More Focus Needed on the Sustainability Summit and Less on the ‘Controversy’ at the Web Summit

Two Transition Monaghan representatives, Jennifer McAree and Mícheál Callaghan, attended the National Sustainability Summit which was held in the Aviva Stadium, Dublin on Tuesday, 3 November. Jennifer now reflects on the conference, the theme of which was ‘securing Ireland’s Future’Jen McSree

While there was much media coverage on the controversial Web Summit in the RDS, the National Sustainability Summit, which was happening nearby, received virtually no attention. This lack of coverage was undeserved as the summit brought together a range of businesses and agencies from across Ireland to showcase and share new experiences and ideas in the sustainability field. They included innovative business leaders from Irish and international companies who have made impressive strides in making their businesses more eco-friendly and socially               Jennifer McAree                responsible. Others were representatives of                                                              forward-thinking governmental or semi-state agencies                                                     that have taken steps to improve their environmental practices.

Workshops at the conference covered the following topics: Food & Agriculture; Energy; IT; Construction; Water, Wastewater & Water Efficiency; Transport Supply Chain & Logistics; Corporate Social Responsibility & Stakeholder Engagement and Environmental Stewardship. Paul Price from An Taisce spoke about ‘Pathways to a Low Carbon Future’. He stressed how Ireland must go beyond the EU 2020 goals and start to take more stringent action right now if we are to have any impact on climate change. Our agriculture and energy emissions are especially high and must be addressed immediately. Jennifer Casey of Business in the Community (BITC) encouraged all enterprises to make changes that will improve their environmental and corporate social responsibility (CSR) performance. By doing so, it not only raises the positive profile of the company in question, but can elicit major financial savings.

Michael Kelly gave an inspiring talk about setting up ‘Grow it Yourself’ (GIY), an organisation he founded which has seen huge success around the country and beyond since its inception. Michael experienced a ‘light-bulb moment’ during a trip to his local supermarket when he realised he was buying garlic from China, when it could easily be grown in his back yard. With no previous experience he began growing his own vegetables and now believes that everybody should give it a try. GIY received a €100,000 grant from Social Entrepreneurs Ireland which has helped to build upon its success.

A really inspiring presentation was given by Niamh Kirwan from ‘FoodCloud’. Set up in 2012 by two young Irish Trinity graduates, the business links retailers with charities that need a constant supply of food. This is done through the ‘FoodCloud App’ or by text message. Produce that would otherwise end up in landfill is sent to feed those in need. Most Tesco stores in Ireland are now signed up to the scheme, and FoodCloud will soon expand into the UK market. Other interesting talks included the problem of invasive species in Ireland and what is being done by Inland Fisheries Ireland to fight it; Cork University Hospital’s impressive journey to achieve An Taisce’s Green Flag status; the plight of Ireland’s biodiversity, and the opportunities that exist for a more circular economy, i.e. thinking about the design of products from the very beginning in order to reduce carbon emissions and reliance on raw materials and energy throughout their manufacture.

This was a really worthwhile summit and I left with much to think about. While such conferences have a role in promoting sustainability, there is still a long way to go – and very little time left – for the business and farming sectors in Ireland to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to acceptable levels. This is the level required to ensure that we in Ireland play our part in the global effort to avoid catastrophic climate change. The ‘Web Summit’ is moving, somewhat controversially, to Lisbon next year. Perhaps this means the national media will be less distracted and pay a little more attention to the National Sustainability Summit 2016 happening here in Ireland.

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