Q&A with Cedric Counord – What is the best approach for environmental advocacy?

“If you want change, you need to be able to be very clear with what you expect, what the limits should be, and be able to take that step further if the limits are reached.”

Cedric Counord, former Head of Actions and Logistics at Greenpeace Australia Pacific presented at a workshop for High School Students called ‘2071‘. The workshop was a part of SEI’s World Environment programs, in partnership with The Seymour Centre.

Cedric’s talk, ‘How do you save the Great Barrier Reef,’ discussed his experience working for Greenpeace, and the explained how students could engage in non-violent activism to contribute to meaningful environmental change.

SEI’s Knowledge Translation Officer, Anastasia Mortimer, talks to Cedric about his involvement in the workshop, activist history and efficient strategies for young environmental activists to engage with.

How did you come to work for Greenpeace?

I started with the organisation when I was a student in Architecture, after coming back from a one-year study in India. At the time they were looking for help to fund-raise in the streets of Bordeaux, France. I applied, and I got the job, it was for one month, I think it was in summer 1999, I didn’t even know it was paid. Then I joined a volunteer group and step by step I gave more and more time, help with my skills, and learn more skills. I started as staff in December 2002.

What was their strategy behind environmental change?

The strategy hasn’t changed, or not much. It’s a campaigning organisation that addresses global issues around the world. Because those issues are interconnected with the local economy and social context, the strategy is to be able to move the Goliaths, with the hope it will help move all the smaller entities around. I guess this is an approach that is still not understood by many politicians: you can not address environmental problems if you don’t treat the context you are dealing with. For example, at the time, in France, the problem was focussing on the excessive use of nuclear energy, with the wastes, pollution, danger and militarisation it creates. You can’t stop this just by reducing the usage of electricity. We’ll only be able to stop nuclear when we lead in renewable energy, but also focus on energy efficiency and nation autonomy relative to energy and economy. So this is an economical and foreign policy issue first, then an environmental issue.

Today, you could make a parallel with climate change. The problem isn’t to convince people to use their car less, but question what a global economy not based on fossil fuel would be like. We’re talking again about the economy, foreign policy, free trade agreements, etc. The environment is not something you can deal with alone.

What are some of the approaches and methods you use to promote positive environmental change?

Well, it’s a difficult question. The approach is always the same I believe it’s really important to be able to understand the progress made by the changes. If the audience you’re talking to isn’t convinced there is progress and they are in a winning strategy if they perform the change, then it’s useless to go any step further. You don’t fight a system outside. Never. So I guess it’s all about information, discussion, debates, and exchange. This is what made me join Greenpeace the first time: the iconic and sometimes dramatic action you see in the media are only a tiny fraction of the work being done, and if you’re doing the campaign well, you barely need confrontational action. But the force of the organisation is to be able to take that step further if the debate isn’t going anywhere. And I guess if you want change, you need to be able to be very clear with what you expect, what the limits should be, and be able to take that step further if the limits are reached.

Do you see non-violent direct action as the best approach to advocacy?

From what I said above, no, I don’t think there is one best approach to advocacy. There are tools and tactics that have to be used together within a strategy. A non-violent confrontational action is a tool, and they should be used to answer a specific problem.

How do you educate the public about environmental issues?

It’s a long road. Information, via media, social media, online are one way. Debates and workshops in schools and universities are another way. But I guess it’s mainly when you are accurate, scientifically right, morally correct and when you can bring in a few words or images showcasing what the issue is, what a solution could be and when you can point at who is responsible. You need these things together!  When you hear a Greenpeace Campaigner answering questions in an interview, you have to listen to it and be like ‘oh, that’s interesting, let me dig further and educate myself.’ That comes back to the audience, the message, the action you want to create.

What are ways that students and young people can take effective environmental activism?

It’s infinite, but it all comes down to ‘be the change you want to see in others.’ Effective activism starts when you do something that needed your effort to be achieved. If you start changing your habits, it’s a good start to activism. If this change that you made created something positive that your social group or network notice and inspire them to follow, then you just climbed one step up the ladder. If by your action, people debate with you about it and start exchange ideas and when the debate closes, there is a consensus that you aren’t totally wrong, you get one step further. Yes, you can join groups that physically act, but you can also just put your name on a petition, be present when there is a call, talk about the issue around you, look into what change you could make in you own life to bring that attention. It can just start by changing your eating habits, shopping habits, choose things that have less impact on your environment. Start this. It isn’t easy, because you won’t shop at the same shops anymore, you might have to shop 30 min away from where you leave rather than 5 min, you might need to do more research before going to buy vegetables, you might need to decide to go to another restaurant for your next date, because the one you like only serve fish that isn’t traceable. All this means is that it won’t be easy to change.

But guess what, activism isn’t easy.

Cedric Counord is an activist and campaigner for development, the environment, and aid. Over the past 17 years, Cedric has worked with various organisations in France, India, Japan, Australia. He is the former Head of Actions and Logistics at Greenpeace Australia Pacific, and now is a freelance consultant in strategies, project management, and events management for campaigns & advocacy.

Connect with Cedric via LinkedIn.

Top Image: © Tom Jefferson / Greenpeace; Author Image: © Jeremie Souteyrat / Greenpeace