Environmental communications is the planned and strategic use of Communication processes and media products to support effective policy making, public participation and project implementation towards environmental sustainability. It is a two way social interaction process enabling the people concerned to understand key environmental factors and their interdependencies and to respond to problems in a competent way. Environmental communications aims not so much at information dissemination as at a shared vision of a sustainable future and at capacity building in social groups to solve or prevent environmental problems. Embedded in a well defined communications strategy, EnvCom makes efficient use of methods, instruments and techniques which are well established in development communication, adult education, social marketing, agricultural extension, public relations, non formal training, etc.
Environmental communication is closely related to non formal environmental education (NFEE) i.e learning processes encompassing, knowledge, values, socio economic and technical skills related to procedures that facilitate the change of norms and practices towards sustainable development through problem solving action. From a long term perspective both Environmental communications and non formal environmental education build on the factual knowledge of formal education regarding complex ecological systems and their interconnection with human interventions on the local, regional and global level.
Communication and education as the driving forces of environmental learning processes have an impact on at least two levels:
1- Perceptions of the environment are to a large extent determined by cultural contexts, visions, lifestyles and value judgements which are acquired through communication.
2- Criteria and options for decisions regarding sustainable practices are a result of public discourse and transparently communicated alternatives.
Ultimately sustainable development cannot be based on behavioural manipulation alone, but relies on a shared vision which will help civil society to develop adequate skills to manage its environment.
Environmental Communications bridges the subject matter of environmental issues and the related sociopolitical processes of policy making and public participation. It works best in combination with other instruments like economic incentives, laws and regulations or sectoral planning. Most of all EnvCom is very related to education and training activities. It bridges " Hard" technical knowhow and '"soft" action oriented behavioural change, i.e scientific agreement on any given environmental issue. Its high public participation potential is indispensable for the acceptance, credibility and sustainability of environmental programs.
Project planners need to realise that different actors involved at each stage, have different agendas, perceptions and interests.
In a project life cycle, communication plays a crucial role at all stages. Problem identification, agenda settings, policy formulation, implementation, evaluation, management and control, cannot do without properly defined communication support. Concept, technologies and skills related to environmental sustainability need to be communicated to policy makers, opinion leaders, strategic groups or the general public. Breaking down complex information into understandable elements and putting those on an agenda in a socio culturally relevant and economically feasible way to different audiences is a important step for consensus building and change.