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Participation & Sustainable Development in Europe

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TIME AND MONEY

Mediation processes take time: that may mean that the preparations for applying for project approval take longer than expected. But the official approval procedure often takes less long as a result, because it is easier to implement decisions taken collectively. Overall it is possible for environmental mediation to shorten the time span from the birth of the project to approval being granted. Experience in Austria reveals that, depending on the scale of the project in question, the mediation process takes between several months and two years.

Mediation processes cost money: conflicts cost everyone involved time, nerves and money. To resolve a conflict by means of environmental mediation, the stakeholders also have to invest time and money. Experience reveals, though, that successful conflict resolution involves lower costs than conventional conflict-ridden approval procedures do. Since projects vary so much in scale (number of stakeholders, sum to be invested), it is hard to define a generally valid order of magnitude for the cost of environmental mediation. As a rough guide, it can be said that mediation processes for relatively small industrial projects involve costs in the range 1 to 10 % of the total project sum; in the case of major infrastructure projects the range is more like 0.1 to 1 %.

But environmental mediation processes also provide opportunities to save money:

Long-drawn-out disagreements about a project that prevent a decision cause costs for:

     

  • Legal advice / representation
  • Experts’ reports and counter-reports
  • Loss of profits because the approval procedure (and thus the realization of the project) takes so long
  • Employees’ time (salaries)
  • Repairing damage to the organization’s image
  • Planning revision

These costs can be avoided if a mediation process is carried out. That is why a comparison of costs should be carried out before a decision is taken for or against such a process.

Possible ways of funding environmental mediation processes

So far, in Austria, the costs of environmental mediation have either been borne by the organization seeking project approval, or shared between this organization and the public sector (local councils, the provincial government or rederal institutions). Sharing the costs in this way contributes to the objectivity of the process, and leads to the stakeholders identifying more closely with it. The best arrangement is either for all the stakeholders to share the costs, or for third parties to bear them. In real life this is often impossible, because wealth is distributed so unevenly. That makes it especially important that all stakeholders collectively appoint the mediators and commission any external experts who may be needed. If the funding is shared, it is advisable to agree a formula for the contributors’ respective shares. A survey carried out by ÖGUT (1998) revealed that Austrians place a good deal of trust in the instrument of environmental mediation; of those surveyed, two-thirds were in favour of the public sector providing funds for environmental mediation.