European Site Inspection Opens Dialogue among Wary Stakeholders

By Flynn, John M. | Public Relations Journal, May 1993 | Go to article overview

European Site Inspection Opens Dialogue among Wary Stakeholders


Flynn, John M., Public Relations Journal


The chemical industry advocates waste incineration as an environmentally sound alternative to land disposal. Many environmental groups also oppose land disposal. However, they also question the industry's need to build more incinerators.

In 1989, representatives from environmental organizations, industry, academia, government, and the media traveled to Europe to study industrial waste management in a program partially sponsored by Ciba-Geigy Corp. The group visited waste treatment plants in Denmark, Germany and Switzerland. This five-day European Hazardous Waste Tour viewed the technologies in use and studied European environmental policies and related public issues. In March 1990, members of the same group inspected comparable facilities in the United States.

The Hazardous Waste Tour had three basic aims. One was to bring together the various stakeholders with an interest in the issue. Another goal was to prove on-site information about European and North American approaches to the technical and public policy sides of industrial waste management. A third goal was to encourage a dialogue about the significance of the European experience for policies in the United States. The three goals were supported by all of the tour participants. These goals led to a project with three unique features:

* participation by a broad range of stakeholders

* coverage of both the technical and the public policy sides of the issue

* independent evaluation.

For this project, we assembled a tour group that represented the full range of concerned parties. For example, environmental activists were recruited from:

* the 10 largest U.S. environmental groups

* state and grassroots groups

* the "environmental justice movement" consisting of community organizations that focus on environmental issues impacting low-income and minority groups.

The inclusion of environmental stakeholders from the start shaped the basic organization of the project.

Independent groups involved

An increasingly harsh political climate surrounds environmental issues today. Environmentalists who join industry in cooperative projects risk criticism from competing environmental groups. The same is true for other stakeholders. For example, late in the project, we suddenly found that we had to meet U.S. House of Representatives ethics rules for staff travel.

To avoid the perception that the tour was biased in any way, Ciba joined with several non-industrial organizations to plan and sponsor the tour. The Hazardous Substance Management Research Center at the New Jersey Institute of Technology co-sponsored the project and selected the tour group. The Colorado-based Keystone Center, a neutral organization that negotiates public policy disputes, was responsible for guiding dialogue among the diverse group of participants.

To ensure participation by government officials and environmental groups, the project also needed financial backing from sources other than industry. The German Marshall Fund provided this funding. Located in Washington, DC, the fund is an independent foundation dedicated to increasing mutual understanding between the United States and Europe.

Comprehensive itinerary planned

The European tour took five days: one working day in Switzerland, two in Germany and one and one-half in Denmark. In each nation, the group was scheduled for site visits, meetings and discussion sessions. The site visits included examples of incineration technologies, and manufacturing processes designed to produce minimal waste. However, the group looked at more than technology. The participants also examined public policy questions through meetings with local environmentalists and government officials. For example, the visit to Denmark included meetings with the head of the National Agency for Environmental Protection, Greenpeace, and the Nyborg Town Council. Nyborg, Denmark, is the site of the nation's industrial waste treatment center. …

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