Academic journal article Journal of Sustainable Development

Environmental Sustainability and Participatory Approaches: The Case of Italy

Academic journal article Journal of Sustainable Development

Environmental Sustainability and Participatory Approaches: The Case of Italy

Article excerpt


A big challenge of the new millennium consists of activating a large mobilization of society toward concrete, efficient and efficacy actions which promote awareness of the problems and their solutions for a sustainable environment. In order to address the different environmental issues existing today in Italy, besides correct and transparent communication, it is also needed the involvement of local communities. The greater problem is how to inform the public. Starting from an analysis of different kinds of participatory approaches, the paper proposes a classification of methods and techniques in four different typologies: participation by feedback, participation by consultation, participation by negotiating and participation by online interaction. Moreover, in depth interviews have been carried out to interdisciplinary experts to evaluate which participatory approaches are the best to use in Italy in terms of participation and cost-effectiveness, to identify constraints that limit the implementation of the different approaches and to provide solutions to overcome them.

Keywords: participatory methods, environmental sustainability, public involvement, environmental communication, policy makers, bottom-up approaches

1. Introduction

Governments, communities, NGOs, companies (both for production and services) are increasingly addressing problems related with environment. In particular, they accepted the challenge of mobilizing citizens and more generally society to act sustainably. In fact, the actor's involvement, such as research Institutes, local authorities, companies, businesses, investors and civil society is needed to accelerate the transition toward a sustainable society. The concept of public involvement implies the active involvement of people in planning processes, in decision-making and activities towards environmental conservation and preservation. The main objective of public involvement consists in engaging citizens by Institutions (intended as formal organizations of government and public administrations such as: municipalities, provinces, regions, State) to discuss problems and suggest alternatives or solutions in environmental issues which affect their quality of life. "Participation" "bottom-up processes" and "inclusive governance" (Few et al., 2006) allow increasing collective awareness about environmental issues, and force Institutions to incorporate greater transparency into their regulations and policies. Already in 1993, the Fifth Action Programme on the environment launched by the European Commission extended the citizens' right to be informed, toward the right to actively participate (De Marchi et al., 2001), considering public participation as the conditio sine qua non for reaching a sustainable development.

Reed (2008) classified the main historical phases of the principle of participation in environmental issues within the political agendas from sixteen to 2000:

- Sixteen: the environmental issues begin to emerge on societal and political agendas (van Tatenhove & Leroy, 2003);

- Seventies: first experiences of direct public involvement in data collection and planning procedures (Pretty, 1995a, 1995b);

- Eighties: application of participatory approaches in local development projects, firstly in rural field and then in depressed contexts (Chambers, 1983);

- Nineties: the principle of participation for achieving a sustainable development (UNCTAD, Rio de Janeiro, 1992);

- In 2000: disillusionment and subsequent critique of participation (Cooke & Kothari, 2001) and finally to a growing "post-participation" consensus over best practice, learning from the mistakes and successes (Hickey & Mohan, 2005).

Today participation is a right enshrined in International Agreements (Aarhus Convention, 1998) and in national laws (e.g. requirements for Strategic Environmental Assessment); however, there is a wide debate on the effectiveness of these approaches (Newig & Fritsch, 2009; Irvin & Stransbury, 2004). …

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