Dreaming of a Green, Green Christmas.

Christmas is a time of the year when lots of waste is generated and our energy consumption overall is greatly increased. It is a time for celebrations and with a little thought and imagination we can help reduce the environmental impact of the festive season.

Here are some Green Christmas tips that’ll help you to save money, reduce your Christmas carbon footprint and won’t cost the Earth!

Although plastic Christmas trees are reusable from year to year, real trees are the more sustainable choice. Plastic trees are made mostly of plastic and use up resources in both the manufacture and shipping. While artificial trees theoretically last forever, research shows that they are typically discarded when repeated use makes them less attractive. Discarded artificial trees are then sent to landfills, where their plastic content makes them last forever.

Live trees, on the other hand, are a renewable resource grown on tree farms, that are replanted regularly. They contribute to air quality while growing, and almost ninety percent are recycled into mulch. Live trees are usually locally grown and sold, saving both transportation costs and added air pollution.

Go to your local council’s website after Christmas for details on tree recycling and collection.

Visit your local garden centre and buy a live Irish grown tree in a large pot. This will allow you to reuse the tree for a few years without having to plant or re-pot the tree. If you have a spacious garden the tree can be planted out after Christmas where it can be enjoyed for many years and also help the environment.

LED Fairy Lights

We all like to decorate our Christmas trees and the exterior of the house with hundreds of those little twinkling lights and you don’t have to stop doing that to go green. However, you do need to replace those traditional Christmas lights from years past with the newest kid on the block – LED (light emitting diode) Christmas lights.

They use up to 90% less energy than traditional incandescent Christmas lights. Beyond the decrease in energy usage, these LED lights produce very little heat which significantly reduces the risk of fire and they last about 10 times longer than traditional lights (about 200,000 hours).

Look for locally made gifts – many gifts today come from halfway around the world, and the impact of transportation, the raw materials, manufacturing ethics, use of toxic chemicals etc contributes significantly to greenhouse emissions and global warming. Local markets, craft fairs and artisan shops are a good source for gifts that come without the added costs of transportation.

Local markets and Artisan Food Shops

Choose gifts made from recycled sources – many individuals and small businesses have developed great products using recycled materials. Supporting these businesses helps reduce the waste stream while promoting the concept of making best use of available materials.

Why not consider the gift of a tree for someone special this Christmas.  Planting a tree can be a very touching gift as it will last a lifetime.  Trees are also very beneficial for the environment and help set off our carbon footprint.

Alternatively you may know someone who would like to start growing their own vegetables but just don’t know where to start.  By growing vegetables in your own back yard, you directly reduce the demand for produce shipped from remote locations and thereby, reduce your own carbon footprint. So, whether they have a sunny windowsill, a small back garden or a few acres why not contact Greenside Up in Carlow and Aisling Designs in Wexford who, with their expertise  can point them in the right direction to realise their dream.

Just imagine going out into your own garden on Christmas morning to harvest your own organically grown vegetables that ‘taste’ like vegetables should!

Eco friendly gift wrapping

Remember to wrap your gifts in an eco-friendly way and try to avoid using foil or plastic wrapping, plastic ribbons and sellotape. Try wrapping your presents in brown or recycled paper,  recycled foil or newspaper, and using string or raffia (made from bark which regenerates) to tie it up.  Better still find inspiration from things lying around the house and get creative. Wrap presents with old maps, calendars, the comics section of newspaper, or children’s artwork. Once you start looking at material as potential gift wrapping aids, the possibilities are endless.

‘Deck the halls with boughs of holly…..’

Candles add a lovely festive touch to the home. Paraffin candles are made from petroleum residue and are not good for your health or for the environment. Only buy candles made from soy, beeswax or natural vegetable-based wax are more eco-friendly because they biodegrade and are smoke-free.

‘Deck the halls with boughs of holly…’ Take a look around the garden and countryside and you will discover an abundance of natural materials to decotate your home.   Evergreens, berries, fruit, twigs, pine cones, holly, mistletoe, bark, and moss can all be used to create an amazing festive feel throughout your home.  Mantle pieces, door wreaths, centre pieces, swags, the list is endless, the list is endless and remember it won’t have cost the Earth!

Happy Christmas from Ferns

Sending Christmas cards to friends, family, neighbours and co-workers is a tradition in most Irish families. This year, try to buy cards that have been made from recycled paper or from sustainable forests or better still send an e-card where possible. The amount of cards sent every year places a huge demand on natural resources not to mention the transport emissions from moving these cards through the post!

Making homemade cards is a fun activity for the family. They may not be as professional as shop bought cards, but they are more personal and just as appreciated.

Instead of throwing the cards that you have received in the bin at the end of the season, recycle them or better still cut them up to make gift tags for next year’s presents.

Finally, buy cards from a charity that uses the funds to make a difference. Charity cards bought in major retailers do not raise a lot of cash for the charities whose names are on them. As little as 10 per cent of the sale price of some cards actually goes to the cause. If a card is bought directly from the charity, closer to 80 per cent of the total price goes to the charity.


Cabragh Wetlands Visitor Day

We were invited to come along to Cabragh Wetlands to speak about renewable energy products and how they can benefit homeowners and businesses. There was great interest on the day and homeowners, farmers and businesses alike were all interested in ways to reduce their energy costs.

Cabragh Wetlands  are committed to the three-fold vision of conservation, education and recreation. A wide variety of activities are offered on an ongoing basis to the general public, with the aim to create a greater awareness to the conservation and appreciation of our natural environment.

Lagoon on the Cabragh Wetlands

The Cabragh Wetlands Trust was registered in 1993 in an effort to save a vast area of wetland habitats from destruction after the filling-in of the settling pools by the Thurles Sugar Factory during its closure. These lagoons used to be an oasis of wildlife, particularly birds. The Trust was formed and acquired the land adjacent to the filled-in lagoons to ensure the continuation of this resting place for migratory birds.

Funding was made available through the LEADER programme and this enabled the necessary work to be carried out. Over a couple of years fencing was put in place, ponds were excavated, two bird-hides were built and walkways developed, a car park was laid out and finally a Visitor-cum-Education centre was built.

The Centre is run by a group of committed volunteers who provide exciting field trips for children of primary school age. The Wetlands have no less than 15 different habitats including ponds, reed swamps, hedgerows, streams and wild flower meadows. Footpaths and raised walkways with beautifully illustrated information boards as well as a large bird hide make an ideal place for school children to discover the sights and sounds of nature in a safe and child friendly environment.

Sculpture ‘Man on Wire II’ made by a local artist.

The Cabragh Wetlands Trust is a charity organisation and is relying solely on the goodwill of benefactors and volunteers for the maintenance and development of the centre. With the conservation of the site and the essential infrastructure in place, the Trust is now focusing on its second main aim, namely education. Although Cabragh Wetlands has the magnificent outdoors to offer and a beautiful information centre further work needs to be done.

Samples of local wildlife at the centre

A wide variety of activities are offered throughout the year to the general public to help create a greater awareness of conservation and also appreciation of our natural environment. During the Summer months a number of guided walks take place through the wetland with pond dipping and identifying wild flowers, trees, bugs and birds as well as workshops on a number of topics including bird box making and planting hedgerows. A series of Winter lectures are also held each year with topics ranging from ‘The Cosmic Walk’, ‘Bee-keeping’, ‘Nature and the First World War’ to ‘Heritage and the Tipperary Landscape’.


One of the many educational displays which can be viewed at the centre.

Primary schools can avail of the following educational field trips: Exploring a Hedgerow & Exploring a Pond. The children will have a chance to watch birds from the hide, go pond dipping, identify the creatures they have caught and visit the nature table at the centre. Students in second level education participating in young scientist projects are more than welcome to come along to explore and utilise Cabragh Wetlands as a source of data collection. Advanced field trips are available for second level students also.

An amazing display of ‘recycled’ art.

Locally grown fruit, vegetables, juices and home baking were also on display.

Locally grown produce

Locally grown produce

We would like to take this opportunity to wish Cabragh Wetlands all the best in the future and well done on the great achievements to date.

Photographs copyright of Eco Evolution

Water charge details ‘within weeks’

Proposals to reintroduce domestic water charges, with new water meters being installed in every home in the State, are to be brought to Government in about two weeks.

The proposals – which were approved in principle as part of the Budget – will be brought forward by Minister for the Environment John Gormley.

However the Minister admitted today it is unlikely that water metering will be in place by June 2012 – which means domestic water charges will not be reintroduced before the next general election.

Mr Gormley acknowledged taht the insisting the charges would be politically unpopular but insisted they were necessary. “I think everybody who understands the environment … they know that this is an absolute necessity,” he said. “You just can’t go putting your head in the sand on these issues any longer. Water is a precious resource.

“All the evidence shows that when you actually charge for water people conserve it, people use it wisely.”

He would not be drawn on how much each of Ireland’s 1.1 million households would be charged but said a speculated figure of €400 per household was wide of the mark. He pointed to other EU countries as a possible indicator.

Mr Gormley revealed his plans as part of his announcement of a “reprioritising” of the €1.8 billion Water Services Investment Programme for the next three years.

The reprioritised programme will now give priority to projects which target environmental compliance issues, in a bid to avoid the imposition of fines by the European Commission, and achieve sustainable supplies.

The Minister stressed Ireland had not yet been fined by the EU for its confirmed breaches of the Water Framework Directive, a feature he said was as a result of the Government’s openness to take whatever remedial steps were necessary.

The programme will also target repairs to the water networks to eliminate waste and protect water basins. It is estimated that “lost” water ranges from 16 per cent to 58 per cent of supplies across the State. The programme provides €320 million over the three year period for remedial works.

A much greater emphasis on water conservation through the introduction of water metering and inducements for householders to cut down on usage, also forms a significant part of the new programme.

Mr Gormley told a press conference today he did not believe it made sense, from an economic or environmental perspective, “to invest in expanding water treatment capacity if there is a significant loss of treated water in damaged or aging networks”.

Mr Gormley said in January the Government intends to raise as much as €1 billion per annum from water metering charges when they are introduced.

Labour today welcomed the investment programme but said it was overdue. The party’s environment spokeswoman Joanna Tuffy said the Government’s approach to investment in water needs to change. “There needs to be a national water strategy rather than the piecemeal approach of the past,” she said.

“The priority of State investment has to reduce the amount of public treated water that is lost through leaks. The other priority has to be bringing waste water treatment facilities up to standard to ensure safe drinking water.

“It raises the question as to how, when the Government was spending up to €500 million per year on water infrastructure projects, our distribution was allowed to fall into such a state of disrepair,” Ms Tuffy said.

Source: http://www.irishtimes.com/newspaper/breaking/2010/0419/breaking42.html

Over 100,000 Irish homes assessed under the Building Energy Rating scheme (BER)

Sustainable Energy Ireland (SEI) Press Release 21 February 2010

Figures released today (21 February 2010) from Sustainable Energy Ireland (SEI) reveal that over 100,000 Irish homes have had Building Energy Ratings (BERs) completed to date, the majority of which were completed since January 2009, the first year for full implementation of the BER scheme. Introduced in 2007 as part of a European Directive to improve the energy performance of homes, the rate of BER publications has steadily
increased in 2009 , averaging 300 per day, and indicating an increasing awareness of, and compliance with, the legislation.

Sample of BER Cert ~ Photo Credit SEAI

Sample of BER Cert ~ Photo Credit SEAI

Initially the scheme only applied to new homes, but since 1 January 2009 all homes being sold or rented are also required to have a BER certificate that shows prospective buyers or tenants the energy performance of the home. Research shows that landlords are the group most aware of the need for a BER certificate, with awareness now at 76%. While awareness is improving in most quarters, tenants looking to rent are the least aware of their entitlement to get a BER cert with awareness only at 38%. Commenting on the BER programme, Minister for Communications, Energy, and Natural Resources, Eamon Ryan TD said: “The BER Scheme is a practical scheme which helps current and prospective homeowners make informed choices when selecting or upgrading a property. The success of the scheme last year shows that the energy performance and efficiency of a property is becoming increasingly important for Irish homeowners. ” Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, John Gormley TD said: “The systems now in place and the increasing consumer awareness will be important factors in the continuous improvement of the energy performance of our building stock. This will help underpin future Building Regulation changes and efforts to upgrade existing buildings. ” Professor Owen Lewis, Chief Executive SEI, said: “Putting aside the difficult economic conditions in 2009, the first year of full operation of the BER scheme has been a successful one. However, there are many homes for sale or rent out there that have not yet been assessed, and need to be, if they are not to fall foul of the regulations. SEI is calling on people who are looking to buy or rent homes to insist upon receiving a BER certificate as their right, so they are fully informed of the energy performance before finalising any property transactions. ”

Source: http://www.sei.ie/News_Events/Press_Releases/100,000_BERs_issued.html

World First for UCC as Students Raise Green Flag

University College Cork (UCC) today(February 19th, 2010) became the first 3rd level educational institution in the world to be accredited with the prestigious international ‘Green Flag’ award. The award, presented by Minister John Gormley, on behalf of An Taisce, to UCC President Dr Michael Murphy, is a direct result of the Green-Campus programme, a student-led initiative undertaken by UCC students and staff over the last 3 years.

The Green-Campus programme, operated in Ireland by An Taisce, has seen the University save €300,000 in waste management costs, reduce waste to landfill by nearly 400 tonnes and improve recycling from 21% to 60%. Furthermore, UCC has conserved almost enough water this year to fill the equivalent of the Lough of Cork.

The first step was for the students to establish a Green-Campus Committee, in conjunction with the Buildings & Estates Department and academic staff. An environmental review followed. “There were absolutely no recycling facilities for students walking on the campus”, recalls Maria Kirrane, a student representative on the committee. “In fact, our very first action was to put on overalls and literally dive into the skips to see exactly what types of waste were being disposed of!”

In addition to staff recycling systems that previously existed, new recycling facilities for students are now available in front of the lecture halls, and in the canteens, where the staff is trained in minimising waste. Students in lecture theatres and laboratories are alerted to turn off lights and electrical equipment. College maintenance vehicles are now running on biodiesel. Carpooling has been introduced to facilitate lifts to and from campus. Enhanced Park & Ride and bike parking areas are designed to encourage more sustainable travel. Each year the Students Union holds a Green Awareness Week on campus, where real actions are supplemented by academic talks on environmental sustainability.

“It is quite a leap, transforming the Green-Schools programme, geared for the typical school of a few hundred students, to a complex campus of 130 acres, 16,000 students and almost 3,000 staff,” explained Dr Michael John O’Mahony of An Taisce. “In population terms UCC is bigger than your average Irish town, so bringing together all the necessary parties and practices to develop it into a sustainable Green-Campus was a real challenge.”

UCC President, Dr Michael Murphy said it is a source of great pride to the university, its staff and its students, that UCC has become the first third level institution in the world to be awarded the designation. “It is a wonderful achievement to have innovative thinkers among the staff and students in UCC all working towards the same objective.

“It was these students, who had been part of the Green Flag programme at secondary school level, who believed from the outset that the concept could be transferred successfully to an institution of UCC’s size and that by raising awareness throughout the university, we could, together, make a real difference.”

Mark Poland, Director of Building and Estates, added: “This initiative has provided a great forum for environmentally-conscious members of staff and students to assist in how we tackle our environmental responsibilities as a university community.”

An Taisce, on behalf of the Foundation for Environmental Education (FEE), granted the international accreditation after a rigorous assessment by an expert panel. UCC is now looking to build on the award. “We’d like to make it easier for students to cycle to college, possibly through a bike purchase scheme”, says Maria Kirrane. “Also, while UCC is a beautiful campus, many of the plants here are non-native. We’re looking to address biodiversity on campus.” In addition a programme to convert the college food waste into compost has commenced.

“There is a wide of range of environmental management programmes that a third level college could undertake. However, the Green Campus programme is unique because it is student-led and they are the key decision makers,” says Jan Eriksen, President of FEE. A number of other 3rd level institutions in Ireland will be applying for a Green-Flag shortly.

“This is about more than making a campus green”, continues Michael John. “Over the past 14 years, hundreds of thousands of students in Ireland have been brought up with Green-Schools, sometimes starting at pre-school, through primary schools and then second level. It is critical that the chain not be broken once they complete the Leaving Cert. It needs to continue into 3rd level, and from there into their professional as well as their personal lives so that they become life-long educators and ambassadors of sustainable living.”

Source:UCC Media and Communications – http://www.ucc.ie/en/mandc/news/fullstory,95898,en.html