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Ecological economics (EE)
and, in general, sustainability sciences make important
contributions to the analyses of sustainability policies in Europe and worldwide. EE
develops physical indicators and indices, provides economic valuation of
environmental services and negative externalities, applies tools of multi-criteria
evaluation to resource use, and promotes environmental policy instruments such as
eco-taxes and marketable permits. To provide policy makers with high quality,
relevant research, increased collaboration between ecological economists and civil
society organisations (CSOs) is needed. Many CSOs already have a large stock of
environmental knowledge but need increased capacity in EE to give an analytical
foundation to activism and policy making. The social and disciplinary divide between
CSO and academic research poses significant challenges. At the same time, there
are real-world demands from CSOs for knowledge of EE: for instance, to assess the
liability of companies in oil extraction conflicts, to evaluate plans for palm oil
plantations for bio-fuel exports, or to establish alternative energy plans at the
regional level. This project addresses CSO capacity weakness in EE through a
number of coordinated activities. The focus is not on theory but on case study
learning. Joint working groups will identify and report on key issues for research in
water management, mining, energy, forestry and agriculture, based on CSO needs
and interests. Previous cooperative research activities will be reviewed and
assessed in terms of their effectiveness in meeting CSO needs, and documented
and disseminated. In addition, options for future research cooperation will be
explored in order to apply EE methods, tools and indicators to CSO work. Findings
will be presented and enhanced at symposia embedded in the 2008 EE world
conference in Nairobi (with UNEP)
and the 2009 conference of the European Society
for EE
. A website will disseminate the project`s work and continue the capacity
building process.

This project arose out of a combination of concerns. There are growing demands
from members of civil society organisations (or CSOs, organisations defined in this
project as not for profit, not representative of commercial interests, nongovernmental
organisations pursuing the common purpose of sustainable
development in the public interest) for access to expertise and practical methods for
applying ecological economics as a “science of sustainability” to their work, and at
the same time there is concern from within the European and international research
communities that the principles and tools of ecological economics remain rather
inaccessible to the general public.

There is a need for two-way communication on these important issues between
academics and CSOs, and while ecological economics has made significant inroads
into including extended peer communities into its analyses, its goal of translating
research findings into direct action for solving problems has met only limited
success. Ecological economists have begun to recognise that activism can be a
great source of knowledge, and engagement of CSOs in choosing cases to study
and in the analytic process, ensures research relevance and contributes to finding
solutions to complex problems. Increased collaboration between ecological
economists and civil society is therefore regarded by an expanding number of
academics as utterly essential if theory and practice are to be merged to produce
“action research” of the highest quality.

CSOs themselves often hold identifiable needs for research activities. In fact, a
primary motivation for this proposal has been the calls from CSOs for capacity
building and training to investigate issues that require the expert advice of ecological

As a field explicitly concerned with the interplay between economic, environmental
and social issues, ecological economics is increasingly drawing the attention of
members of both scientific and civil society communities. One concept from
ecological economics that has been successfully mainstreamed into civil society
discourse is that of the ˜ecological footprint” (Rees and Wackernagel, 1994). CSOs
worldwide have begun using this index, and the Ecological Debt day calendar, which
calculates the day each year when humans exceed the earth`s so-called annual
capacity for regeneration. The ecological footprint is of course itself subject to
scientific scrutiny, but there is no doubt about its glittering success as an instrument
for communicating concern about the environment to the public.
Another intersection that has emerged between the foci of CSOs and sustainability
science is in the definition of fair trade. The UK supermarket giant Tesco says it is
considering the use of life-cycle analysis as a means of calculating the ecological
footprint of its operations in response to consumer demand. Some important issues
are raised in this context regarding whether and how the use of these concepts will
be communicated to the public, and if so, whether consumer groups and the public
at large will be able to understand what is meant, and how they will be able to
respond to the information provided.

There is then a clear need for building the capacity of environmental CSOs to
understand ecological economics, and to find practical ways of applying its concepts,
methods, tools and indicators to their work. For instance, in order to take part in
discussions on the decoupling between economic growth and environmental
damage, it is necessary to become familiar with debates on Environmental Kuznets
Curves without being discouraged by econometrics. Knowledge is also needed of
the methods for counting “natural capital” depreciation (e.g. as used in the World
Bank “genuine savings” accounts).

Deeper engagement of CSOs in ecological economics will help to express academic
ideas in language accessible to grassroots advocacy groups, reducing jargon and
honing in on which ideas are most relevant to the public and policy makers. Capacity
building for increased CSO cooperation with ecological economists is therefore
necessary if Europe is to achieve its goal of moving from current modes of involving
citizenry as consumers of research findings, to richer forms of engagement in
sustainable development research and research based policies, regionally as well as

This project builds upon the large stock of practical knowledge held by CSOs on
environmental-economic issues, and aims to translate and generalise it into
principles and tools, which, from the other extreme, academic research has tried to
develop in forms which are often somewhat hermetic. In broad terms then, this
project seeks to:
• Improve CSO access to knowledge of the theoretical frameworks of ecological
economics and practical applications for CSO agendas
• Improve CSO capacity to participate in research through methodological
capacity-building activities to enable the translation of their knowledge,
concerns and agendas into research questions and subsequently into
successful research proposals
• Increase awareness amongst ecological economists of CSO practical
knowledge and of the most pressing research questions of CSOs and types of
research use by CSOs to promote their agendas
• Increase ecological economists or sustainability scientists ability to
communicate key messages vis-Ã -vis CSO interests and concerns in
understandable terms without over simplification.
• Promote effective two-way communication channels to enable the public to
engage with ecological economics, and ecological economics to engage with
the public.

Specifically, this project expects to achieve its impacts through:
• deepening interest in the science and applications of ecological economics
amongst CSOs and the general public
• increasing the uptake of environmental indicators (some of which are currently
integrated into Eurostat such as Material Flow Analysis, and others which may
be integrated in the future, such as HANPP) and tools (such as EROI) that
can become valuable analytical instruments for CSOs examining
environmental issues related to energy (bio fuels), water (dams), mining and
agricultural management, and trade, among other issues
• increasing the capability of environmental CSOs to understand and contribute
to the development of schemes of payment for environmental services, by
contributing their own critiques and suggestions for further research on
institutions and property rights
• deepening Northern CSOs and research organizations understanding
and research capabilities for addressing Southern environmental issues and
environmental pressures/conflicts facing the South on issues such as climate
change, trade, bio-piracy, and conservation of biodiversity.
• increasing the capability of environmental CSOs to act as intermediaries
between governments/corporate actors and other civil society organizations or
community organizations facing conflicts over use of resources and sinks.
This will come from a deepened understanding of the dynamics of ecological
conflicts and the conflict resolution/decision-making mechanisms offered by
ecological economics
• improving CSO understanding of industrial ecology and life-cycle analysis,
thus enabling enhanced research capabilities regarding consumption issues
and their environmental impacts. Such research can also be valuable to
corporate actors seeking to make their activities more sustainable and less
environmentally damaging or to reduce the “ecological footprint” of their
• contributing to civil society understanding of key ecological economics
concepts such as complexity, uncertainty, and resilience. This work can be
especially valuable in policy formulation and when implementing the
precautionary principle in a post-normal scientific approach
• preparing the ground for cooperative research on "greening" national
income accounting through improved understanding of research related to
indicators measuring social/environmental welfare
• increasing civil society understanding of the institutions and policy instruments
available (such as eco-taxes and markets for environmental permits) for
influencing public behaviour, thereby stimulating involvement in research on
the effectiveness of such mechanisms and possible alternatives.

Ecological society Endemit
E-mail: office@endemit.org.rs
+381 64 1790 820


Ecological Society "Endemit" is partner of the CEECEC project: CEECEC (Civil Society Engagement with ECological EConomics) is a European Commission FP7 funded project that aims to enable Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) to engage in and lead collaborative research with ecological economists. Click here to read the latest newsletter and here to access CSO case studies of environmental conflict.