community engagement, environment, NGO

Will the real environmental movement, please stand up?

If we have based our judgement on news coverage that Australians are pouring out on the street to support environmental atrocities, you might be right to think the environmental movement is well and alive. Think about all the photos and the tweets in your stream for campaigns organised by groups like Lock the Gate, to the Solar Citizens and you would believe the green agenda is back in the black.

Professor Peter Christoff from University of Melbourne shared some excellent observations during The Future of Environmental Movements seminar which highlights that formal membership in mainstream NGOs is collapsing and what remains supporting its membership are passive participants. The reliance on a tax exempt status for charities or state-based or legislative funding is also threatened as freedom evaporates from our political agenda.

What we stand to lose as traditional NGOs are steadily being replaced by smaller social and grassroots organisations who have a razor sharp focus on an issue rather than a multitude that more established NGOs tend to have. The support for these local social movements have also showed Australians are more concerned about what is happening in our country over global environmental issues.

The threat of the RET being axed has also shifted industry associations like the Australian Solar Council into high gear with funding from its members being directed towards community events across Australia to spread the message. What impressed me with what the ASC was able to do was the speed at which it had raised funds to run its campaigns through some generous donations from its members. What might seem as an exercise to protect the interest of members in an industry association, I see as an example of how the broader community enjoys the benefit of speed, funding and agility to take it message to market much quicker.

Perhaps this razor focus for NGOs to have on specific issues rather than a multitude of global and Australian causes is the new mantra of what we would fight for and believe. It may be hard to rally financial support to champion the Great Barrier Reef, Indonesian forests, the overfishing of oceans globally and saving the Arctic under one umbrella because who ultimately determines which cause is much more worth supporting over another?

Should we applaud or discount armchair activists who stand for an issue, sign an online petition but wouldn’t rock up to a protest? Is power truly in numbers where people rally or is it in the invisible force that brings the word out through social media platforms?

Perhaps a future with smaller and less rigid environmental NGOs will return community action to the agility and speed it needs to keep up with change. And a rethink of funding and organisational structures could bring physical bodies back to rallies and events once again.

community engagement, environment, NGO, politics, sustainability

The social license to operate


One of the terms of references I’ve had to work with often with clients in contentious industries is the “social license to operate”.

The social license which was once perceived to be the consent or permission to operate within an immediate community has increasingly seen its definition of community widening. Beyond immediate local residents, businesses, community groups and governments, the sphere of influencers who have their say in giving legitimacy to this license, is increasingly broadened not only domestically but internationally.

When financial institutions such as AMP and Hunter Hall enforced its RIL principles in the types of companies it invests in, we start to see the positive impact it has on oil, gas and fuel companies – who may have a formal license to operate but their social license to operate diminishing outside of the traditional confines of its community.

This is why bureaucratic decisions to grant permission to companies like Metgasco and Whitehaven Coal have failed with the lack of community engagement. I don’t believe these companies or the planning authorities would not have imagined the extent or the number of stakeholders that were emotionally or ideologically attached to these social licenses to operate in the region. Over the last few weeks, it has become increasingly apparent that “undefined communities” were emerging and they had reinforced their opposition in a stronger and more vocal manner. I salute and support groups like Lock the Gate Alliance for creating awareness amongst the wider communities who have shown that these exploration and mining projects have far reaching implications beyond just a small region but to every individual living in Australia.

But why then do consultations on coal seam gas seem to only fall within the peripheral boundaries of the states – the Victorian Government’s Natural Gas Community Information “consultation” is a good example.

The environment belongs to everyone of us and the future generations so I would like to see a national register for development consent on projects that impact on Australia’s natural environment where everyone has the right to review and make a submission. Its time we restored transparency into investment led projects that affect the environment and to rethink who ultimately grants businesses the social license to operate.

Its you. Its me.

agriculture, environment, NGO, sustainability

Why Goodman Fielder should not be sold to Wilmar


Source: UNCTAD, April 2014

Is this a conspiracy theory or sheer coincidence?

Oxfam Australia calls out Westpac, ANZ, Commonwealth Bank and NAB for its lending to companies associated with land grabs, my Twitter feed picks up UNCTAD’s report on The Practice of Responsible Investment Principles in Larger Scale Agricultural Investments and the day after, we have Wilmar (who has been linked to NAB) making a bid for Goodman Fielder. The same Goodman Fielder who uses palm oil in products and intends to source “Certified Sustainable Palm Oil (CSPO) for its supply chain from 2014”. And the same Wilmar that Oxfam cites as:

With Wilmar being one of the largest players in the palm oil industry, the sheer number of conflicts and controversies surrounding its operations and those of its many subsidiaries are virtually impossible to document. For example, since 2007, five complaints have been submitted to either the International Finance Corporation’s Compliance Advisor Ombudsman (CAO) against Wilmar’s operations in Indonesia or the Roundtable for Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) regarding Wilmar’s operations in both Indonesia and Africa. The most recent and unresolved complaint was filed in 2013 with the RSPO against a Wilmar subsidiary operating in Indonesia. This complaint alleged the company failed to comply with all relevant local, national and ratified international laws and regulations, did not mitigate the environmental impacts of the development, encroached into areas classified as High Conservation Value Forests and breached parts of the RSPO Code of Conduct.

Now that is certainly a deal I would not like to see go through.