Sheehy Skeffington School

The Sheehy Skeffington School is an annual conference on social justice and human rights and this year the focus was on human rights and migration. The conference aims to be a bridge between human rights, academia, and activism, and featured presentations and performances by academics, activists and artists on the theme of a humane approach to migration. As chair of the first session Carol Coulter noted, the theme is not just relevant on a global scale but in Ireland too; the 2016 Census revealed that 17.3% of the Irish population was not born in Ireland.

Prof Conor Gearty of London School of Economics gave a keynote address on human rights, migration and racism. He argued that until recently, racists felt that they had to hide behind intellectual arguments, but they no longer feel the need to. He suggested that the enduring legacy of Trump will be “a vulgarisation of politics”, and that Brexit was about a hatred of “the other”. Prof. Gearty argued that there is a dangerous idea that human rights is part of one culture but not another, that human rights does not apply to other cultures because “they’re not us”, citing the example of Israel claiming to be in favour of human rights but not signing any human rights treaties.

Prof. Gearty also discussed how the language of human rights can be a “fabulous activist tool”. He advised people seeking to make people aware of the human rights implications of particular situations to “find the issue that really matters to people locally and bring in human rights, because it builds the wider support and gives a strong sense of demand”. For example, pollution is a human rights issue, it is the right to be healthy.

An activist perspective came from Edel McGinley, Director of the Migrant Rights Centre Ireland. She highlighted that there are currently 63 million displaced people in the world, 24 million of whom are refugees. She remarked that societies need immigrants, that migration brings economic stability, and that there is a disconnect between xenophobia and racism and the needs of society. She argued that conservative voices are now seen as the middle ground and they are starting to frame the debate around migration. Edel concluded by calling for a legal framework for migration in Ireland.

Prof. Siobhan Mulally, a Professor of Human Rights Law in NUI Galway, spoke on workers rights, and how international and Irish laws interact to mitigate workers rights. She highlighted the power imbalance when employers get visas for their workers and can then threaten deportation. Prof. Mulally also drew our attention to the work of the Council of Europe on human trafficking.

Sorley McCaughey of Christian Aid spoke on the relationship between climate change and violence, looking at the relationship from both sides. He began by explaining the concept of “climate security”, where climate change is seen as a threat to global security, citing a 2014 report by the Pentagon. He noted that while the Pentagon might be defenders of climate science, they are not defenders of climate justice, and suggested that climate security and climate justice may be incompatible. Sorley made a number of points on the relationship between climate change and violence:

Does violence effect climate change?

  • Violence weakens societal structures and traditional coping mechanisms don’t work e.g. in the case of the drought in the Horn of Africa in 2011 when Somalia was more affected than neighbouring countries.
  • Violence destroys evidence of weather patterns
  • Violence can mean that aid packages e.g. for drought, get diverted from people who need them
  • He noted that climate adaptation is an inherently political process, citing the example of the Jordan Valley, where aquifiers were used as a bargaining tool in the Israeli-Palestine conflict

Does climate change effect violence?

  • There is no direct causal link, but climate change is an aggravator of the drivers of conflict
  • A 2014 IPCC report suggests that climate change will increase displacement of people
  • Climate change leads to slow onset disasters like drought, so people move more slowly e.g. looking for work
  • For example, in Syria, microfinance had been stoppped and co-operatives shut down, leaving people vulnerable when drought occured

Sorley lastly discussed the Christian Aid approach to dealing with climate change and violence, which is to develop resilience in tandem with confronting human rights issues, land rights, governance etc. He stressed that conflict resolution work will increasingly need to consider the impact of climate change.



Yanis Varoufakis at the Dublin ILF


Yesterday former Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis, whose new book Adults in the Room has just been published, spoke in Dublin as part of the International Literature Festival. Varoufakis is a Professor of economics specialising in game theory. The session, which covered topics from power to austerity to the politics of the Eurozone, took the form of a Q&A with Sean Whelan, RTÉ’s Economics Correspondent, followed by some questions from the audience.

Adults in the Room outlines Varoufakis’ experience of negotiating on behalf of Greece with the IMF and the Eurozone during 2015. Yesterday’s talk gave some fascinating insights into how decisions are made at this level, and the power dynamics between EU countries.

Varoufakis’ proposal to the IMF was a “great debt restructuring” for Greece. He found that the major players agreed with his idea but would argue, as Christine Lagarde did, that “it can’t work”. Lagarde told him that so much political capital had been invested in the process of austerity that the IMF’s credibility depended on going through with it. He noted that “I was being lambasted as a left-wing crazy madman” but, as Wikileaks tapes showed, senior figures in the IMF agreed with his analysis.

Varoufakis had much to say about the individuals he negotiated with in Europe. He noted that he had little direct interaction with Angela Merkel, as negotiation is on a PM to PM and Finance Minister to Finance Minister basis, but he observed animosity between her and Wolfgang Schäuble, the German Minister of Finance. Varoufakis related that Schäuble once said to him: “your PM, he speaks to our PM all the time…what does he think he’s going to get from her? If anything is going to happen it’s througb me”.

He was also illuminating on the subject of the relationship between France and Germany, pointing out that “when Merkel enters the room, the French president – whoever it is – shuts up”. He explained that this is because, within the EU, France is a deficit country and Germany is a surplus country, so if the EU breaks up, there will be “a tsunami of capital fleeing France for Germany”. So “Mrs Merkel has a ‘get out of the Eurozone free’ card in her handbag”.

The new French president Emmanuel Macron made a positive impression on Varoufakis; he suggested that Macron was the only minister who understood the Eurozone, and noted that he intervened when the Troika attempted to shut down the Greek banks. He further commented that “Macron has the correct idea of the fiscal and economic architecture of the Eurozone” but that his policies may be “too little too late”.

Varoufakis was less enamoured of Irish Minister for Finance Michael Noonan. Asked what he thought of him he replied “not much…I found him insignificant…whenever he spoke he mumbled, and he missed every opportunity to promote the interests of Ireland”.

Hearing him speak it is not surprising that Varoufakis lasted only seven months in politics. He came across not as a politician but as an academic frustrated with the political structures that prevented people from acting on his science-based evidence. He suggested that politics at the EU level was “like 19th Century power… but instead of guns and armies they use fiscal and monetary policies”.

Varoufakis’ own suggestion for EU policy makers is increased capital investment in “green energy, infrastructure, research and development”. He advocated a “common investment program”, with debt reconstruction using ECB bonds. More specifically, what should small countries like Ireland do when negotiating with the EU: “go to Berlin with a well-thought out proposal…and a Plan B when they say no”.

UCD Rosemount Open Day 2017



University College Dublin is a town in itself, with over 30,000 students attending the 300 acre campus in Dublin 4. As such the campus has many little-known areas and facilities hidden around its fringes. Walkers through the woods at lunchtime might come across the running track, the School of Archaeology’s experimental archaeology site or…a field of cows. One of these hidden areas is UCD’s Eden, the Rosemount Environmental Research Station, which is generally closed to the public but held an open day yesterday.

Rosemount is UCD’s centre for plant research, with lots of fascinating studies taking place in its glasshouses. It also hosts the historical Irish apple collection i.e. an orchard with lots of different apple varieties, and the UCD bees which are producing Rosemount honey. The sunny pictures below give an idea of what sort of research is going on and the general bucolic pleasantness of the place.



The Rosemount Orchard and historical Irish apple collection



Research greenhouses and polytunnels at Rosemount


Research with Bord na Mona assessing if organic by-products of the Agrifood industry can be used as compost


Research investigating the GHG emissions of the invasive Gunnera tinctoria plant


Enjoying Rosemount’s natural classroom



Last weekend I paid a visit to Sonáirte, an “eco-centre” in Laytown, about 30 minutes north of Dubin. Sonáirte is a registered charity which runs environmental education courses for children and adults. The centre incorporates gardens, a nature trail including a bird hide, an eco-shop, a cafe and…a bee museum! They have a great website with all the relevant info so I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves.


Irish products from Human+Kind in the eco-shop

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On the Nature Trail

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A taste of what to expect on Sonáirte’s educational courses

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In the Bird Hide


Fair warning from the eco-shop


Summer in the gardens


Handy info in the Bee Museum


View of the River Nanny as seen from the Bird Hide

Future in Food – focus on sustainability


Sustainability is becoming increasingly important in the Food and Agri. industry, a sector which in Ireland accounts for 33% of annual GHG emissions. Future in Food is an annual conference exploring the latest developments in the Irish food and drink industry and featuring presentations on best practice from Irish food producers of all types and sizes. In 2016 the conference theme was sustainability.

The event opened with an address by Michael Creed, Minister for Agriculture, Food and Marine. The Minister began by stating that sustainability has never been more important. He suggested that it is now clear that energy efficiency and environmental management is linked to profitability.

He praised Bord Bia’s Origin Green marketing initiative, observing that it “offers sustainability branding for the industry; marks us 0ut as a country that takes this seriously”. He has noticed when attending trade fairs in Asia that marketers are interested in the sustainability of the food system. The Minister stressed the value of sharing information and pooling experiences, and noted that Origin Green recognises that companies are on “different stages of their sustainability journey”.

He also spoke of Brexit, citing it as the single biggest challenge for the agri business sector in Ireland and highlighting the volume of our exports to the UK.


 Minister Michael Creed speaks at Future in Food

The rest of the day consisted of a number of short presentations from individuals in the industry and a brief summary of each talk follows.

9.30am – Richard Alexander – Industrial Manager – Calor Ireland

Richard explained how Calor is bringing Biopropane bioLPG fuel – a byproduct of biodiesel manufacturing – into Ireland in partnership with Swiss company Neste. He noted that use of biofuel can result in up to 80% GHG emission reductions.

09.55am – Nigel McGuire – Director of Development – McDonalds Restaurants

After an outline of McDonald’s approach to sustainability, Nigel focused on meat production, and outlined some striking facts on Irish beef. Ireland is the largest producer of beef in the Northern hemisphere, and McDonalds is the largest single purchaser of that beef. 1 of every 5 burgers sold by McDonalds in Europe is from Ireland.

He also spoke of the targets the company has set under the Origin Green program, such as 100% of fleet by 2017 to be fueled by biodiesel from waste oil from its restaurants. He suggested that companies should not have a sustainability department, there should instead be a “culture of sustainability”.

Nigel then presented a video in which a farmer supported by McDonalds noted that the company encourages the ‘3 Es’ – food produced in an ethical, environmentally friendly and economically viable manner.

10.20am – John Durkan – Sustainability Manager – ABP Food Grp

John’s brief was what comes next after “doing more with less”. The sustainability program at ABP, Europe’s largest red meat processor, started off as a resource efficiency programme, but the company is now aiming to go beyond this to reduce total waste and food losses.

John also presented some  useful statistics on water use in agriculture, noting that it takes 16,000 litres of water to produce a kilo of beef, that 92% of all the world’s water is used in agriculture, and that 40% of the world’s population are water stressed. This is an area of big focus for ABP and the company has received the Gold standard from the European water stewardship programme.

John presented ABP’s 2020 targets (see below) and noted that the company has already achieved zero waste to landfill target. He explained that they have made their facilities carbon neutral through using biodiesel as fuel.


John Durkan of ABP Food Group

The company is also working with farms on a number of interesting initiatives, such as working with Genus to develop different breeds and strains of animals with better conversion ratios to beef.

In reponse to a question from the audience he suggested that we can meet the EU emissions targets through efficiency and significant investment in new technology. Measuring and monitoring was his mantra and he cited Origin Green as helpful in that regard.

11.15am – Eleanor Meade – Operations Manager – Meade Potato Company

Eleanor described how the Meade Potato Company used Bord Bia’s Origin Green program to engage with sustainability, suggesting that the progam has allowed them to formalise what they’re doing and helps them to set objectives. She observed that “Origin Green reformalises the process of what we do, challenges us to do more and helps us focus in on the key areas”.

She stressed that sustainability involves the whole supply chain, noting that lot of fruit product has to be imported so they are always thinking about carbon footprint. Eleanor cautioned that decisions sometimes “boil back to money – how much does this cost and is there a benefit for everyone involved?” However, she clarified that “if we spend a bit more initially we know we’ll get it back in the long term”.

She also discussed the importance of using the whole crop, and the issue of “visually impaired potatoes”. These are processed into chips, used as stock feed and donated through CrossCare ( Eleanor highlighted the “Feeding the 5k” event in 2012 in which Meade Potatoes participanted, where 5,000 people in Dublin and Cork were given dinner made with visually impaired food ( She also noted that retailers are now making an effort to market wonky fruit and veg, citing Woolworth’s (Australia) “Odd bunch” initiative (

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“Wonky fruit and veg are gaining popularity” – the Odd Bunch

11.40am – Majella Kelleher – Energy Demand Manager – SEAI

Majella outlined SEAI business supports, with a particular focus on their EXEED certification programme for buildings. This helps organisations to build in energy efficiency at any point in the building process but particularly at the design stage when, she explained, it is most important.

12.00am – Keith Bonner – Sustainability Director – Irish Fish Canners

Irish Fish Canners packs Irish mackeral and herring for international markets. Keith began with the story of how they recently changed the size of their cans, helping them to reduce energy use and emissions. It is interesting to note that it took two and a half years to change the can size, illustrating the complexity of making product changes for sustainability. This helped them to reduce their carbon footprint by 20%. On the company’s Origin Green certification he commented that “at the start [of Origin Green] you think its a mountain to climb but once you start it makes you better”. This was echoed by a number of the SMEs presenting during the day.

12.20pm – Una Fitzgibbon – Director of Marketing Services – Origin Green

Úna took us through the development of the Origin Green program and Bord Bia’s plans for the future. She began by arguing that “the future of food is sustainability” and “embracing sustainability has assisted the growth of the industry”. She outlined her reasons to engage with sustainability in the slide below:


Una Fitzgibbon of Bord Bia outlines why business should engage with sustainability

Úna also explained that trade customers in the industry see sustainability as important to their busines, and Origin Green allows Ireland to work with these organisations. She suggested that the programme can be implemented in Ireland because the whole industry will work together in a small country.

Úna described Origin Green as a  “platform for communicating the sustainability credentials of the industry”. She said that these credentials are “currency, in demand from our trade customers. And in the future as millenials come down the line [sustainability] will be more in demand”. Bord Bia has evidence of trade customers extending contracts due to Origin Green and surveys at international trade fairs have estimated 30% awareness of Origin Green.

The program is currently being piloted out through services e.g. supermarkets and restaurants, and will soon move on to distribution. She noted that health and wellness is important to Origin Green and will be an emphasis going forward.

The long-term goal of Origin Green is to “build a sustainable food demonstration in Ireland”. Úna stated that “nation branding” is uniquely important to a small country like Ireland. Origin Green is “the opportunity to brand the country for its green credentials, not just its green image, through the delivery of real, green, evidence based data“.

1.45pm – John Curran – Head of Sustainability – Musgrave Group

Retail group Musgraves is the largest private sector employer in Ireland, employing over 35,000 people. John Curran explained how the company’s existing values as a family business align with sustainability e.g. taking a long-term view. The purpose of the business is to maintain it for future generations, which echoes the Brundtland definition of SD. He explained that for Musgraves, sustainable development requires that we see the world as a system; “things that happen in one time in one area have an impact on another time and another area”.

It was good to see a business engaging with the real issues of sustainability, as illustrated by this slide John presented.


John Curran, Musgrave Group

When revising their sustainability strategy in 2015 Musgraves looked to the SDGs and decided to focus on 9 goals, as illustrated in the figure below.Image result for musgrave sustainability

Musgrave Group’s strategy aligned to UN Sustainable Development Goals

2.10pm – Richard Keagan – FIEI Manager – Enterprise Ireland

Dr Keegan talked about lean management, which he dubbed “Operation Transformation for business”. He took us through Enterprise Ireland’s lean business offers (

2.30am – Mark Haughey – Sustainability Manager – Coca Cola (HBC)

Mark explained Coke’s sustainability policy and highlighted what the company has done in the areas of water, carbon and waste. With the help of the slide below he illustrated how the company has achieved zero waste in its Lisburn plant.


Mark Haughey from Coca-Cola

3.25pm – James Cherry – Grp. Environmental Manager – Greencore

James discussed energy management at Greencore, which he explained was catalysed by the UK ESOS initiative, which requires organisations to perform an energy audit but, oddly not to act on any of the issues identified. Starting from scratch the business has focused first on short term energy efficiency measures and will look at more long term renewable energy projects in the future.

3.45pm – Patrick Rooney – Managing Director – Derrycamma Farm

Derrycamma farm is a tillage farm producing rape seed oil. Patrick had some interesting insight into joining Origin Green as a small company. He noted that the key was tailoring the programme to fit the business. He also benefited from the help of LEAF in the UK, which helped Derrycamma focus on soil protection.

4.10pm – Birgitta Hedin-Curtin – Founder – Burren Smokehouse

The Burren Smokehouse is now a food tourism business as well as a food producer, attracting 45,000 visitors every year to its visitors centre. Birgitta noted that when they first heard of Origin Green they thought “do we need this, are we not sustainable already? But then we realised that this was an opportunity”. They also found the Burren Code of Practice helpful when applying for Origin Green certification. She suggested that when people are on holidays is the best time to get a sustainability message across to them.

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The Burren


Sustainability Gathering 2016

On Tuesday Sustainable Nation Ireland ( held the Sustainability Gathering, a one-day event in Dublin Castle bringing together industry and policy-makers and consisting of back-to-back panel discussions on business, investment and policy for sustainability. The event blurb stated that it was aimed to “discuss and showcase the many ways that Irish businesses can grab a share of the estimated €85 trillion which will be invested in global sustainability and resource efficiency by 2030″.

Four panels were held, bookended by an introduction and wrap-up. Stephen Nolan, CEO of Sustainable Nation Ireland, introduced the Gathering, observing that he hoped the day would provide some insight on how corporate Ireland can work with government to “show government the opportunities in this space”. He opened with some examples of Irish corporate engagement with sustainability:



He also highlighted the findings below from a recent KPMG survey that illustrates that 74% of Irish companies “recognise sustainability as important to business strategy”.


The next introductory speakers were Pat Cox, Chairman of the Sustainability Gathering and former President of the European Parliament, and John Mullins, Chairman of Sustainable Nation Ireland, who briefly discussed sustainability at a policy level. Pat Cox suggested that the Irish government must set GHG emissions targets in every sector, and develop actionable sector-specific plans. He noted that emissions in all sectors are going up and that we need to be mindful of the EU’s increasingly ambitious targets. His recommendation was “policy innovation” and he suggested that the government needs to open conversations with a range of actors, for example, talk to taxi drivers about switching to electric vehicles. We need “dialogue focused on deliverables, not diagnosis”.

They also considered the impact of the political situation in the US post-Trump. Pat Cox noted that not all industries in the US are committed to sustainability e.g. the motor industry, while John Mullins warned that corporate America will continue to lobby in its own interests.

This discussion was followed by four panels, all chaired by David Murphy of RTE. A brief summary of each panel follows below.

Panel 1: Providing a supportive policy framework, an insight

• Eamonn Confrey, Principal Officer Decarbonisation Unit, D/Communications,
Climate Action & the Environment
• Des O’Leary, Principal Officer Climate Finance, D/Finance
• Dr. John O’Neill, Principal Officer Climate Policy, D/Communications,
Climate Action & the Environment
• Declan Hughes, Assistant Secretary General Action Plan for Jobs,
D/Jobs, Enterprise & Innovation

This discussion featured four policymakers from three different governmental departments, and offered a fascinating insight into the government view on private and public sector collaboration.

Eamonn Confrey discussed electric vehicles, and suggested that the public sector can be an early adopter. He also noted the importance of giving certainty to investors, a theme that was picked up by a number of speakers during the morning.

Des O’Leary suggested that the private sector was a crucial driver of renewable energy, and John O’Neill agreed that government would like to engage more with the private sector. John drew our attention to the national climate change mitigation plan, which will be published for consultation in next few weeks. He suggested that climate policy is currently top-down, and that more engagement is needed at a regional level. He also suggested that innovation is required on adaptation as well as mitigation, noting that a new national adaptation plan will be published mid-2017.

Declan Hughes spoke of productivity, sustainability and resilience in agriculture and highlighted the role of ag. tech and ag. machinery. He noted that the industry is aiming for an increase in output with a decrease in input. He also stressed that the delivery of policies requires “ownership at a local level”, referring to the case of the proposed Apple data centre in Athenry (latest news here).

When it came to the audience Q&A environmental campaigner Duncan Stewart (of RTE’s Eco-Eye) said he was disappointed with the level of the discussion and suggested that there was no leadership coming from government, just “lack of action and lack of joined-up thinking”. He called for the establishement of a “high price on fossil fuels”. The panel responded that this would result in competitiveness issues for Ireland, and burden sharing in terms of tax. John O’Neill suggested that taxation is only one small element of policies that need to be changed and promised a range of issues in the forthcoming mitigation plan.

Panel 2: Mobilising Finance for a Sustainable, Low Carbon Economy

• Colin Hunt, Managing Director Wholesale & Institutional Banking, AIB
• Peter Cripps, Editor-in-Chief, Environmental Finance
• Helena Anderson, Head of Capital Investment, UK Department of
Trade & Investment
• Manus O’Donnell, CIO NTR Plc

The second panel focused on investment for sustainability, with insight on both lending to businesses and large-scale insitutional investment.

Peter Cripps suggested that investors are now relatively confident when it comes to solar and wind energy, and emphasised that it is “crucial to get institutional investors on board”. He has observed an increase in demand for more data from investors such as carbon footprinting for companies, and also a push back on carbon footprinting not being enough. Peter discussed the upcoming FSB guidance on climate-related risk (due on 14th December from the TCFD) and suggested that investors are concerned about the risk of overvaluation of fossil fuel-related assets, a point Manus O’Donnell also echoed. Peter Cripp also noted that new legislation in France on ESG reporting will come into effect next year (see here for info). He also drew our attention to the work of the Grantham Research Institute on carbon budgets (

Peter identified a number of trends related to sustainability and green investment:

  • Shareholder action becoming more common, as in the case of a number of mining companies
  • Green bond market – this is still tiny but has seen an explosion of interest. He highlighted Irish company Gaelectric as one to watch in this area.
  • Companies now reporting carbon emissions. Here he referred to the recent Carbon Disclosure Project report on Irish companies.

Later in the discussion, he proposed a couple of policy directions for Ireland. The first was the PACE housing scheme in the US, where energy efficiency upgrades are made to homes but the debt is attached to the home rather than the owner. Second was a Green Investment Bank as in the UK, which he suggests can help to make investors more comfortable with the riskiest stages of investment.

Helena Anderson gave us the UK perspective, arguing that Brexit will not effect the UK government’s investment in green finance. She suggested that institutional investors such as pension funds and insurance companies are becoming more comfortable with risk, and cautioned that “huge amounts of public funding crowd out the private sector”.

Colin Hunt of AIB noted that there is a capital gap in the early, more risky part of funding. He suggested that “financial innovation” is required. From his perspective it is government, not business that needs to be convinced to invest in sustainability, and he urged government to provide the regulatory framework. He highlighted this open letter from US companies to Donald Trump. He closed with the point that talk of a “Green IFSC (Irish Financial Services Centre) lacks credibility when Ireland is failing to meet its EU climate targets. In his view “we have a mountain to climb”.

Panel 3: Enterprise led, Solutions driven


• Jim Fitzharris, Group Secretary, Smurfit Kappa Group
• Tom Mitchell, Head of Ireland-U.K. (EU’s largest climate tech platform)
• Ronan Furlong, CEO Alpha Innovation, DCU

• Tom Mitchell, Director UK and Ireland, Climate-KIC

• Christine Boyle, CEO, Senergy Innovations

• Seemab Sheikh – Deputy Head of Mission, Embassy of Denmark in Ireland

Jim Fitzharris gave us an introduction to sustainability reporting at Smurfit Kappa, observing that the only way you know what you’re doing is to manage and report on it. He also said that he would like to corporate Ireland “upset the applecart” and really push renewable energy.

Seemab Sheik gave a fascinating insight into Danish economic and environmental policy. She said that their approach to sustainability began during the 1970s oil crisis, when they realised they could not be dependent on imported fuel. Denmark is now branded as “State of Green” and she explained that this branding allows them to bring all actors together. When asked later in the Q&A how government reacts if industry responds to new policies with “no, that’s too expensive”, she indicated that they simply explain to industry that they will lose out if they don’t adjust.

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Denmarks’ State of Green branding image

Tom Mitchell discussed the various initiatives Climate-KIC plans to bring to Ireland, including a green entrepreneurship education platform. He suggested that more regulation increases innovation, citing the EU emissions trading scheme as an example

Christine Boyle told the story of her company Senergy, which aims to provide low cost solar energy, giving an insight into the challenges of starting and growing a renewable energy business. Support is available from sources like DCU’s Alpha Innovation, which, as Ronan Furlong explained, has helped organisations such as Exergen get valuable EU funding. Ronan also observed that he is now seeing innovation at business process level as well as a technological level.

A brief interlude after the panel was the presentation of the Sustainable Business Leadership Award 2016 to Sean O’Driscoll, President of Glen Dimplex. In his short speech he suggested that energy efficiency and renewable energy must be developed in tandem. He called for the electricification of heat and transport and clear policies and strong regulations to make this happen. He indicated the the primary energy factor for electricity must be revised, as it is currently at a disadvantage compared to fossil fuels.

Panel 4: Positioned to Lead, Ireland’s opportunity

• Sean O’Driscoll, President Glen Dimplex
• Diarmaid Ferriter, Professor of Modern History UCD
• Sean Kidney, CEO Climate Bonds Initiative
• Fergal Leamy, CEO Coillte

In the final panel Diarmuid Ferriter spoke of the new political challenges presented by 2016. He observed that politics now faces many new and modern challenges such as climate change. He suggested that Ireland must champion a green agenda and push it to the best of our ability internationally, in a variety of different international fora. He also argued that climate change education should be compulsory in schools and that society must “get our heads around” the idea of climate-related taxes. Asked about the US situation, he commented that in Ireland we get an “east coast, liberal view” on the US; we don’t hear much about the “spectacular inequality” in the country (see the Guardian’s Anywhere but Washington series for some indication).

Continuing the US theme, Sean O’Driscoll suggested that the US will ignore the Paris climate change agreement and that “China will use it to get one up on the US”. He referred to the problem of “trapped assets in developed countries that industries will want to protect”, not such an issue in developing countries. On Brexit, he drew our attention to this ESRI report on the sector and product-specific impacts on Ireland.

Fergal Leamy discussed renewable energy, suggesting that it can be one of Ireland’s competitive advantages. However he also called for clearer policy, telling us that Coillte hesitated on investing in wind farms because of the lack of a planned policy framework.

The last word of the panel was left to Sean Kidney, from the NGO Climate Bonds Initiative. He began by outlining the reality of climate change, stating that “our future is currently unbelievably grim. 2degrees warming is the ambition. We are currently at 4degrees”. His advice was that “we need to bridge the gap between capital and deals”, suggesting that this is where financiers come in, and this is also where Ireland comes in with innovation. He also advised that the shift must be signaled from the top, at Prime Minister level.

The last speaker of the day was Jim Gannon, CEO of the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland (SEAI), who had some homework for the audience. He urged us to respond to public consultations on climate change action and to get our views across to policy makers:

“We need to lead by example. We all need to act and engage”.



NUIG 1916 – 2016 Conference

Last weekend NUI Galway held a national conference on the theme of “Ireland 1916-2016: The Promise and Challenge of National Sovereignty”, in honour of the centenary of Irish independence. The four day conference brought together speakers from academia, industry and media to take a retrospective and prospective look at Irish politics, economy and society in the past 100 years and into the future.

The presence of some leading sociologists, economists and political scientists made for stimulating and in-depth sessions on societal, economic and policy issues, which have significant implications for sustainable development, and business, in Ireland. A few of these sessions were of particular interest in the sustainability/business context and these are reviewed below.

Economy and Society


Prof. Kevin O’Rourke presents his paper alongisde some of his respondents

First up is Friday’s session on “Economy, Society and Well-being of Citizens”. The keynote speech was delivered by Prof. Kevin O’Rourke from the University of Oxford, who spoke on “Independent Ireland: a comparative perspective”, a review of Irish economic history from 1916 – 2016, in comparison with other European countries. The data presented clearly illustrated how, having grown in line with Europe from 1926 – 2001,  Ireland suddenly became an economic growth “overperformer” at the turn of the Millenium.

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Irish GDP volatility 1960 – 2014

Prof. O’Rourke went on to discuss Brexit, suggesting that we have to hope that the UK chooses a “soft Brexit”, but that countries will invariably look after their own self-interest. He pointed out that this was something Ireland is no stranger to, citing our corporation tax-rate. He highlighted that tariffs on exports to the UK may be imposed by the OECD and we will need a transitional trade deal while Brexit is occuring over the next couple of years. Prof. O’Rourke also talked us through the the Irish export figures, observing that the EU is a far more common export destination for every sector except agriculture. He closed by cautioning that “the kind of hyper-globalisation we’ve been so good at exploiting is becoming politically unsustainable throughout the western world”.


The destination of Irish exports, as presented by Prof. O’Rourke

After Prof. O’Rourke’s paper, five respondents from different scholarly perspectives gave their views on the session theme and, to varying extents, the paper.

First was Prof. Alan Barrett of the ESRI (Economic and Social Research Institute), who focused on the Society and Well-being aspects of the theme, and in particular on the topic of children’s welfare. With reference to the 1916 proclamation, he asked: does Ireland treat all its’ children equally? The ESRI has set about answering this question through the Growing up in Ireland (GUI) survey (, where 18,000 children have been interviewed and tested at various stages of their lives. The report has revealed some startling findings on the link between social disadvantage and learning, low birth weight and obesity, such as those illustrated in the slide below. His conclusion was that, no, every child in Ireland is not getting an equal start in life.

20161111_151222The panel considers Prof. Barrett’s findings

The next respondent was Prof. Mary Corcoran from Maynooth University’s Sociology Department, and she spoke of the concept of “everyday civicism”. She defined this as social civility, the “everyday interactions” that “create the latticework that hold society together”. She noted that in the wake of the recession, participatory spaces of different kinds have sprung up where exchange, democracy and debate is taking place, such as urban allotments, public libraries, festivals etc. So although we may have “lost the plot”, she said, we’ve also demonstrated “a lot of resilience, resourcefulness and civicism”.


“We may have lost the plot…” Prof. Mary Corcoran

Tony Foley of Dublin City University then spoke of the historic lack of indigenous manufacturing entrepreneurship in Ireland. He suggested that this has not emerged due to a mismatch between cost base and technical capability. Dr. Eoin O’Leary of University College Cork began on a similar theme, observing that although 80% of Irish R&D is spent by MNCs, they are three times less likely to innovate than Irish companies. He put this down to Ireland’s “rent-seeking” economic policy, suggesting that we have a “dissociative” approach to policy, supporting FDI over indigenous industry, and that the government needs to create conditions for “bottom-up” economic development.

20161111_201704 20161111_201723Dr. Eoin O’Leary’s suggestions for Irish economic policy

Lastly, Dr. Conor Skehan of Dublin Institute of Technology discussed the urbanisation of Irish society, highlighting how much the distribution of our population has changed in the past 100 years, and particularly in the last 20.

The session closed with a brief Q&A, which featured several audience questions related to sustainability. In response, Kevin O’Rourke expressed his support for climate-related trade tariffs*.


The Saturday morning session was entitled “The Challenges, Promises and Responsibilities of Education in the 21st Century”, where the keynote speaker was Prof. Louise Richardson, Principal of the University of Oxford, who presented a fascinating paper on education and terrorism. She said that although it is tempting to see education as an antidote to terrorism, the reality is not that simple, citing several prominent terrorists who were qualified professionals with a third-level education. She discussed the theory of “relative deprivation”, suggesting that this can affect radicals in poorer countries. Prof. Richardson emphasised the importance of encouraging students to think critically, act ethically and have empathy with others.

She also briefly discussed access to education, presenting the sobering statistic that 4 out of 5 children in well-off areas of Dublin will get to University, compared to only 1 of every 7.5 in disadvantaged areas.

This was a theme taken up by the first respondent, Prof. Dympna Devine of UCD, who argued that ineqality in education is a violation of childrens’ moral right, and suggested that there has always been chronic under-investment in education in Ireland, even during the boom. In the Q&A later she suggested that it is “extraordinary” that the private model now dominates early years education in Ireland and that this raises fundamental questions around power. She also drew our attention to UNICEF’s work on child poverty (e.g. see

Second respondent Prof. Fionnuala Waldron of St Patricks College (Dublin City University) spoke on education for democracy and climate change education. She suggested that the goverment should focus on funding these issues, rather than some more niche concerns, using this cartoon to illustrate her point.

Image result for joy of tech coding cartoon

Prof. Waldron spoke eloquently on education for democracy: “we must learn to act in solidarity with people who are not like us; to recognise our shared humanity”. She suggested that climate change education currently takes a “rear view mirror” approach, focusing on past policies and whether climate change is happening, rather than considering future scenarios. Education for sustainable development must engage “head, heart and hands” (e.g. see

Prof. Willie Donnelly of Waterford IT then focused on University partnerships with industry. He cited the internet as a notable challenge to education in the 21st Century, suggested that it is jeopardising our critical thinking. He also commented in the Q&A later that Irish Universities need more encouragement from the government on multi-disciplinary work. The final respondent was Dr Niamh Hourigan of University College Cork, who suggested that the big challenge for Universities is to “be the critique of neo-liberalism”.

The last word was left to Louise Richardson, who suggested in response to a question from the audience that Universities perhaps need to separate themselves more from industry than they have. We need to remember that:

“The purpose of a University is to create cultivated human beings, not simply supplying a skilled workforce”.


The closing plenary of the conference was a discussion on “Political Futures and New Paradigms”, featuring Prof. Brendan O’Leary of the University of Pennsylvania. Prof. O’Leary began his talk by highlighting the “Ireland 2116” map below, pointing out that if climate change continues at current rates both Galway and Dublin will be under water in 100 years.


Ireland 2116: the title slide for Prof. O’Leary’s talk

He then identified a number of current political “megatrends”, stressing that Ireland is not immune from these trends:

  • De-democratization
  • Power of the rich
  • Purchase of the media and the judiciary
  • Erosion of social democratic parties
  • Estrangement from political parties in general
  • Xenophobia
  • Neoliberalism and its discontents

Prof. O’Leary went on to discuss the currently “unsteady equilibrium” of the EU, particularly in the context of Brexit. He used these cartoons to illustrate how Brexit has been perceived around Europe.

Image result for tom janssen brexit Image result for gatis sluka british pound                         by Tom Janssen (Netherlands)                                         by Gatis Sluka (Latvia)

He then discussed the various soft and hard UKEXIT options, with the help of the following slide [apologies for the very poor quality photo].


UK-exit options, as presented by Prof. O’Leary

He has proposed his own UKEXIT option, “Dalriada”, where Scotland and Northern Ireland remain part of the EU. Details here:

Prof. O’Leary also discussed the possbility of a united Ireland, suggested that there is a Northern Irish case for unification in terms of economic benefit. This point was taken up by the first respondent, Dr Niall Ó Dochartaigh of NUIG, who pointed to the results of a RTE/BBC NI survey on unification which suggested that the majority of respondents are “open to debate, discussion and persuasion”. Dr Ó Dochartaigh discussed the nature of democracy in light of recent political events. He suggested that “democracy is about debate and change, not about stasis”, encouraging us to remember that politics is about challenging the majority: “it is not in our power to keep things the way they are. We need to respond to changes in imaginative ways”.

The final respondent was Prof. Jennifer Todd of UCD, who argued that in fact Dalriada could be more radical. She noted in her talk that “identity politics doesn’t work” and suggested that politics hasn’t taken this into account. For further reading on the topic, check out this article on identity politics and the US election:

*For more into on climate change and trade, here’s a couple of references:


CSEAR Ireland 2016

Image result for kemmy business school

Kemmy Business School, University of Limerick

Last month the CSEAR Ireland conference was held at the University of Limerick, bringing together social and environmental accounting scholars from all over the world. CSEAR is the Centre for Social and Environmental Accounting Research, based at the University of St Andrews, Scotland ( The first annual CSEAR Summer School, which is now usually hosted by St Andrews, was held in 1990 and conferences around the world have sprung up since – North America, Australia, South America, Spain, China – and for the first time this year, Ireland.

The theme of the conference was “Public Interest and the Common Good”, which proved a catalyst for some great discussions on the purpose of accounting and why accountability, and social and environmental accounting research, matters (or not?)


Much of that debate occured in Thursdays’ plenary on “Accountability and the Public Interest” featuring keynotes from Prof. Jesse Dillard, University of Florida and Dr. Mary Canning of University College Dublin. Speaking first, Mary Canning discussed how we define “public interest” and the “common good”, citing among others Cochran (1974) and Willmott (1990) (see references below). She used the work of Dellaportas and Davenport (2008) to explain that the accounting profession has moved to the “abolitionist” perspective on public interest, which in fact privileges the pursuit of self-interest. Mary closed with a number of thought-provoking research questions for accounting scholars.


Mary Canning’s suggestions for further research

Jesse Dillard spoke next in interactive style, encouraging audience participation from the start and turning the plenary into a lively debate. He suggested that it is the responsibility of academics to act as conscience, critic and counselor to business and the accounting profession, partcipating in and perhaps influencing the public discourse on accounting. He observed that “we are creating a whole new discipline called accountability”, but questioned whether the term is an open signifier or a vacuous one. Jesse suggested that we need to clarify the meaning of accountability and work on “building a conceptual infrastructure around accountability”, and perhaps his framework below is a useful place to start.


Can transparency enable participation? Jesse Dillard’s take on accountability

Jesse then went on to discuss the theory behind accountability. He suggested that it is about trust, or lack thereof: “if I trusted you entirely I wouldn’t need accountability”. Ultimately he encouraged us all to think about why we were there at the conference, why do we care about accountability and why does it matter? We are rationalists, he argued, with a faith that human beings will make rational decisions. Therefore we call for accountability and transparency in the belief that those accounted to e.g. the public, regulators, will act on the information then provided e.g. boycott or impose penalties on companies.

Other sessions

Apart from the plenary, some excellent papers were presented throughout the day, and a few are summarised here, with apologies to the authors whose sessions I didn’t manage to attend.

Earlier on Jesse Dillard presented a paper on accounting and accountability in a fascinating organisation – a cattle ranchers co-op in Colorado ( Himself and co-author Madeline Pullman posed a number of intriguing research questions:

  • Can a commercial enterprise survive in the long run with its primary objective being something other than maximising shareholder value?
  • What would that organisation look like?
  • What types of accounting systems would be facilitative?
  • Is the economic result the means or the end?

The key objective of this organisation, rather than maximising shareholder value, is to keep the next generation on the ranch. He suggested that the organisation has developed its own management and accounting system based around supporting its key objective, and that this is what enables the organisation to survive.

Matthew Scobie from the University of Sheffield looked at accountability in the deep sea oil exploration industry in New Zealand, drawing on a range of interviews with actors in the accountability arena, including local activists. He suggested that there were many different “accounts” within the arena, it was in fact “overwhelmed” by accounts. For example, the protests of the activists were informal systems of accountability. However, there were few expectations of accountability – people didn’t trust the organisations involved and expected the government to look after the country’s natural resources. The paper promises to be an interesting read once it is published. Also useful to note is the paper on accountability in football by Cooper and Johnston (2012), which Matthew drew on for his theory development.

All the way from the University of Florida, Dennis Huber explored the conceptual framework around the “public interest”, focusing on its treatment by the US Financial Accounting Standards Board (FASB). He highlighted that the FASB definitions of financial statement users do not mention the public. The mission of FASB and the SEC, he argued, is to protect the market, not the public interest.

Brigitte de Graff, Vrije University, Amsterdam, presented an interesting paper where she used the literature on management fashions, including Abrahamson (1996), to ask if integrated reporting  ( is a management fad. She found that integrated reporting does fit the management fashion trends, and noted that natural and manufactured capital is not mentioned at all in IR, making it an incomplete framework. Her paper led to a thoughtful discussion, with one audience member suggesting drily that if integrated reporting is fashionable maybe that’s a good thing because it may disappear soon. See Thomson (2015) for a further critique of IR.

On Thursday afternoon Markus Milne, Professor of Accounting at the University of Canterbury, New Zealand, presented his beautifully-titled paper co-authored with Rob Gray: “The Unbelievable in Pursuit of the Inconceivable: Empiricism and the Social Construction of Corporate Environmental Performance”. Key to this paper was a critique of what the authors called the “over simplification” of measures of corporate environmental performance (CEP) in large quantitative studies. He argued that all of the different measures used are to do with the firm, not the environment; “this is a narrative about the organisation not about ecology” and “ecology is partitioned off because it’s too hard”.


Markus Milne explores Corporate Environmental Performance measures in the literature

Per Milne and Gray’s thesis, these measures take on too much significance and become reified, they “become the thing”, when in reality the issues from an ecological perspective are so complex that it is “inconceivable that we could track effects back to causes”. During the presentation Markus also drew our attention to a number of related books, for future reference:

Image result for Tom's river book                               Image result for our stolen future

The final paper of the day came from conference organisers Sheila Killian and Philip O’Regan of UL, who presented their fascinating early stage case study on accountability in the Makana township in South Africa. In response to water problems, a company, MobiSAM, has set up a “Social Accountability Monitor” ( which residents can use to report water problems. Citing the work of Cooper and Owen (2007), Killian and O’Regan suggested that this changes the way people can engage with accountability process; they can be more empowered actors. However, they have not yet decided on the answer to their research question: “is accountability being created at all?” Jesse Dillard might call that an appropriate way to close the day.

Links to in-text references

Abrahamson (1996) –

Cochran (1974) –

Cooper and Johnston (2012) –

Cooper and Owen (2007) –

Dellaportas and Davenport (2008) –

Munzio et al (2016) –

Thomson (2015) –

Willmott (1990) –


Jeffrey Sachs on the SDGs


Pre-lecture gathering at UCD’s O’Reilly Hall

Yesterday University College Dublin presented the Ulysses medal for outstanding global contribution to Prof Jeffrey Sachs, a leading development expert from Columbia University. Prof. Sachs then gave an inspirational lecture on the UN Sustainable Development Goals (, along with a short Q&A.

Prof. Sachs was introduced by Prof. Paul Walsh, UCD’s Professor of International Development, who stressed that academia must work in partnership with government, civil society and private sector to achieve the SDGs. He discussed Prof. Sachs’ work with the UN on development economics and highlighted a quote from his book The End of Poverty: “markets cannot meet the needs of the desperately poor”.


Personalised SDG seats in O’Reilly Hall

After a brief introduction in which he stressed the role of Universities in achieving the SDGs, Jeffrey Sachs discussed what he identified as two distinct perspectives on economics:

  1. Society has the potential to produce anything – it has choices. This enables us to ask the question – what are our possibilities? e.g. could we “produce” a low carbon energy system, could we “produce” the end of poverty
  2. The market view –  the supply-demand equilibrium is the outcome of the economy. What happens is what producers and consumers want to happen, and the “invisible hand” is how resources are allocated. However, resources can be allocated in ways which result in outcomes such as poverty and pollution.

Prof. Sachs argued that we must engage with the first perspective and “remember what is possible, not just accept what is. We must ask what we should be doing to make life better for humans on the planet”. He urged us all to engage with our moral agency and not “get stuck as spectators”, remembering that the “true end goal” is human well-being, not property rights.

Prof. Sachs went on to argue that the SDGs are readily economically achievable, and our inability to achieve them is a “moral, psychological problem” rather than an economic problem. He used the example of SDG4 – Quality Education: the cost of every child in the world receiving a secondary education would be US$40 billion per annum, ostensibly a large amount. But if we add up the GDP of all the OECD nations, the total comes to c. US$50 trillion, of which the 40billion is a tiny 0.08%. Prof. Sachs noted that “we are constantly spending money on things we don’t need and yet to achieve the SDGs it would not cost more than 3% of our economy”. He added that we have 1800 billionaires in the world, who between them have US$700 trillion; arguing that “this could be done with 2000 people”.


Jeffrey Sachs speaks on the Sustainable Development Goals

In the Q&A session Prof. Sachs was first asked what he had learned from working on the UN’s Millenium Development Goals, which preceded the SDGs. He answered that “it’s hard to get the world’s attention on anything like this. Are we aware of these issues? We’re competing with a lot of things, with a lot of basketball games on television, with Kim Kardashian”. He also noted that there is a public scepticism that development aid might all be lost or misspent, stressing that we need systems that resist corruption.

Asked what Ireland must do to achieve the SDGs, his advice, which he had also highlighted earlier in his talk, was to “ask someone who knows…mobilise expertise and use it effectively”. Citing the need for renewable energy, he urged us to get experts to understand the problem, analyse it, and ask: what are the choices here? Economists can then be brought in to suggest policy e.g. carbon tax, electric taxi fleets. He also criticised Ireland’s sustainable development strategy as generic and not focused on problem-solving. We can judge for ourselves here:

Prior to the lecture UCD held an exhibition showcasing its development education courses, including the PhD in global development ( and the joint Masters in Development Practice with Trinity college, a course facilitated by 40 different universities around the world (

The UCD Centre for Humanitarian Action also featured and now runs a 16 month MSc. It provided us with the Irish Consultation to last year’s World Humanitarian Summit (WHS), for which it was the Secretariat. The consultation discusses six thematic areas (see below) and offers recommendations for the WHS and for the Irish Humanitarian community in relation to each area. There’s lots of info on the Centre’s website at


Irish Consultation to the World Humanitarian Summit 2015 – Contents


Visions 2100


Earlier this week the Dublin launch was held of Visions 2100, a book which brings together the visions of 80 people, including many environmental scientists, policy-makers and campaigners, imagining what the world might look like in the year 2100 (

The book’s editor John O’Brien, entrepreneur, author and MD of his own cleantech company, envisaged the book as a way of gathering ideas on how to address climate change. Everyone is invited to share their own vision on the book’s website. In the book contributors such as Mary Robinson, UN Special Envoy on Climate Change, and Christina Figueres, Executive Secretary of the UNFCCC, outline their 2100 vision in (usually) less than 200 words.


At the launch four experts spoke on climate change and their vision for the future, while John O’Brien chaired a Q&A. John Gibbons, an Irish Times journalist who hosts his own blog on climate change ( entitled his vision “The Age of Madness”, featuring a look back at 2015 as a time when “everyone was competing with everyone else – for money, resources, status”. He stressed the importance of a clear vision and suggested that Ireland has shown a lack of vision in undermining the EU 2030 climate targets.

Next was Aideen O’Hora of Sustainable Nation Ireland (, who argued that we must have a global perspective on climate change and when creating a vision for the future, citing the example of migration of people around the world. She also mentioned the EU’s Climate-KIC initiative – – and a couple of its programs, Climathon and Climate LaunchPad. Her message was that action starts with a conversation.

Academic and activist Dr Cara Augustenborg ( highlighted the importance of localised environmental and social sustainability, using the example of local food production in Cuba. She suggested that “we need to replace the consumerist dream with wellbeing, equality and connectedness”. Dr Augustenborg also drew our attention to an excellent video by GOOD magazine – If the world were 100 people, which features this infographic:


Finally, barrister and former Minister Alex White spoke of how his most difficult job when in office was persuading colleagues of the urgency of what needed to be done on climate change. He suggested that “the argument doesn’t travel very far unless people see it close to them” and that the further away the target is e.g. the year 2030 or 2050, “the more alibis people have to do nothing”. He cited a lack of political leadership as a significant issue and argued that a “great national project” is needed.

In response to a question from the audience on what needs to change for the optimistic Visions 2100 to be realised, Mr White called for a national dialogue on climate action, a forum including everyone, especially farmers. Cara Augustenborg echoed that climate change must become a “doorstep issue”, where voters urge politicians to address it. She also stated that if she was in charge of the country for a day, she would take over the media and broadcast wall to wall climate science. On the same question, John Gibbons suggested that the national curriculum needs to be rewritten, bringing climate and sustainability education into every level.

So now it’s our turn… submit your 200 word vision at:!write-your-vision/rjqdl