GreenFacts Foundation

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This article is part of the Center for Media & Democracy's spotlight on front groups and corporate spin.

GreenFacts (formerly GreenFacts Foundation, sometimes misspelled "Green Facts") is a Brussels-based non-profit organization that was founded in 2001 with funding from the Belgian chemical and pharmaceutical company Solvay. It also claims to be "an independent, non-advocacy, multi-stakeholder non-profit organization based in Brussels. Its mission is to provide non-specialists with unbiased and accessible scientific information on environment and health matters."[1]

Early on in its history, GreenFacts stated that one of its goals "is to ensure that science can serve as a common ground between the different actors in the debate. If stakeholders from civil society, green NGOs and industry can agree on basic scientific facts, then debates on environment and health issues can be more rational, leading to sounder policies. This requires that Green-Facts can embrace all stakeholders in its organization, without its [industry] funding being an obstacle." [2] Diversification of its funding source, the organization later stated, was "needed to consolidate our credibility."[3]

Genesis

The concept of GreenFacts was developed in 2000 by Jacques de Selliers and Jacques de Gerlache. At the time de Selliers worked as a research engineer in Solvay's plastics process division[4] while de Gerlache, who had worked as a toxicologist for the company, is now responsible for its Health, Safety and Environment Corporate Communications.[5]

The pair put a proposal to the company for three year funding of the proposed foundation. "Such a commitment was necessary to ensure that Green-Facts could develop properly without any financial risks or insecurity," the group later stated.[6] GreenFacts was officially created in December 2001.[7] "SOLVAY committed to support us for three years, a period after which we would have acquired sufficient recognition to diversify our income sources", GreenFacts states on its website.[8]

"After establishing the management board structures at the end of 2001, work began on constructing the means for communicating science to non-specialists," it stated in its 2002 Annual Report.[6] Aside for establishing the organisation, the initial focus was publishing an online summary of the IPCC Third Assessment Report on climate change[9] in October 2002. It also decided that subsequent reports would be on "power lines, endocrine disruptors, forestry, lead and cadmium." It's hope was that, in conjunction with the implementation of its web communications strategy, it would by the end of 2003 "be identified as a valuable reference point for non-specialists looking for reliable information on environmental and health issues."[6]

While Solvay had provided a commitment to three-year funding, GreenFacts aimed to diversify its funding to "protect from the risk" of "misleading allegations that our financial contributors may influence our publications or bind us to defend specific interests."[10] Its strategy was to "structure a multi-sectored range of corporate members (with a larger number paying a more modest membership fee to create financial stability and remove the impression that the organization is representative of any particular industry or company)." The group's "long-term goal", it stated in its 2002 annual report, "to have corporate membership meeting 50% of the operational costs" with the remainder from other sources.[6]

From the outset, GreenFacts determined that all partner organizations - including sponsors and NGOs - were entitled to suggest topics to be summarized by GreenFacts and allowed to be involved in the "pre-reviewing of the first draft" of a summary of a report.[11]

Funding

Solvay provided the initial three-years funding for GreenFacts.[12] The organization's 2002 annual return, which covered its first year and a half of operation, indicates that it received €137,646, all from Solvay. (This is approximately $US194,279 at October 2007 exchange rates.)[6] In 2003 Solvay poured a further €210,000 into establishing the organisation and €231,000 in 2004.[3] It continued to fund the organisation beyond its initial three-year start-up grant too. In 2005 the company contributed €64,000 and a further €51,000 in 2006.[13] In the first four years of GreenFacts existence, Solvay contributed over €693,000 (just over $US1 million, without adjusting for inflation, at November 2007 exchange rate).[13]

In 2003 GreenFacts rather optimistically suggested that it might be able to diversify its income so that eventually it all come "from outside of industry funding." [6] The organisation felt that a heavy reliance on industry funding had the potential to cripple the organisation's credibility and effectiveness. This was, it wrote in its 2003 annual report, "an important problem." "It is sometimes seen that critics of scientific information on health and environment issues turn their focus on the source of the funding when other arguments fail ... GreenFacts must ensure that the industrial part of its funding does not become an obstacle to the recognition of its publications and to the development of partnerships," GreenFacts stated. [2]

Despite concern about reliance on industry funding, GreenFacts remained essentially funded by Solvay and other industrial companies until 2004, because it was "not yet eligible for most government and institutions subsidies or foundation grants, and could generally not apply for calls and tenders issued by Public Authorities".[7] In 2005, it diversified its funding sources and reduced its funding from the private sector to just less than 50% of its income. In 2006, GreenFacts' income was €509,922 (approximately $US714,000 at October 2007 exchange rates). [13] In 2007, GreenFacts' income was €590,591.]].[14]

In 2003 GreenFacts attracted additional funding from Ferrari Textiles Group, specifically thanking the company's CEO Romain Ferrari.[2](While the amount is not specifically stated in the organization's annual report, it appears that Ferrari Textiles contribution was in the order of €5,000.)[15] By 2005 the organization had attracted additional funding from Carrefour(a supermarket group), CEFIC (the European Chemical Industry Council, "jointly with Euro Chlor and PlasticsEurope", the European Crop Protection Association, GlaxoSmithKline Biologicals, Proctor & Gamble, Raffinerie Tirlemontoise (a sugar company), Suez and Total Petrochemicals. (Solvay and Ferrari Textiles continued to support the organization as well).[3] The following year, further corporate sponsors provided support - Cumerio, DSM, Floridienne and Umicore.[13]

GreenFacts' strategy of aiming to gain income from public agencies is progressively yielding results. In 2005 only approximately €28,000 came from public agencies, with the organization listing IRSIB-IWOIB, "the Scientific Research and Innovation Institute of the Brussels-Capital region" and the Swiss government's Agency for Development and Co-operation (which contributed €18,986, €27,176 and €96,187 in 2005, 2006 and 2007 respectively). In 2006, GreenFacts attracted support from several additional public agencies - BELSPO (Belgian Science Policy), CBD (the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity), the Global Mechanism of the UNCCD (UN Convention to Combat Desertification), WHO (World Health Organization), FAO (UN Food and Agriculture Organization), UNEP-WCMC (World Conservation Monitoring Centre of the United Nations Environment Program), the Environment Directorate General of the European Commission, and the World Bank. Despite the new supporters, public agencies contributed just over €40,000 in 2006, which represented just 8% of the organization's budget.[13] In 2007, 46% of GreenFacts' €591,000 income came from the public sector, including €96,000 from the Swiss Agency for Development and Co-operation and nearly €164,000 from contracts for various public agencies (including the Health and Consumer Safety Directorate General of the European Commission).[14]

GreenFacts also had limited success in gaining funding from foundations, with the Swiss foundation Harafi supporting the organization in 2005, 2006 and 2007. [3][13][14]

GreenFacts claims it fully complied in 2006 and 2007 with its "funding rules", which include "we limit each corporate partner's contribution to a maximum of €50,000 per year, so that it does not form a too significant fraction of our annual income".[10] While corporate funding of GreenFacts had declined as a percentage of the organization's income (from 100% in 2002 to 42% in 2006 and 41% in 2007), the total amount of corporate funding has grown substantially: it amounted to €213,000 in 2006 and €243,000 in 2007 (well up on Solvay's opening year grant of €137,000 and slightly larger than the chemical company's second year grant of €210,000 and third year grant of €231,000).[7]

Activities

GreenFacts states that its mission is "to bring complex scientific consensus reports on health and the environment to the reach of non-specialists."[16]

Publications

The main activity of GreenFacts is the publication of "GreenFacts Digests", which it describes as "clear and faithful summaries of existing scientific reports on environmental and health topics". [17] Some of the leading scientific assessments summarized by GreenFacts are:

For each scientific assessment it summarizes, GreenFacts actually prepares two summaries, a long one and a short one, which are published together with the source report on the "Digests" section of its website under GreenFacts' copyrighted Three-Level Structure of increasing detail[24]; this original web structure allows readers to easily navigate back and forth between the summaries and the source report. The Digest are originally published in English, most are translated into French and Spanish, and a growing number in German and/or Dutch. In 2006, GreenFacts also started publishing and widely distributing paper versions of some of its shorter summaries in several languages [25]. Some of these paper summaries were also translated into Chinese, Russian or Arabic.

In 2006, GreenFacts started producing, for the European Commission, summaries of scientific reports of the Scientific Committees of the European Commission's Directorate-General for Health and Consumer Protection, which are published on the European Commission's website [26] using GreenFacts' Three-Level Structure as well as on the "Co-Publications" section of GreenFacts website.

In 2008, GreenFacts was contracted by Com+ alliance[27] to produce the official summary of the United Nations' International Assessment of Agricultural Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD).[28]

Publication process

Once the topic for a Digest has been agreed on, a source report is selected by the GreenFacts Scientific Board amongst the recent available assessment reports.[29] For each Digest, the President of the Scientific Board appoints a "Review Coordinator" from amongst the Scientific Board members, in charge of supervising the "peer-review" process for this Digest. The Review Coordinator first selects at least three peer-reviewers, described as "among the impartial scientific experts in the field". Each "peer-reviewer" is asked to evaluate the summaries and propose corrections on a peer-review form. [30] The GreenFacts editorial staff incorporates the peer-reviewers' corrections in a "final draft", which is submitted to the Review Coordinator for comments. When the Review Coordinator is satisfied with the final draft, he then submits it to the President of the Scientific Board for final approval prior to publication.

The "peer-reviewers" are usually listed in the organization's "panel of experts",[31] which also includes experts from both industry and non-government organizations that are sometimes consulted in a "pre-review" process. Since 2005, the "peer-reviewers" are usually also listed in the "About" section of the corresponding Digest.

GreenFacts web strategy

To boost the number of visitors on its website, GreenFacts has been actively calling and emailing many organizations and individuals, including environmental groups, universities, governments and United Nations agencies around the world, in order to establish website link exchanges. GreenFacts publishes a list of some of the sites linking to its website with the disclaimer that "these web sites are NOT necessarily endorsed by the GreenFacts Scientific Board".

Criticism

Handling conflicts of interest

On its website GreenFacts states that "the scientists involved in the drafting or the review of the Digests must inform the Board of Directors and the SB [Scientific Board] of possible conflicts of interests." [32]

However, there is limited disclosure of information to the public which would enable those outside the organization to determine whether actual or potential conflicts of interests exist. The authors of digests are disclosed in the "About" section of each Digest, but the "peer-reviewers" are only disclosed for Digests published since 2005. The biographical details posted on the organization's website on members of the Scientific Board - who select the source documents - are cursory and do not provide any details of current or past consultancy affiliations. [33] The individual digests list who was involved in the preparation of the report and its "peer review". However, it is unclear what disclosure standards are required of reviewers.

Exaggerating origins

Another criticism of GreenFacts has been that it has exaggerating the driving force behind the groups establishment. In one media release, GreenFacts stated that it "was formed in December 2001 by stakeholders from the academe, industrial groups and environmental NGOs concerned about the difficulties of communicating scientific information on environment and health issues."[34]. This description appeared in GreenFacts' communications up until 2004 and implied the engagement of NGOs in the creation of the organisation, whilst in fact it was only a couple of individuals from NGOs. It also understated the initial role of Solvay staff and funding in getting the group established.

Global warming

In the "Other Views" section of its 2002 climate change Digest, it previously stated that the websites of a few specific NGOs "tend to minimise some uncertainties or overstate the human influence on climate change or the likelihood of some adverse consequences"[35]. This sentence was removed in 2005.

In the same section, the Digest states that "however, some people and organizations disagree with certain IPCC conclusions - click here for some links". The link opens a page containing links to a number of websites, including those of to climate-sceptic front groups such as the European Science and Environment Forum and publications by Dr. Fred Singer, Prof. Richard S. Lindzen, Dr Sallie L. Baliunas and Willie Soon, in addition to four other climate-sceptics websites and the Oregon Institute of Science and Medicine, the George C. Marshall Institute, a global warming werbsite of the Competitive Enterprise Institute and the Center for the Study of Carbon Dioxide and Global Change.

The Digest includes as a preamble that "although most scientists agree with the IPCC report, some organisations express skepticism towards certain conclusions regarding uncertainties, human influence, adverse consequences or actions needed", and the disclaimer "GreenFacts takes no position concerning the views expressed in the linked documents."[36]

However, it is notable that the only sites linked to are those critical of the IPCC for taking global warming too seriously. It does not include any links to websites that argue that the IPCC has been too cautious in its summarising of the science.

GreenFacts and "sound science"

In 2004 GreenFacts website referred to the need for "sound science" before taking remedial action or adopting the precautionary principle. In response to this SourceWatch article, Greenfacts wrote that "we had sometimes used the word 'sound science' in our earlier communication, but have long banned it from our vocabulary after realizing that it is often used by some self-proclaimed "science advocacy groups" that actually use 'junk science' to negate or minimize environmental or health problems." [37]

Policy engagement

GreenFacts has also been perceived as moving beyond summarising documents and actively engaging in the policy debate, targeting the European Union's Environment and Health process. The chemical industry in Europe is also heavily engaged in lobbying around this process.

Following a meeting on the European Union's Environment and Health process[38] in December 2003, GreenFacts put out a press release entitled "GreenFacts reactions to the first EU SCALE consultative forum: GreenFacts welcomes the initiative and stresses the need for sound scientific approach". The release, which was drafted by GreenFacts Operations manager David Zaruk, quoted the GreenFacts general manager Jacques de Selliers: "With an issue as sensitive as children’s health, it must be ensured that political pressures do not override scientific information and the need for sound methodology"."[39]

GreenFacts claims that this press release was a draft sent accidentally, and issued shortly after a modified press release where the title was changed to "GreenFacts welcomes the initiative of the EU to bring together well-known experts from a wide variety of stakeholders to consider the environmental impacts on children’s health on firm scientific basis". Jacques de Selliers' quote was changed to read "with an issue as sensitive as children’s health, reliable scientific information is essential".[34] It is unclear how policy statements such as this can be reconciled with the claimed aim of GreenFacts to be a 'non advocacy organisation'.

A similar press release was issued at the same time by CEFIC,[40] the European Chemical Industry Council, an organisation that was a funder GreenFacts.

In addition, David Zaruk, GreenFacts Operations Manager was the moderator in a few debates over risk communication. One was a December 2, 2004 workshop at a European Commission meeting on the Environment and Health strategy where he was both the rapporteur and lead presenter.[41] (Zaruk resigned at the end of December 2004 after three years working for GreenFacts[42] to become a Director of the PR firm Burson Marstellar[43] and, in 2006, established his own PR consultancy company, Risk Perception Management.

Personnel

Staff

Former personnel

Affiliations

Contact details

GreenFacts a.s.b.l.
M-Brussels Village
44 rue des Palais
B-1030 Brussels, Belgium
Phone: +32 (0)2 211 34 88
Fax : +32 (0)2 218 89 73
Email: 2007 AT greenfacts.org
Website: http://www.greenfacts.org/index.htm

Resources

References

  1. Q&As about the GreenFacts study on Ecosystem Change, appendix to a 30 March 2005 press release
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 GreenFacts' 2003 Annual Report, page 4.
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 GreenFacts, "Annual Report 2005", page 7.
  4. Email to Bob Burton, December 7, 2007.
  5. Solvay, "Communications", accessed December 14, 2007.
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 6.3 6.4 6.5 "GreenFacts Foundation asbl Report 2002", 2003.
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 "GreenFacts' Funding Figures and History" accessed September 2007.
  8. "Genesis - How and why GreenFacts was created", accessed October 2007.
  9. 9.0 9.1 "GreenFacts' summary of the IPCC Third Assessment Report"
  10. 10.0 10.1 GreenFacts' funding rules, accessed October 2007.
  11. "Benefits offered to all GreenFacts' Partners"
  12. "GreenFacts funding", accessed October 2007.
  13. 13.0 13.1 13.2 13.3 13.4 13.5 GreenFacts' "2006 Annual Report",2007, page 7.
  14. 14.0 14.1 14.2 GreenFacts' 2007 Annual Report, 2008
  15. Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; no text was provided for refs named funding_figure
  16. "GreenFacts' "Mission Statement", accessed October 2007.
  17. GreenFacts, "About GreenFacts", accessed December 2007.
  18. "GreenFacts' summary of the IPCC Fourth Assessment Report"
  19. "GreenFacts' summary of the WHO-IPCS Assessment on Endocrine Disruptors"
  20. "GreenFacts' summary of the WHO-IPCS Assessment on Dioxins"
  21. "GreenFacts' summary of the Millennium Assessment synthesis report on Ecosystems"
  22. "GreenFacts' summary of the Millennium Assessment synthesis report on Biodiversity"
  23. "GreenFacts' summary of the Millennium Assessment synthesis report on Desertification"
  24. "GreenFacts Digests unique Features"
  25. GreenFacts' Paper Summaries
  26. "Bringing the results of the Scientific Committees closer to the public", European Commission's Website
  27. Com+ alliance website
  28. 28.0 28.1 IAASTD website
  29. GreenFacts, "GreenFacts Digests", accessed December 2007.
  30. "GreenFacts Digest Peer Review Form".
  31. "GreenFacts' Panel of Experts".
  32. GreenFacts Foundation"The Digests' Peer-review process", accessed December 2007.
  33. "GreenFacts' Scientific Board", accessed December 2007.
  34. 34.0 34.1 "GreenFacts Reactions to the first EU SCALE Consultative Forum" GreenFacts' second press release, December 19, 2003.
  35. "Scientific Facts on Climate Change" - "Other views"
  36. Other views on Climate Change, accessed November 2007
  37. GreenFacts Foundation, "Response to an article about GreenFacts on SourceWatch.org", October 29, 2007.
  38. "European Environment and Health Homepage", Europa, last updated February 22, 2007.
  39. "GreenFacts Reactions to the first EU SCALE Consultative Forum" GreenFacts' first press release, December 19, 2003.
  40. CEFIC, "Chemical Industry supports SCALE, but concerned about current focus, time constraints", Media Release, December 18, 2003.
  41. GreenFacts and the EU Environment-Health Action Plan conference", GreenFacts Newsletter, November 2004.
  42. 2004 Internal News", GreenFacts, last updated October 22, 2007.
  43. "David Zaruk's CV-portfolio: Public Affairs and Public Speaking", accessed December 2007.
  44. "GreenFacts' Partners", accessed Nov. 2007

External links