Sweden launches Internet environment service

Government-supported EnviroNet to offer cheap, easy route to environmental information

The Swedish government yesterday took a groundbreaking step towards providing environmental professionals with cheap and ready access to reliable environmental information with the launch of an Internet service - the EnviroNet.

EnviroNet provides a single route to information provided by government agencies, local authorities, NGOs and private organisations, including companies. More than 40 organisations were due to sign up to the service on its first day.

According to the EnviroNet's project leader, Stig Hammarsten, the network already covers about 70% of the important organisations generating environmental information in Sweden. While the service is mainly aimed at professionals, the public can also use it to obtain information on environmental threats, habitats, biodiversity and legislation. EnviroNet will be maintained by the Environmental Protection Agency at an annual cost of SKr3m (Ecu0.3m).

A government advisory body, the Environment Council, recommended the creation of EnviroNet last year. It pointed out that much of the information now needed to make environmental policy is being generated at many levels - local as well as central, public as well as private. But it is time-consuming to access this information and it is of variable quality.

Nearly all EU governments now routinely use the Internet as a means of widely disseminating information at low cost. Some countries, like Germany and Austria, have sophisticated data provision services and use the Internet as part of this.

What is unique about Sweden's approach, according to the European Environment Agency's Sigfus Bjarnson is that it has overcome the costs and administrative headache of one central body having to collect and publish all the information. Mr Bjarnson spoke at the launch of the EnviroNet in Stockholm yesterday.

Each member of the EnviroNet is trained on how to apply a recognised classification code to each piece of information it publishes at its Internet site. A "robot" regularly scans their sites to find new coded data and assimilates this on the EnviroNet.

The advantages of this approach, said Mr Bjarnson, are that by cutting down on central administration costs, even the smallest organisation can afford to participate and users will only have to learn one indexing system.

Another key feature of the EnviroNet is its quality assurance regime. Every member has to agree to abide by nine rules on the quality of the information they submit. For example, the information provided on the network must be at least as up-to-date as printed versions - so, for instance, new government laws are expected to go on the Internet the day they are published on paper. Use of the network for advertising is forbidden.

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Swedish EnviroNet.

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