In a previous post, I posed some questions about green groups in the Middle East receiving funding from not-so-green corporations. Is it a good thing if they are working together to protect nature? Or are green organizations in the Middle East simply being duped by corporations who want to look green?
These are clearly difficult questions to answer but another concern is the lack of criticism that green organisations funded by un-green corporations face in the Middle East. I sat down for a chat with Wael Hmaidan, a green campaigner from Lebanon who heads an independent organisation for activists, to discuss these issues and also what can be done to stop greenwashing in the region.
Emerging Environmental Movement in Middle East
“It’s not in our culture to become activists,” admits Wael Hmaidan of IndyACT who was in Bonn for the latest climate talks, “but the revolutions in the region show that there is a need for change. Before many people felt that they could not change things so they didn’t think about it because there was no use.”
IndyACT has been working in the region building activism skills and training activist, especially environmental activism, since 2003. They started off in Lebanon but now work more broadly to train and educate activists in conservation, marine protection and conduct high-profile media campaigns, as well as relevant diplomacy efforts to influence policy.
Hmaidan explains that the small size of the environmental movement in the region is part of the problem as it makes it more susceptible to all kinds of greenwashing. Environmental campaigners are just beginning to emerge and may not aware of the double-standards that companies apply to the Middle East region compared to their own:
“Let’s say that there is a Swiss company using certain environmental standards but whilst in Lebanon they would use lower standards because the legislative process there has not forced them to or can’t make them. We believe that this is not fair- just because Lebanon doesn’t have the legislation that doesn’t mean that the company should become more polluting- if they abide by one law in a country they should stick to it.”
Biting The Hand That Feeds You?
Hmaidan also raised the issue that if green organisations in the Middle East decide not to take funding from big companies and oil corporations, they will inevitably struggle to keep their organisation afloat financially due to limited opportunities. “It’s also difficult for organistions to judge which companies are not appropriate and which are. I mean where is the cut off point and what criteria do you use to make that decision?”
“Saying that, when such partnerships are putting the credibility and their independence at stake then these NGO’s need to be honest with themselves and think carefully about taking the money and the company’s motivation.”
Funding Skills and Sustainability
Once again, it seems that the problem is complex. The under-developed environmental movement means that green organisations aren’t criticized for dubious funding (which means they are not forced to think more carefully about such funding) and limited opportunities further encourage organisations to accept sponsorship from big corporations. However, there is a solution, states Hmaidan, and it is paying to skill-up and train campaigners so that they value the sustainability and credibility of their own organisations.
“We need to be able to build the skills base of campaigners in the region so that they become better at financing themselves and become sustainable,” he states. “But that’s very difficult as funders tend to want groups to do work on the ground not staff training…”
For more on Greenwashing in the Middle East see:
Maldives’s Floating ‘Green’ Golf Island Not So Green
Rawabi: Palestine’s Greenest City, Or Greenest Wash?
What’s Sustainable About A Green Airport: Foster + Partners In Jordan
Debunking The ‘Green’ Biofuel Myth
Global Warming Message Goes Awry At UAE Water Park