The lack of broad social action to modify current institutions and routines in the quest to more sustainable futures is largely due to the conditions which determine both the content and form of today's mass environmental communication. The focus of media communication is currently not on sustainability and environmental issues, and when these stories appear, they do so in a manner which does not facilitate understanding or stimulate specific and timely actions by the general public. Market pressures, as well as low levels of environmental education, limit both the quantity and the quality of information provided and demanded. Innovative approaches based on new assumptions and practices are needed.

Although the effects of the diverse media on public opinion and agenda setting are complex and depend upon the social context within which the messages are transmitted, so far the media have had little impact on stimulating pro-environmental actions at the macro level. Perceptions are changing, but not actions to the same degree. Contemporary social structures are not adapting fast enough - or not at all - to the man-made changes in the supporting ecological systems and in the quality of the environment.

While the amount and diversity of environmental media products, information services, and computer capacity to process environmental data have increased exponentially during the last decade, this development has not been accompanied by a parallel progression in research and development of innovative and original methodologies to present and transmit environmental information. No or little work has been done toward creation of systems and platforms that produce information of real value leading to discussion and actions. Only by doing so, and linking information to options and context to action, will society be empowered to act and behave towards sustainability.

The process of integration and, in particular, the process of transforming information into communication is a time consuming activity. Time is needed to create the adequate conditions for public debate, understanding and for knowledge to materialise in corrective actions. Time and interactivity are necessary to collect feedback from audiences and to send it back to the sources in a way that can affect the next stage in the production of information. Nevertheless, timely information on sustainability, environmental and potential large-scale risks will have to be mass provided urgently, or at least before it is too late to prevent irreversible processes that now could be avoided. Time, space and interactivity constraints to environmental information can be minimised through the use of information technologies as a support of a new model of environmental communication.

In sum, providing the political will and sufficient resources are essential to create the conditions for integrated mass environmental communication, which could contribute to sustainability. New efforts should not be directed towards reinforcing current media corporations and professions, but towards creating new communication systems that ensure the provision of understandable information on sustainability and environmental quality issues for a plurality of audiences, in a participatory and interactive context.

Some possible lines of action

 Some strategies can help to increase social capacity to use environmental information rather than consume it, thus augmenting their capacity to participate, decide, and behave towards sustainable development. In particular:

  • conceiving, designing and creating "media laboratories" that study, develop, test and implement new communicative systems that fit the requirements of the alternative model of environmental information exchange described in this study. These "media labs" should work mainly at the local level, since it is locally where information is better understood and action is principally taken. Therefore, these environmental communication research centres should be integrated in the appropriate institutions at the European level and could be co-ordinated by general research directives and objectives set by a European institution.
  • developing, probably through the "media labs", appropriate and innovative social communication methodologies which allow the translation of complex environmental data about global and regional processes into intelligible languages and plain formats in order to make them easily understood by citizens in their local contexts.
  • promoting the use of New Information Technologies and specialised media products on sustainability and environmental issues while making them more accessible to the public. These technologies play an important role in the definition of a new and more effective environmental communication model.
  • building and promoting, particularly through the use of the above mentioned technologies, regular forums for discussion, assessment and dissemination of environmental information between formal and non-formal sectors of society. In particular, the aim would be to facilitate communication between public agencies, private companies, and Non-Governmental groups, as well as among non-organised interest groups, by allowing them to play a role in the communication dynamics. All the agents implicate in the news should be both producing and receiving it.
  • publication of local and regional directories on environmental human resources. The creation and maintenance of accessible national lists of professionals working in the field of environmental information and communication would improve their training and working conditions.

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