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WWF seeks to forge new, sustainable narrative for crisis-wracked citizens

Volunteers are seen during a festival against food waste held in central Athens in January. The event was organized by WWF Greece in collaboration with Boroume activists.

By Harry van Versendaal

The Greek branch of the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) has presented its first progress report on a groundbreaking sustainability campaign that activists hope could inspire a new lifestyle narrative for crisis-hit Greeks.

Dubbed “Kalyteri Zoi” (Better Life), the initiative is part of the environmental organization's efforts to expand its reach, influence and agenda in the country as a severe financial crisis has brought people to their knees and put environmental issues on the back burner.

At a press conference in Athens on Wednesday, WWF officials suggested that while emptying people's pockets – also a key source of funding for the organization – the stubborn recession has also brought about a quasi-existential shift in individual and social attitudes.

“One can be fatalistic about it, or seek to build a new narrative instead,” Achilleas Plitharas, who is head of the campaign, told Kathimerini English Edition on the sidelines of the briefing.

According to a recent Public Issue poll commissioned by WWF, 42 percent of Greeks are willing to volunteer for social-minded causes and 31 percent to campaigns aimed at improving quality of life in cities.

The overall objective of the campaign – which is fully subsidized by the Stavros S. Niarchos Foundation, an international philanthropic organization – Plitharas said, is to “break with a habit of finger-wagging and improve people's daily lives on the basis of a win-win model.”

“We need to learn how to coexist as citizens, how to work together, how to care about our public spaces, adopting a culture that is friendlier toward the environment and, by extension, friendlier to man,” said Plitharas, an expert on energy and climate change.

Engaging the grass roots

Kalyteri Zoi marks a move away from high-level, behind-the-scenes lobbying to a more interactive, grassroots approach that aims to promote a greener, more frugal and participatory lifestyle. To achieve this, WWF policymakers have wedded traditional public awareness campaigns with a wide range of on-the-ground activities that engage individuals, local communities and schools. The project, which is scheduled to run until July 2015, is made possible through a smart website and wide use of social media tools.

Following in the footsteps of its counterparts around the world, WWF Greece appears to hereby move beyond familiar eco-centric territory, adopting a more holistic understanding of sustainability. The campaign's agenda addresses issues such as energy conservation, sustainable consumption, urban living, and balanced nutrition – along the lines of WWF's “Livewell” program for a healthy and sustainable diet.

So far more than 1,300 people and 85 schools have signed up with the program, which has occasionally joined forces with other, more niche platforms such as the Boroume (We Can) initiative against food waste, and the City of Errors network for civic engagement. More than 1,000 people took part in a festival against food waste organized together with Boroume in Athens earlier this year.

Plitharas is confident that making small changes in our personal lives can have a substantial cumulative effect.

“It doesn't have to be hard and it does not need to happen all at once. But it is by all means possible,” he said.

“Starting from the really simple things: from making small changes to our habits, to the creation of urban garden collectives, and from taking part in bartering markets and time banks, to the development of collective action aimed at reducing food waste for the good of the environment and the more vulnerable members of society,” he said.

WWF experts estimate that by applying 75 percent of the tips listed on the Kalyteri Zoi website, households can save 300 euros or more per year.

‘We are not the same’

WWF officials on Wednesday also reacted to recent fraud allegations involving several Greek nongovernmental organizations that have triggered a probe by financial investigators into more than 6,000 groups.

Speaking to Kathimerini English Edition, WWF Greece CEO Dimitris Karavellas said it was extremely unfair to lump all groups together.

“We are not all the same. Yes, there are NGOs that have been operating with a lack of transparency, supported by government funding for many, many years, but there are also a number of NGOs that have been working with very clear rules of transparency and accountability and have a lot to show for their actions over the last 20 years,” said Karavellas, calling for more transparency and accountability.

“Let's be clear about who the real NGOs in this country are and let's weed out the ones that do not deserve this title,” he said.

For more information visit http://kalyterizoi.gr

ekathimerini.com , Wednesday March 5, 2014 (18:13)  
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