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What do the Irish Green Awards mean?

March 26, 2011

Finalist SME 2011 Green AwardI was delighted to find that we’ve been shortlisted for the SME (small/medium enterprises) category in the 20011 Irish Green Awards but as I’ve been sharing my news, I was surprised by the amount of people who’ve asked me “what does that mean?”. So I’ll do my best to answer what it means to me and Greenside Up…

Back in the eighties I was firing off letters to MPs about the rainforest, ozone layer and saving whales… I wasn’t swinging off parliament buildings or buzzing around whalers in inflatable dingies, but for many years I’ve been doing my best to be mindful of our environment and this amazing planet we live on.

Whether that was by not buying aerosol deodorants or by recycling glass, anything that was within my budget, I tried my best to do.  That ethos has continued throughout my personal life and now into my business life too. As the years have rolled by, the problems haven’t got any better (Prince Charles was so ahead of everyone else)… they’ve got bigger in fact with ice caps melting, global warming and a rapidly growing energy and food crisis.

I mentioned ‘within budget’ and there’s no getting away from the fact that you need a certain amount of cash to be as ‘green’ as you can be. We would love to live in a passive house with solar energy, composting toilets and be fully self-sufficient. However, when we were looking for a home to raise our family, straw bales and solar were still pipe dreams and the only real alternative to oil here would have cost us more than our house.

But there are still many steps we can all take that won’t cost a fortune that can help to lessen our impact (and I was relieved to read in Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth that it’s not too late either – we can change things – look at the ozone layer for instance).Here’s the Greenside Up top ten (this list could go on… it was difficult just choosing ten!) of easy ways to make a difference.

1. Use energy efficient light bulbs and turn lights off when rooms are empty.

2. Always choose paper (and that includes loo roll) that’s been sourced from FSCs – which means that the forests have been managed sustainably.

3. Reuse, recycle or give away.  In the last couple of years Mr G has collected four bicycles and a cross trainer from the dump that people were about to throw into the container (my ‘new’ bike has 18 gears and still had the plastic tags on the tyres). What a waste – have we really become such a throw away society!

4. In our garden old, unused building materials have been used again – pipe to make cloches, rafters to edge beds, copper stripped out of wire to annoy the slugs and burst paddling pools to cover manure heaps.

Cans, bottles and plastic are all recycled and food waste composted. For a family of five (with dogs) we generate about one black bin bag of rubbish every fortnight. If shops sold produce with less packaging we would be sending even less to the landfill. It’s not difficult for workplaces to add recycling bins to their kitchens and their landfill costs will be cheaper too.

5. Conserve water.  We have a well but have noticed in the summer months, and as more houses have appeared around us, that the supply isn’t as good as it used to be. Only running the dishwasher when it’s full, collecting rainwater from gutters (or grey water) to water plants or lawns can be very simply done. Installing taps that automatically turn off and changing to more efficient toilet cisterns can help to conserve water too.

6. Turn the heating down! The hotter the house (or workplace) the colder a person seems to become! We lived in a mobile home for 18 months whilst we were renovating and have definitely become more accustomed to the cold. Wearing a fleece over a tea shirt indoors in the winter months shouldn’t be unusual.

7. Talk about the steps you make to help the environment a better place and how easy those steps are, to your friends and neighbours… the more people who take them, the more commonplace they will become.

8. Think about whether a journey is necessary before automatically jumping into a car…. Can the task be achieved by phone, computer, working from home or sharing lifts? Make lists so that you can do all your trips in one go.

9. Maintain appliances and choose energy efficient ones when you’re replacing them. Have an energy audit done (which you will have to pay for but could save you money in the long run). Work out your own Carbon Footprintto see what you can do to reduce or offset it.

10. Shop locally. Support your neighbours and their business. Think about the air miles your out of season asparagus has travelled that you can buy so cheaply.

And it goes without saying for Greenside Up; grow your own food organically! Whether its a few herbs on a windowsill or a garden full of veg, growing your own makes you more aware of how food is produced, how far it’s travelled, what crops must have been sprayed with to be sold in such pristine condition and why organic food is tastier.

So to go back to the title “what do the Irish Green Awards mean?” To us it means they keep us on our toes. They make us stop and think about ways we can improve our business, making it and our home life more sustainable and to help others to become more sustainable too. Whether that’s by cutting travelling costs or by looking at ways of helping people grow their own more efficiently, we are aware of our impact on the environment and try to lessen it. We’re not perfect but we do our best.

And if I can help to show people that becoming more sustainable doesn’t have to be expensive or interfere with our lives too much (even though it should), and if being shortlisted by the Irish Green Awards can help me to do that, I’m happy.