic nature of the issues. Tackling environmental problems, the Dutch learned, was in fact a management process. Proper procedures of decision-making needed to be introduced and an integrated approach needed to be applied across disparate sectors.

The authorities had understood that the message would seem too general unless translated to the various levels of the economy, and they have therefore carried out this translation, indicating which sector or target group is responsible for what aspects, and setting out what sustainable living involves for each sector. Environment ministries have to demonstrate the responsibilities of other Ministries to study the problems in their sectors. The solutions need to be found by the various sectors of society. For example, the government does not know how to alter the process of production so that it becomes more sustainable.

What this has meant is that rather than environmental issues being tackled "end-of-pipe" solutions, they are dealt with a comprehensive manner. For example, to clean up effluent, companies have had to look at their processes from the design phase of production and take responsibility for their products from cradle to grave: how can components of goods be recycled and reused, water and energy consumption reduced, and the by-products of production recuperated and recycled?

"It is not motivating to tell people that they are doing wrong, but to show success is", Alders declared. But he cautioned others against applying the Dutch model in other countries: the Dutch culture is to discuss issues together, they have a strong basic relation with the environment because of their situation (living mainly below sea-level) and a positive attitude which is not always found elsewhere.

A report on the meeting and selected presentations are available from the Commission on Education and Communication at IUCN in Gland, Switzerland.

KEY WORDS: Environmental Education; Communication; Educational Politics; International Cooperation; Sustainable Development.
LOCALIZATION: Switzerland.
AUTHOR: Wendy Goldstein, IUCN The World Conservation Union, Rue Mauverney 28, 1196 Gland, Switzerland, Tel.: 41 / 22 / 999 00 01, Fax: 41 / 22 / 999 00 02
FILE DATE: 1995