World Resources Forum 2013: Why Are We Here?

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It’s time for a coffee break and everyone is clustering around the lounge-tables, chatting, sipping espressos and munching croissants. Quickly, I strike up a conversation with a woman from The Czech Republic. She tells me that she works in the corporate social responsibility sector, where companies take responsibility for the their effect on the environment and social life. “My motive is a bit vague,” she says, when I ask her why she is here. “But it’s a great event for meeting new people and to build new relationships”, then the bell rings and everyone slowly starts returning to the conference rooms, leaving their half-eaten croissants on the tables.

The World Resources Forum (WRF) is a science-based platform with the purpose of exchanging knowledge about resource use and it’s economic, political and environmental implications. One of the stated goals of the forum is to promote innovation for resource productivity, as well as to build bridges among researchers, policymakers, small and medium Enterprises, NGOs and the public. But does it work?

Conference participants chatting during one of the coffee breaks.

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Conference participants chatting during one of the coffee breaks.

Over a beer the night before the conference, Roland Clift, Professor of Industrial Ecology at the University of Surrey, seemed to be quite critical of global conferences. When asked why he is here he laughs a bit and bursts out: “You tell me!” He says his motivation for attending is that he wants more people to know about industrial ecology. One of his critiques about attending conferences is that key speakers are often very busy, so they come and give their talk but then leave directly after. He also thinks that there should be more politicians attending.

After the workshop “Global targets for a sustainable resource use – do we need an international resource convention?”, a small crowd gathers around the session’s moderator, Harry Lehmann, head of the division of Environmental Planning and Sustainability Strategies at the Federal Environmental Agency  in Germany. Soon people start to leave, but Mr Lehmann doesn’t seem to be in a hurry to grab a coffee. He says that the WRF does a great job in mixing people with different backgrounds, but, like Clift, he thinks that there could always be more politicians involved.

During an interview with the managing director of the WRF, Bas de Leeuw, in the lounge with the football table, he says they are trying to invite politicians to the conference. But  because the forum was originally only a meeting between scientists, he says the transition takes time. Also, the conference used to be held only in Switzerland, and only for Swiss and German nationals. Nowadays, the conference is held every other year in another country, often with a strong relation to resource issues. He’s not willing to reveal next year’s location, but waves his hands and says “it’s a country with great music and big mountains”.

Bas de Leeuw, managing director of the WRF, introducing this year's workshop organisers in Davos.

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Bas de Leeuw, managing director of the WRF, introducing this year's workshop organisers in Davos.

One given reason behind having the conference in different countries is to attract global participation. Ruth Bush, a PhD student at the University of Leeds, is preparing a cup of tea when I decide to grab her for a few questions. She is very positive about conferences and says that it’s a great place for academia and business to meet and collaborate. However, she says that it’s not only about global participation, but also about including people that are not already convinced that we have to work towards creating a more sustainable future. “Everyone who is here is already aware of the problem,” she says. “The forum is not going to create a massive tide of change”.

Before heading off for coffee break, Harry Lehmann argues that the world of events are subject to the butterfly effect, that is, a small change at one place can result in large differences in a later stage. For example, he says that one workshop of the forum may not have direct tangible outcomes but in the long run, they might lead to great changes.

As Xaver Edlemann, founder and President of the WRF, said during the welcome session on Monday morning: “Not everything that can be counted counts, not everything that counts can be counted”.

Will the public notice all the discussions at the WRF?

Stürmer Foto

Will the public notice all the discussions at the WRF?

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