The development of the ERN in 1994, constituted the first step of Roberto’s action. Initially dealing with four major basins, Roberto quickly understood the need to broaden their scope to increase the base of good ideas and practices. The network accelerated from 2000, with a noticeable expansion to Eastern European countries. Membership in the network is based on a certain number of criteria and is not automatic. Each member is required to be the reference association on their basin, must demonstrate notoriety and has the human resources necessary to participate in varied works of ERN. Today, fifty associations are members of ERN, and each is the leader in their country.
ERN works in two ways. First, it acts as an amplifier for good ideas and best practices, gathering every innovating piece of information, study or practice in the field of river conservation and water management, and information exchange. This exchange is made possible thanks to the ERN Internet platform (one of the first websites in France in the 1990s), which compiles the works and makes them available to network members’ as well as to the general public. Regular conferences over the phone, around a theme or a particular basin, also enable the network to be very active. Finally, an annual meeting, called “think camp” encourages members to exchange ideas on fundamental subjects.
Second, ERN initiates federal projects that are locally adapted and takes into account the specifics of each country or basin. The “Big Jump” is the most visible and fulfils an expectation on the part of the communities to get involved and become engaged in the management and preservation of rivers. Assuming Europeans have lost touch with their environment and are unable to appropriate something they do not know, Roberto imagined a large-scale operation, based on games, that is easily replicable, and involves hundreds of thousands of people with the aim to enable them play a positive role. Thanks to the Big Jump, on the same day and at the same time, all over Europe the public, including schools, are given the opportunity to create a link with their rivers, by bathing and getting involved in festive preventive actions, sports, and artistic challenges.
Relying on the ERN and local networks of each member association, the Big Jump is easy to organize, and what each offers is left to the discretion of the association. Key messages and communication devices are managed in a centralized way, but each town, organization or group is independent. Bathing is the central striking point, but sports challenges, cultural activities, and exhibitions of children’s drawings complete the day-long programme by conveying a positive message. Successful in 2002 on the River Elbe, this action was carried out in 22 countries in 2005, and gathered nearly 250,000 participants. This year, nearly 500,000 people were expected, with an expansion towards countries in North Africa. The network approach is flexible and contrary to an international federation, stays away from power issues, but keeps the focus on practical programmes and projects. Decisions are made by consensus. The ERN constitutes the keystone of Roberto’s strategy: It enables him to effectively bring into play coordinated actions for each different basin.
Roberto is now concentrating on new issues and opportunities. A first large-scale operation is about to start in France, in partnership with Electricité de France (EDF), one of the world leaders in the production of electric energy, especially hydroelectric energy. Observing that many dams are falling into disrepair in France—but also in other European countries—Roberto has initiated discussions with EDF that aim to identify which electric dams must be kept and renovated, and which must be dismantled. By skilfully using the mediatic weight of ERN, Roberto has gradually been able to lead EDF to producing “green energy” without resorting to confrontation.
Roberto also takes a stand on another area: The hotel and tourism industries. He intends to help them change their habits in terms of water consumption—in the areas where tourist pressure is the strongest is where water resources are most low. His approach aims to make them realize not only the direct savings they will earn, but also the positive customer impact they will communicate. By creating Aquanet in the Mediterranean basin, he has revealed the implications of the industries that consume large quantities of water, and is launching a certification programme for hotels to make significant efforts to improve water management.
The first stage of his strategy consists in raising the level of consciousness among the hotel owners and staff and demonstrating their short-term interests (to save water = to save money). The objective is strong media impact to create awareness among the public about this issue and to encourage them to take this into account when selecting their hotels. This action, according to Roberto, will encourage the industry to take action around their efforts if they want to receive a high ranking or the best classification, and will foster customer loyalty. In addition to the very famous stars, the hotels which will apply for it will have the opportunity to be certified between “1 to 5 drops.”
Roberto is also aware of the importance of climate change in his approach. In some countries, Roberto focuses his action on the theme of dryness, which concerns for the most part, South European countries, and all Mediterranean countries.
Roberto plans to move his organization’s center south in 2007 and 2008. A “Mediterranean Sea” agency will open in Montpellier (South of France) and joint efforts with North Africa and Middle-East countries, such as Morocco, Israel, Jordan, Palestine, or Turkey, are in progress.
Roberto relies on the Big Jump with the participation of these countries, and is developing a system of hotel labelling in this area, together with a campaign of awareness aimed at tourists. A transfer of this approach towards other sectors of activities that consume large quantities of water in this part of the globe will follow (golf courses for example), before considering the best approach for the agricultural sector.