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Germany

Lack of Transparency in Germany's Environmental Organisations?

A new study by a German magazine says environmental organisations lack financial transparency. But Green groups have criticised the methods used as “shoddy”.

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Are Green organisations as effective as they are daring?

Renowned across the world as one of the world’s most successful environmental organisations, Greenpeace lived up to its name in a report published this week by German magazine, Ökotest (Ecology Test).

Several of Germany’s many green organisations did not fare as well, however. The report by the Frankfurt-based consumer magazine harshly criticised financial transparency in green organisations, questioning how donations made to groups were actually spent. It was also hard on the overall effectiveness of the green lobby in Germany.

"A swamp of bureaucracy"

"Donations are sinking in a swamp of bureaucracy, and numbers distorted with highly "creative" book-keeping, the report says.

Two of German’s largest environmental organisations - BUND and NABU - receive specific criticism.

"They have adopted party-like structures and invest a large part of money from donors and members in expense allowances for their officials", the report claims. "Some environmental organisations, including the renowned Heinz-Sielmann Foundation and the Transport Club Germany, couldn't even say, what they spend donation money on", the report goes on.

Bad impression

The results of the survey have sparked strong criticism in Germany’s environmental ranks. In a five-page long statement the BUND described the test as "shoddy research" and the Transport Club of Germany accused the magazine researchers of using "questionable methods".

No additional information

The study researched how much money an organisation received in donations, how much was used for environmental projects and whether the donator could detect what actually happened with his or her money. Annual accounts, published balance sheets and extra information given by the various organisations were primarily used by Ökotest.

Those organisations which refused to give any additional information were quickly accused for lacking in transparency. The German Transport Club got bad marks after it refused to prepare an annual report for Ökötest.

The club stands by its decision, however: "We don't write extra annual reports” the club said. “This only costs money and time which the Transport Club prefers to invest in environmental projects". According to the group, members can gain information on the club's funding at any time, and has now published more on its donation financing on its website.

In addition, the organisations criticize Ökötest's comparison methods, saying the 19 organisations listed in the study are not comparable due to their differences in the way they are organised and size.

Groups like BUND are split into associations on national, state, and municipal level. It’s easier for centrally-organised like Greenpeace which now concentrates less on campaigns to appear more transparent in its work.

BUND, according to the test, spends a mere 38 per cent of its yearly budget on campaigns and projects. However, since much of the group’s budget is passed onto individual states for local projects, it doesn’t turn up in national accounting figures.

More cooperation

But despite criticism, Green organisation, Nabu said the test was "fundamentally a good idea. We ourselves seek more transparency from other institutions".

However, in future this should be done together with the organisations, they say.