Wind of change for the business in Eastern Europe
In Europe we talk a lot about greening the economy, but how does this translate to our region?
Greening the economy is of utmost importance all over the world, no matter which region. This is very relevant to the industrial world and also very important for developing countries like many African or Asian countries, but it is also very important to involve the emerging economies like those of the countries in Eastern Europe. Why? Because it’s imperative that they don’t copy what Western Europe did, but learn from their mistakes. Their way of doing things led to a very carbon intensive economy. Now we have to use the enthusiasm for green economy to create a low carbon economy - resource efficient, Cradle to Cradle type of economy. My job is to be involved in the EU, OECD processes in order to show people in Eastern Europe good examples and that the green economy is the way forward, that it is working.
Is it harder here than, let’s say, in Austria?
The important thing is to realize that what we do in Austria might look completely different to what we do in Bulgaria or Romania. In places like Hungary, Bulgaria and Romania we have to take advantage of the present situation and this may mean not doing what we did in Austria. In countries like Bulgaria and Romania we still have plenty of wilderness areas and we don’t want to have roads going through them.
What are the most important aspects of your green economy work at present?
We are keen to explore opportunities in several areas, such as renewable energy, ecotourism, good agricultural practices, green building standards, water stewardship. One of our priorities is to save our rural areas by stopping extreme urbanization and bringing income to the rural areas. Green building is another important priority. If you look at buildings in Bulgaria and Romania, there is so much potential there to reduce the need for heating. At the same time this is such an important climate issue – 40% of green house gas emissions today come from buildings. Water stewardship is also our focus. We would like to focus more on water related companies – not only water companies, but also companies making a product, where a lot of water is used. Financing is another important area – by this I mean influencing the set of criteria a bank uses when they give loans. It’s important for us that banks finance green, sustainable businesses. And last but not least, let’s not forget WWF’s classic conservation work, whereby we protect species, biodiversity and our very valuable wilderness areas.
Is the business in Eastern Europe ready to go green?
I have been meeting with Bulgarian businesses these past few days and my impression from them is that they are definitely ready. They know what the green economy is about. We are dealing with young people, they have a very different, progressive mindset. This is inspiring and motivating, because these people know it’s 2010 and want to move ahead with the times. The role of WWF is to give them the vision and to convene – to bring together people from different audiences. WWF is very good at bringing people together. WWF also has the power to make things happen. Companies realize the value of WWF as a partner in order to realize their visionary projects. At the same time, in this region it is more difficult to run large scale projects because the funding is not in place.
Is this the hardest thing?
The hardest, but most important thing is engaging with the public, this is the most important precondition. If we can mobilize people, they will demand green products or services. I see this mobilization as very important. But in Bulgaria and Romania people have different problems, they worry about their finances, they have social problems. The environment – caring if you are using a plastic or a non-plastic bottle – is not a top priority. When we work with companies here, and these companies cater for their customers, they have to take into account that the environment may not be the top priority for the customers. This just takes time, we have to be somewhat patient. We cannot enforce this, but the change will happen.
What is the best thing about your job?
The best thing about my job is the variety. I am talking to so may different people from so many different companies. What I like about my job is the “lobbying” – in the very positive sense of the word. I see our role as being ambassadors for the environment. Personally, I get a lot of self-motivation when I talk to companies about environmental issues. WWF has a great advantage. We talk to people without confronting them or being too technical. WWF makes people feel positive and happy about the change they can make.