Just preventing the worst

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WHEN German local and regional environment organisations formed the Bund fur Umwelt und Naturschutz Deutschland (German Association for Nature Conservation and the Protection of the Environment), their main objective was to strengthen their influence on the environment policy of the federal government. Today, BUND has become a major opinion leader on environment issues in Germany.

Starting as a mainly conservationist organisation, BUND has added many more subjects to its agenda, from resisting nuclear power plants and destructive transportation policies to opposing gene-technology. Instead of sensationalism, it prefers to offer "sound criticism, clear political assessments and realistic solutions". This approach is best reflected in such "ground level" campaigns as how to avoid waste, reduce traffic and save energy.

BUND's secretariat in Bonn, where 42 people are employed, concentrates on lobbying. It issues statements, organises press conferences and participates in public hearings. The emphasis is on public awareness-building and mobilisation of members. For continous work on specific subjects issues agriculture, water and waste, about 20 working groups have been formed.

The solid foundation of BUND are the 2,200 local groups, which form 16 state associations operating independently of the national association. Once a year, their delegates meet to elect the nine members of the BUND board, one of whom comes from the youth organisation. They also discuss and decide policy and perspectives. Since activities are decided by each group, there is sometimes little response to proposals from the secretariat, which, office-bearers admit, is a little annoying.

For a long time, BUND neglected international environmental problems. But after the annual meeting of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank in 1988, which gave a push to many development and environment groups, a section for international environment protection was formed at the secretariat. BUND is a member of the Friends of the Earth and the Nairobi-based ELCI, but its stress is mainly on European matters.

Even though BUND is "strong enough" to go it alone while lobbying, it seeks issue-based cooperation with other groups. For example, BUND and 11 other organisations formed the Anti-Atom Forum to coordinate their activities against nuclear power.

In keeping with its policy of criticising as well as offering solutions, BUND is prepared to coordinate with open-minded companies "to accelerate the ecological change of the economy". It has successfully negotiated with a leading departmental store to phase out pesticides and to reduce packaging material. But it also came up against the limits of such cooperation when the store's management simply refused to agree to phase out cans in favour of reusable bottles.

Although opinion polls suggest that 70 per cent of the German people know about BUND and 56 per cent feel it contributes to resolving environmental problems, office-bearers admit that their influence is negligible, compared to the strong lobby of industrial houses in Bonn. An example is the recent waste collection system, which focuses on expensive, and in many cases, insufficient recycling as favoured by the industry instead of reduction of waste at source. As one office-bearer puts it, "We can just prevent the worst."

BUND has even less influence with the European Commission, which is becoming increasingly important for rules and regulations binding the member-countries. Still worse is to come, feels board chairperson Hubert Weinzierl. The economic recession has led to the "worst setback for environment protection in the past 20 years", he says. Environment laws and protection are blamed partly for the crisis and the worsening investment climate. Weinzierl also feels that the growth prospects for the environment movement are over.

To maintain its influence, BUND will have to concentrate on key political issues. Apart from continuing with lobbying, this will be done mainly by improving public awareness and a better information policy.

BUND also feels that a mainly technical approach towards environmental problems, as followed in the past, is insufficient. Since the Earth Summit in 1992, the transformation of lifestyles in the industrialised world has become the centrepiece of its work and campaign.