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How to Organise a Community Clean-up

April 6, 2016

How to organise a community clean-up

Community Clean-Ups

Have you ever been involved with a community clean up? Far from being an ‘obligation’, it can be a rewarding experience. On the Sunday of St Patrick’s weekend, sixteen of our neighbourhood got together and spent the afternoon picking up litter that other people had thrown into the hedgerows. As a result we transformed our rural area.

Whilst we were expecting to find piles of rubbish that had been dumped on the edges of the woodland, the surprise came from seeing just how much litter had been carelessly discarded into the hedgerows, most likely thrown out of vehicle windows.

How to organise a community clean-up

Rubbish that could be recycled

During the clean-up we picked up so many bags of rubbish we couldn’t safely squeeze another into the high sided trailer the council provided for us.  We began to pick up around the flytipping areas where nappies, general waste, bottles and cans were strewn across the forest floor, but it was too much for us on this occasion.

The general rubbish we came across in the hedgerows and ditches was mainly made up of beer cans and bottles, empty cigarette packets and take-away food wrappers; most of it recyclable for free if the litter bugs had gone to the trouble. It was impossible to walk for more than two paces in some areas without stopping to pick up more.

“If we don’t pick it up, who else will?”

How to organise a community clean-upFaced with the idea of collecting so much rubbish, you might be wondering why you should even consider picking it up, never mind doing it.  The thing is, if we don’t pick it up, who else will?

The Local Authority and Coillte will help with the flytipping and will even go to the trouble of looking through bags for evidence of the dumpsters so they can take them to court and prosecute. As for the rest, have you ever seen Local Authority workers out and about litter picking along the rural hedgerows or highways? They simply don’t have the staff or budgets to do so.

A sad fact of our 21st century lives is that not everyone is considerate of other people or the environment around them. They’re not concerned that the lanes are littered in a country that prides itself on being ‘green’ and attracts millions of tourists, helping to keep local economies afloat. The minorities that litter don’t care and they probably never will.

It therefore falls on those who do care, to pick up that tin or bottle, to make sure that we can not only be proud of the areas we live in when people visit us, but also that our wildlife are safe and the pollutants aren’t adding to the other pressures on our environment.

How to organise a community clean-up

How to organise a community clean-upIf you’d like to organise a litter clean up in your area, here’s how to do it.

  • Contact all the neighbours and ask if they’d like to get involved. We set up  a secret Facebook group for our area so everyone could keep abreast of what was happening. This might also come in useful for other rural community events we organise later. We sent texts to those who weren’t on social media and next year we’ll create a small flyer and pop it into letter boxes so we don’t miss anyone out again.
  • Choose a date. This was the hardest part of the exercise as it’s impossible to please everyone. In the end we chose a Sunday, but later found it coincided with a local wedding weekend. It was too late to re-arrange so despite falling into their beds at 4am, most of the neighbours turned up anyway.  Tip: April is National Spring Cleaning month in Ireland. If most of your litter picking is in a rural area, choose a day early in the month as the rubbish is easier to get to. Much later and the hedgerows will have grown too much to get into them easily.
  • Register with An Taisce. They have details and tips on their website about how you can get involved in the national initiative in April and if you register with them, your group will fall under their Third Party Public Liability Insurance.
  • Contact your local Environment Department in your Local Authority and ask them for help. Our local office arranged for a trailer to be at ours for the weekend, along with gloves and rubbish bags. They also loaned us pick up sticks which made the task a lot easier.
  • Organise yourselves into small groups.  It’s more fun cleaning up with friends and neighbours than on your own and if you’re sorting the rubbish as you go, it’s much easier.
  • Leave the full bags at the side of the road and collect them later. It’s surprising how quickly you’ll fill the bags and how heavy they get. We left them tied up at the side of the road once we’d filled them and collected them all later.
  • Organise a celebration tea afterwards. On our clean up day most of the people involved wandered home after three hours of walking and cleaning up but it would have been a great opportunity to eat cake, sup tea and generally get to know one another better.
  • Agree among yourselves a small area that you will keep clean after the tidy up. We didn’t do this but it’s been recommended and the benefits are obvious.

Finally, grit your teeth, smile at your group achievements and don’t let the litter bugs get you down. As much as we hate it, unless we see people throwing their rubbish into the hedgerows or flytipping, there’s not much we can do. By helping out for a few hours once a year, we can make our communities better places. If you do get involved, know that you’re doing an amazing and worthwhile job. Celebrate your achievements and try not to dwell on the fact that not everyone cares as much about people and the planet as you do, there are still lots of us who do. Together, we can make a difference.

Have you ever been involved in a clean up? Will you consider organising one or getting involved in the future?


Building Resilient Communities: A Little Taste of Carlow

September 7, 2014

Carlow coverIf you’re a regular reader you may have noticed that building resilient and supportive communities is a running theme on this blog.

“Alone we can do so little, together we can do so much.”

This not only applies to the community garden projects I’m involved with, but extends to our community at large. When Susan and I worked with Carlow Tourism on a Green and Vibrant project recently, arranging a #TasteCarlow bloggers tour with the aim of sharing some of the positive aspects of my home county, it was with that in mind. (Here’s Irish Farmerette’s experience of the tour.)

We’re blessed in Carlow to have a strong and active network of groups and the commitment to work with and not against one another is palpable. Take some of the small business’ and destinations we came across on our bloggers tour for example:

#TasteCarlow Tour

Resilient Communities: A Little Taste of CarlowBianka from Carlow Tours, our chauffeur and guide for the bloggers day, is flying one of many flags for Carlow. She’s not only created a small business for herself, but in doing so, Carlow Tours are attracting visitors to the county which helps other business’ to thrive.

Bianca’s enthusiasm and passion for Carlow is infectious as she shares myths and tales of our local history and heritage, ensuring that ancestors communities aren’t forgotten either.

Duckett’s Grove

Thanks to Carlow Council, like other old houses and estates Duckett’s Grove have opened the gardens, buildings, stables and outbuildings to crafters, tea rooms and a visitor centre. Owners of country houses are realising that we enjoy poking around different shops and buildings along with taking tours and tea in their gardens and houses, giving them the wherewithal to keep the premises open and also providing small business’ with a home and an opportunity to delight us with their wares. It’s a collaboration that seems to be working well for everyone.

Resilient Communities: A Little Taste of Carlow

Resilient Communities: A Little Taste of CarlowCarlow Farmers Market

Carlow Farmers Market, like many others around the country, support and promote each other. Our local market traders meet every Saturday in the Potato Mart in the centre of Carlow town, selling locally grown, produced and packaged food. The growers and retailers encourage and fly another Carlow flag for good, tasty, often organic, wholesome food. They also provided a tasty picnic for the bloggers on our tour, giving the group the opportunity to sample of some of the tasty treats on offer in Carlow, from bread, cheese, fruit and meat to pickles, crackers, juices and beer.

Taste of Carlow Food & Craft Fair

The Taste of Carlow Food and Craft Festival is a two-day event, the first taking place in August, the second in December. Here, traders around the county and beyond are encouraged to take a space and show us what they can offer. From the Carlow Farmers Market regulars to toy sellers, food stands, eco trails, artists, bungee trampoliners, facepainters, crafters and more, they encourage the community to visit, meet, play, shop and spend.

Resilient Communities: A Little Taste of Carlow

Malone’s Fruit Farm

Given my love of fresh food I’m almost ashamed to reveal that I’ve never called into Malone Fruit Farm shop having driven past it countless times, but that’s set to change. From when you first walk through the doorway, the little shop is a delightful emporium of food, crafts, locally grown, locally made, artisan, free range, frozen, fresh… I could go on and on, it really is a treasure and if you’ve ever dreamed about owning a farm shop, Malone’s is one you’ll definitely want to visit to get a feel for the best they have to offer.

Resilient Communities: A Little Taste of Carlow

Huntington Castle

The owners of Huntington Castle have opened their home and gardens to encourage visitors to look around, drink tea and eat cake. For years the house was a the central point of the community, employing locals, acting as a garrison then in later years, opening up to a global community as the foundation centre for the Fellowship of Isis. Nowadays they offer their home and gardens up for people to visit and tour, as accommodation, as a venue, either for private events or more public ones such as vintage fairs, where stallholders can sell their goods to interested shoppers.

Resilient Communities: A Little Taste of Carlow

The Step House Hotel

The Step House Hotel, our last venue on the tour where we literally experienced another Taste of Carlow thanks to the tasting menu put together by Chef Alan Foley. Alan takes pride in sourcing as much of their food for his kitchen from local growers and producers as he can. The Step House also share their tips and suggestions on where to head to when visiting Carlow on their website and blog.

Resilient Communities: A Little Taste of Carlow

Resilient Community Building

For all my positivity, I’m a realist too. It has to be acknowledged that as well as supporting one another, groups can get caught up in nitpicky and destructive habits, but where does that lead us? Disjointed, disfunctional, hurt, frightened and fragmented. Yet as these few examples have shown, by simply working together and encouraging one another, we can breed optimism and success. I know which road I prefer to travel along. How about you?

If you’re interested in building committed and sustainable communities and would like to find out more,, We Create Workspace and the P2P Foundation are hosting a series of events this week that bring together cooperative advocates, community activists and commons animators to share perspectives and ideas on the question,

“How can a commons-based collaborative economy strengthen the resilience of our communities?”  

Contact them directly for more information or to book a place.

And if you ever spot Carlow on a signpost or map, on the way to or inbetween somewhere, don’t drive straight past, swing by and look us up, you might find we’re quite a friendly bunch really 🙂

Community Gardens

How to involve the community in a community garden

June 20, 2014

How to involve the community in a community garden

There are no set rules about what makes a community garden work. Each one is unique and just like other areas in life, there are some that gel and some that don’t. However, some gardens we come across seem to encompass all the good things we’d expect and hope for in a shared space and the latest one I’ve found that’s ticking all the community boxes is in Baltinglass, Co Wicklow.

How to involve the community in a community gardenHow to involve the community in a community gardenRecently I met Mary Carmody, the enthusiastic nun who was instrumental in establishing this rural garden in 2005 and who generously spent a couple of hours out of her busy schedule showing me around, sharing the Tearmann Community Garden story.

This pretty little 2 acre garden that belongs to the local Parish and is situated just a short walk from the town High Street. It’s been reclaimed from its previously overgrown state and thoughtfully divided into several areas, catering for the needs of many in the community with it’s meeting space, greenhouses, many growing and contemplative areas and resident chickens 

How to involve the community in a community gardenAt the far end of the site below the overlooking hill, is a biodiversity area that bar some native tree planting, is undeveloped and has been allowed to grow as nature intended. Every year a biodiversity census takes place there, taking stock of the species that inhabit it.

From there, a meandering pathway lined with young trees leads visitors to a quiet, contemplative area – the perfect place to sit alone or in a meditative group and enjoy the tranquility the garden offers.

On either side of the walk , depending upon which way you wander around, is a very shallow wild, boggy area that attracts the newts and frogs and on the other side, a newly developed and very tidy fruit area, netted and wired, saving the fruit from the birds and allowing for easier picking.

How to involve the community in a community gardenFinally, at the garden entrance, is a fox proof hen enclosure, a cabin with a kitchenette and seating area, three small greenhouses and all the raised beds that the community share.

How to involve the community in a community gardenAlthough there is a communal garden where people come together and share the work and the produce, all other beds in the garden have been freely allocated to different groups following consultation with the ten member committee, and each one is clearly labelled to avoid disputes.

As a result many people from the community, including two primary schools, the secondary school transition year, two pre-schools, the local scout group, Men’s Sheds, the KAIRE centre for adults with intellectual and physical disabilities, the local Foroige group, the active retired as well as a few individual, are all sharing and working in the garden on a regular basis.

How to involve the community in a community gardenSome areas are more productive than others but the emphasis is on giving everyone in the community the opportunity to grow food and not on getting hung up about whether it’s being done text-book correctly. 

As well as gardening activities and courses similar to the ones I offer in Carlow and Kilkenny, various other informal training initiatives have taken place in the garden, including cloth dying, herbal remedies and foraging.

How to involve the community in a community gardenWhilst the gardeners share much of the produce, on days throughout the year vegetables are sold at the local country market. From June onwards they have plant sales and last year the transition year students set up a vegetable box scheme as part of their mini enterprise project. The fourth year students also made several of the unusual scarecrows that are dotted around the garden.

One of the enjoyable aspects of being involved with the community garden network is learning and finding ideas from other gardens in Ireland and Northern Ireland. I found this particular garden in Baltinglass quite inspirational in the way if opens its gates wide and welcomes groups of all size and ages.

How to involve the community in a community garden



What do you think? Is this something you could see working in your own community? Do you or have you already tried operating something similar and did it work for you? 

Community Gardens

Supporting Mental Health Needs with Horticulture

May 18, 2014

I’ve written a few posts sharing how mentally healing I’ve found spending time in gardens and soaking up everything nature has to offer. I was therefore pleased to discover that this weekend, Sonairte in Co Meath, Ireland’s National Centre of Ecology, would be hosting a training session for anyone interested in learning more about providing Social and Therapeutic Horticulture (STH) for people with mental health support needs.

Tranquil gardens at Sonaitre

Tranquil gardens at Sonaitre

For the past few years I’ve worked with adults with intellectual disabilities offering a form of horticultural therapy and last week I finished a course with a branch of the Irish Wheelchair Association helping adults to grow food in recycled containers. Amongst others, I’m working with long-term unemployed, older people living alone and rurally isolated adults in community gardens around Carlow and Kilkenny.

I know I’m not alone in Ireland providing a horticulture service to a diverse range of people who might suffer with mental health issues from mild anxiety to depression, to more profound forms of mental health problems, yet unlike our UK neighbours there’s very little support available to us in this recognised and measurable from of therapy.

I sincerely hope that will change as the excellent training the group of occupational therapists and horticulture practitioners received this weekend, opened our eyes to the tangible mental health benefits that simply being or working in a garden can bring. The knowledge we’ve gained will begin to help us offer and better understand the practical elements of putting together a programme centred around people and not purely the needs of the garden. Damien Newman of Thrive, a UK charity that “champions the benefits of gardening, carrying out research, training professionals and offering practical solutions so that anyone with a disability can enjoy gardening”, delivered an excellent course that’s given us a lot to think about.

Sonaitre gardenHorticulture therapy for mental health isn’t a new phenomena. *In ancient Egypt royal physicians prescribed “a spell in the palace gardens for those troubled of mind” and in 1856 Dorset County Asylum wrote that “male patients shall be employed in gardening and husbandry… to promote cheerfulness and happiness.”

Having completed the second stage of learning, our group now have a year to decide whether we individually wish to take on an eight week distance course via Thrive and Coventry University in an undergraduate module leading us to an Award in STH, a project I’m planning to begin during the quieter time of my gardening year.

Sonaitre gardenIf you’re interested in learning more about Social and Horticulture Therapy in Ireland, contact Veronica Macfarlane of Sonairte for more information on future courses or check out Thrive in the UK directly who run a range of course options as well as gardens to visit, a library full of information that can support social and horticultural therapy students and practitioners, as well as professionals on hand to offer advice and information in general.

Have you noticed how spending a couple of hours outdoors can improve your mood and feelings of general well-being?


*source Thrive UK

Community Gardens

Community Garden Network in Northern Ireland – A lesson for us all.

March 15, 2013

If you’ve read the previous blog post that explained the reason behind the trip to Northern Ireland and the mixed emotions it evoked, hopefully reading about the two community gardens we were shown around will explain why we left with such positivity.

The two gardens in question were nominated by Derry City Council in the 2012 Pride of Place awards under the City Category for Community Garden and obtained runners-up place.

The cost of each project was small in comparison to other projects (just £1,000 and £5,000 respectively) but the rewards and effects of bringing horticulture to the people have been considerable.

leafair laneway community garden

Leafair Community Garden

Leafair Community Garden

The first garden visit was to Leafair Laneway Community Garden and was a fantastic example of how community gardening and horticulture can so positively impact on residents and communities.

This series of gardens were developed in early 2011 by Leafair Community Association due to ongoing anti-social behaviour in the laneway. Cars were being driven up and down and residents had nailed their gates closed.

The project involved residents from the houses, Leafair Mens Health Project and Galliagh Off the streets initiative.

Leafair Laneway community garden

Community Gardening and Positive Learning

During 2011 a series of horticultural courses were organised in the laneway by North West Regional College, working with Greater Shantallow Area Partnership which saw 48 people attend National Open College Network accredited horticultural training.

New Community Laneway Under Development

This laneway has since spawned a further three laneway projects in the area, with another four areas secured for redevelopment in the same style.

There must be hundreds of lanes and back alleys that would have room for raised beds like these… can you imagine them all in the summer and autumn months when they’re bursting with produce!

St Therese, the local primary school has installed over twenty raised beds in the schools grounds, started a school composting system and various flower and herb beds as a direct result of the laneway.

Fountain Community Garden aka Bastion Plots

The second community garden is just below the Derry city walls, hence the lovely view below. Developed in early 2011 this project saw the lead being taken by Cathedral Youth Club who had identified an area of their estate which was just ‘poor wet grass’ and obtained funding through Co-operation Ireland to develop a grow-your-own project. The garden was constructed by residents, young people and Conservation Volunteers Northern Ireland.

Fountain Community Garden

Fountain Community Garden

The primary school has a strong involvement in the garden area, visiting the garden every fortnight to participate in general horticulture. (The blue buckets in the back left of the picture above are full of strawberries that they children will take home.) The school also has a number of beds and horticultural areas developed in their grounds.

The garden project has spawned a number of other initiatives in the community, such as large-scale daffodil planting, litter picking, graffiti removal and the installation of a new play park area – all led by the Cathedral Youth Club.

Fountain Community Garden

Fountain Community Garden

The garden involved co-operation from Derry City Council, Housing Executive and Roads Service.

Last year the two schools joined another school to create a new park space beside the Guildhall, now known as Foyle Gardens. This was formally a car park but is now a quality small park facility for tourists and residents to enjoy. The project involved Leafair Community Association taking the lead with support of Department of Social Development and Derry City Council Parks and Cemeteries department.

Gareth Austin was the community horticulturalist in all of the projects mentioned whilst Janey Stewart from @atthegardengate has offered huge support to the Community Gardens by providing seeds in bulk. The RHS (@rhsschools) has a ‘school focussed arm’ offering support to the school horticulture curriculum.

The Community Garden Network

One of the reasons I was so keen to find other community gardeners was to see how other people were doing it so that I could bring that knowledge back to my own nearby towns and villages. With the Community Garden Network we can all learn from each other and share our experiences and expertise.

The network’s first trip was to a small urban garden in Dublin called Serenity (pictured below) and now we’ve been treated to Leafair and Fountain gardens.

Serenity Community Garden, Dublin - bottle greenhouse

Serenity Community Garden, Dublin

The next network meeting will be taking place in Sligo at the end of June where we hope to see more gardens. For anybody who can’t travel to the meetings, the gallery on the website is filling nicely with various groups pictures. I’ve written several posts on the community garden projects I’ve worked with here too.

If you’ve felt inspired by any of the projects you’ve seen or would like to share your own, please check out the Community Garden Network site and add your name to the growing list of people and groups who are finding out the benefits of this type of horticulture for themselves and connecting. Here’s some feedback from a group of Kilkenny community gardeners on the benefits and changes its made to their lives.

If you know of some land nearby that could be transformed into a community garden and aren’t sure how to do it, here’s some tips.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on the projects… do you know of any areas near you that could benefit from something similar?

Community Gardens

Teenagers – doing it for themselves

June 22, 2012
Bridge Boys Youth Bench

Bridge Boys Youth Bench

We all know of areas in our towns or villages where groups of teens like to mooch around don’t we? If they’re not into sports or youth organisations like the Scouts or similar what is there for them to do?

Preparing the community garden flower bed

Working hard!

When I grew up there was a village youth club where we all hung out – we played pool, darts, bought snacks from the hatch or just sat and listened to music with our mates. But unless there are willing volunteers available to run these informal places where teens are allowed to be themselves, what else is there?Sowing seeds

This age group can seem intimidating or troublesome to some – they get blamed for all the vandalism and theft, they’re labelled and frowned upon.

Wildlife Friendly Flowers

Wildlife Friendly Flowers

However, in Goresbridge, Co Kilkenny teens are trying their best to change this perception by doing something for themselves, all under the gentle guidance of Martina from Ossary Youth.

In this pretty rural village the lads known as The Bridge Boys have rejuvenated an area they hang out in. With the EcoUnesco award as a goal, and a summer BBQ as a celebration of their achievements, the boys have been busy.

Snakes & Ladders

Snakes & Ladders (mobile phones act as counters)

I came across Jay, Evan, Aidan and David in February when I was asked to help them grow some vegetables for their party. They decided what they wanted to eat, they sowed the seeds and watched them develop. They were very energetic, keen to get stuck in and full of questions, slightly different from my usual gardening groups who generally prefer a slower pace and lots of tea! If you’re wondering what teenage lads chose to sow, what else but cosmic purple carrots! They also picked lettuce, basil, courgettes, peas, tomatoes, beetroot and lettuce from the seed tin.

Outside in the community garden they cleaned up an old bed, sowed wildlife friendly plants – sunflowers, cosmos, night scented stocks, calendula and aubrietta. The rest of the plants were put out by the river, the location of their summer shindig. We even snuck in a couple of courgette & tomato plants… wonder if anyone will notice.

What really blew me away with this project wasn’t the vegetable and flower planting that I’d been involved with, though I was impressed by their enthusiasm and hard work, it was seeing the boys handiwork building a “youth bench”. They’ve been cleaning and tidying all the benches by the river but creating the games bench apparently took four days of measuring, cutting, sanding, drawing and painting. When they’d finished they then went on to make three bird tables.

The outdoor games table has spinners that act as the dice and squares in the snakes and ladders large enough for their mobile phones which become the counters – isn’t it great?! This is ‘their’ bench. Now when the local youths hang out down by the river with their friends they have something to do. They also have a sense of pride and achievement and will be protective of their area.

Bridge Boys

Apart from feeling a sense of delight at seeing this project come to fruition, two other things made me smile ….the first was the expression on one of the mothers faces when she saw what her son had achieved (jaw dropping was a understatment). The second was the story I heard of an old lady who was spotted stealing all the flowers from one of the beds and squirreling them into her bag to take home. It wasn’t the teenagers messing up the village, but someone who really should have known better….

What do you think? Are you as impressed by the lads bench as I am? I can see villages everywhere wanting one of these. If you’re involved with any community groups perhaps you could make the suggestion and see where it leads…

Bridge Boys BBQ Veg

Lettuce, beetroot, basil, courgettes, carrots & tomatoes


Community Harvest Fruit Projects

December 1, 2011

Community Harvest Fruit ProjectsLast week I headed up to Dublin to attend a Harvest Seminar organised by Green Home, a framework that are supported by the Environmental Protection Agency to support and advise householders on ways to protect the environment whilst saving money on their household bills.

Green Homes is an extension of the green schools programme and a really worthwhile initiative run by a very enthusiastic and committed bunch of people. (So do take a look at their site if you’d like to get involved.)

Back to the harvest seminar though, in the lead up to the European Waste Reduction week Green Homes organised a fruit awareness programme, encouraging local groups, schools and individuals to map then harvest fruit that is often wasted each year because people don’t have the time, energy or physical ability to harvest them, or just don’t notice that the fruit is going to waste.

This idea really appealed to me, particularly as I’m involved with community gardens and can see the potential to the community groups I work with.

So often, as you walk or drive around the towns, villages or countryside, you can see apple trees dripping with fruit that you know will just go to waste. At the same time supermarket shelves are stacked with perfectly shaped cardboard and cellophane packets of apples that have usually been imported from overseas. Is there not something slightly skewed about that? Food is being wasted, literally left to rot on the trees or ground, yet money is being spent on importing goods destined for our fruit bowls? Even today whilst shopping in Lidl (who are usually pretty good at stocking Irish goods) there were no Irish grown apples and yet they’re still in season. Thankfully other supermarkets such as Supervalu are stocking them, but shouldn’t it be the norm rather than the exception?

So Irish apples may not be as tasty as imports, but there are many uses for them apart from eating them in their raw format. At the Savour Kilkenny weekend the Futureproof Kilkenny group were pulping apples and handing out apple juice to passersby. It struck me then that if every parish owned a pulper/juicer wouldn’t it be a great excuse for a community harvest knees up (River Cottage style perhaps)?

Community Harvest Fruit ProjectsI’m really hoping that this event is just the beginning of something good, something that can grow and develop and be another step towards communities working together. I’m hoping that it will be a chance for people to learn about communities becoming more sustainable and at the very least, a darn good excuse to get together and have a bit of an old fashioned knees up.

Note: If you’re living in the Republic of Ireland and would like to participate in the green home scheme where you can monitor your household’s performance with the aim of reducing your environmental footprint, you can register your interest here.