Feb 172009

Reduce, reuse, recycle.
The venerable three Rs of sustainable waste management. We’ve heard the mantra time and again: the powers-that-be urging all of us to be front runners in the race against waste. It’s a laudable goal, one that we’ve wholeheartedly embraced, and that we have tried to instil in the girls from day one. But while central and local government are pushing the green message, their record on the ground leaves a lot to be desired.

Human nature dictates that people only change their behaviour when there’s a compelling reason to do so. While a few conscientious souls will go to extraordinary lengths to reduce consumption, re-use materials and recycle as much as possible, the vast majority of the population are quite comfortable leaving things the way they are. Convenience and value are the order of the day. If local authorities are serious about the mass adoption of sustainable waste-management practices they need to make it easier and cheaper than the alternative.

So what do the “geniuses” at Cork County Council do? They implement a blanket €3 levy on people bringing their recycling to the local Civic Amenity site.

Clonakilty Civic Amenity Site levying an entry charge

It’s completely bonkers! First they cut back on the recycling facilities at local village “bring sites” across the county, forcing tens of thousands of households (or at least those who are willing) to drive their recycling to a central Civic Amenity site, and now they introduce yet more inconvenience. You’d swear they were trying to put people off! Continue reading »

Jan 162009

A 19.7 metre (more than 60’) long Fin Whale (Balaenoptera physalus) that live-stranded in Courtmacsherry, West Cork unfortunately died after being beached by a rapidly receding tide.

 Dead fin whale stranded on sandbank in Courtmacsherry, West Cork

For full details see the Irish Whale and Dolphin Group (IWDG) article on the stranding.

Here are some of the photographs I managed to snap in very low light during the few minutes we had around the whale before the tide raced in and cut us off. I might have stayed a bit longer, but we had the children with us, so didn’t want to risk it. It was also raining, and the camera was getting soaked :-(.

These were 4-8 second exposures, and turned out reasonably well, all things considered.

Continue reading »

Dec 122008

DSCN8281 Last week we finally got around to insulating the attic in our old schoolhouse. Long overdue… I know, but it was a mammoth task (you should see our attic, it’s beyond mental), and there always seemed to be something more pressing to attend to.

The first thing I notices when I climbed into the attic space was a HUGE pile of twigs, moss, newspaper dried cow dung and sundry other bits and pieces piled up next to the gable end. At first I couldn’t work out what it was. Then it dawned on me: it was a jackdaw’s nest.

(Photo: nine 40kg coal bags crammed full of twigs and other jackdaw related material that came out of our attic last week)

I’d seen the jackdaws coming and going all summer, but nothing could have prepared me for the volume of nesting material they’d managed to accumulate.bring through the narrow opening in the gable end. It was mini-mountain of nesting material. I filled nine 40kg col bags with it in total.

I’m loath to do it, but I think I’m going to have to block up the hole with mesh that’s too small for the Jackdaws to get through, but still big enough to let the bats in and out. I’m all for living in harmony with nature – but you have to draw the line somewhere….

Oct 072008


Louder Voice knocks the socks off other peer review sites in terms of usability, design and its community-centric features. Another example of an Irish tech-company delivering a product / service that’s truly world class.


And the newly launched Louder Voice for Business offers similar reviews functionality for your business website… which is excellent news for businesses who “get” the shift towards conversational marketing and online consumer engagement.

What is the Tuesday Push

I figured it was finally time for me to engage with this Tuesday Push malarkey (… I, know, I know… better late than never is probably going to be carved on my tombstone).

According to Damien Mulley, orchestrator of the “push”:

The Tuesday Push is a way for the small but growing tech community in Ireland to make some noise about ourselves by picking a good example of an Irish Tech Company and highlighting their product(s) every second Tuesday.

Louder Voice – reviews the way they were meant to be

The worthy recipient of this week’s “push” is LouderVoice (LV) – a great peer review site that makes reviewing products, services and anything else you can think of intuitive, easy and convenient.

You can post reviews via a variety of media: directly on the LouderVoice website, via SMS (so you don’t even need an internet connection – delighted or otherwise with that restaurant? Post a review while it’s fresh in your mind), through micro-blogging services like Twitter, you can even post reviews to your own blog and LV will pick them up from your RSS feed.

Cross-posting of reviews can work the other way around too (I think, although I haven’t done this yet): you post to LV via the web, SMS, Twitter or wherever, and LV will publish the review to your blog… which is a great way to keep things fresh and varied.

One of the best things about LV is the vibrant community of reviewers who contribute, which means that there’s plenty of conversation on everything from the best value wine to the latest tech gadgets to the most popular TV show and everything in between. It’s a community that’s growing all the time as word spreads and LV gains momentum, and as a consumer the benefits of exchanging information, ideas and opinions is obvious and compelling.

Reviews and your business….

But there’s another aspect to this conversation and interaction that’s often overlooked (and the reason I featured LV, complete with screenshot, as a great example of a review site in the Social Media chapter of “Understanding Digital Marketing”). This is a conversation you can participate in, yes, but as a business it’s also a conversation you can learn from.

Listen to people, find out what they’re talking about, what they like and don’t like. Even if they’re not talking about your product or services directly there’s a wealth of information and intelligence there that can help you to serve your customers better.

Of course, one of the best ways a business can use reviews in order to gauge consumer sentiment is to integrate review functionality into their own website – and if you want to explore the possibilities the all-new LV for business offers a suite of review services that are ideally suited to the purpose.

Anyway – the best way to find out more about LV is to start using it – so off you go and start reviewing – I’m looking forward to reading what you think.

NB. If you want your company to be considered for the Tuesday push you can submit your details online.

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May 212008

Published in the Evening Echo 21/05/2008

Watching “Wild China” on the BBC tonight was amazing. I never knew, for example, that wild Asian elephants still survive in the forests of central China, or that gibbons – which I thought confined to South East Asia – still roam the canopy in some of China’s forests. The sheer diversity of life unfolding on the screen was staggering – plants, insects, amphibians, reptiles, birds, mammals.

But like so many of the world’s wild places, the amazing biodiversity of these Chinese forests is under threat. Much of China’s virgin rainforest has been felled to make way for rubber plantations – rubber that’s helping to fuel the inexorable rise of one of the world’s fastest growing economies. The economic imperative, as so often seems to happen, overrides the environmental one: short term gain taking precedence over long-term vision.

National Biodiversity WeekMuch closer to home, we’d spent much of the day looking at biodiversity on a much smaller, but equally fascinating scale in one of Ireland’s wild places. Ireland’s National Biodiversity Week is running from 18 to 25 May this year, scheduled to coincide with the United Nations International Day for Biodiversity on 22 May.

“Biodiversity Week is Ireland’s contribution to a global celebration of biodiversity which aims to increase awareness of the importance of biodiversity and promote action to tackle the loss of many of our species,” said Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, John Gormley, TD, as he unveiled the nationwide programme of events last week. “This is the second year that my Department has supported Biodiversity Week and already it has developed to the extent that we now have over 200 events taking place throughout the country.” And I have to say it’s a laudable effort in a country where we have plenty to redress when it comes to our environmental credentials.

Keen to get involved, and to expose the children to more of the wonders of Irish nature, we headed out to a Biodiversity Day event at the Irish Natural Forestry Foundation’s headquarters in Manch Estate, Balineen.

Continue reading »

May 142008

Published in the Evening Echo, 14/05/2008

A non-too-bright thrush has chosen to build this year’s nest in the bush outside our kitchen window. What’s wrong with that, you might ask… well, there’s nothing wrong with the bush per se, it’s just where it’s situated.

The bush is pretty big bush, with lush, dense foliage that offers plenty of cover and shelter. It’s also high enough to mean the nest is pretty safe from ground-dwelling predators. All in all it’s a pretty good nesting site – apart from the fact that it’s just outside the back door, which puts it on the children’s flight-path as they head from the house, to garden and back again. With the weather improving, they’re doing a lot of coming and going… and peace and quiet around that particular bush is going to be in short supply.

I spotted the nest a few weeks ago. Standing at the kitchen sink one morning I noticed the parents flying to and fro. A quick look when they were out of sight revealed the nest wedged firmly between the boughs of the bush at about my shoulder height. Chancing a quick peek inside I counted three perfectly formed, beautifully speckled eggs nestled in the moss-lined cup. Having confirmed the nest was in use I beat a hasty retreat to allow mum to return to tend her clutch.

Ever since I was a little boy I’ve felt a rush of excitement at finding a birds nest in spring. There’s something wonderful about being so close to the genesis of new life that’s both fascinating and inspirational. Seeing the parents come and go, hearing the chicks clamouring for food, and witnessing their incredible journey as they grow and eventually fledge.

I guess when you think about it it’s like the whole parenting palaver distilled into a few short months: finding a partner, setting up home and bringing youngsters into the world, followed by a frantic and exhausting struggle to provide for them until the day they finally fly the nest. In one way I guess the birds have it sussed… they have the whole process done and dusted in short order, and then take the rest of the year off. We, on the other hand, sentence ourselves to the best part of twenty years of hard labour.

The girls were thrilled when they arrived home from school and I showed them my discovery. I lifted them up and showed them the nest very briefly, explaining that we had to be careful not to disturb the mother to make sure she didn’t abandon the nest. They were so excited… and that filled me with a deep sense of satisfaction.

There are those who would argue that letting the children see the nest is wrong – that nature should be left well alone. In the interests of environmental conservation, they argue, we should shield nature from people, isolate it, protect it. I couldn’t disagree more.

By letting children experience and understand nature first hand, you’re doing far more good than harm. You see, when you shield nature from children, you’re also shielding children from nature, and that’s a mistake.

Books and classrooms are all very well, but the relationship between children and nature needs to be hands on: kids need to experience nature first hand to foster and encourage their inherent fascination with the natural world. Fail to do that, and they disengage; disengaged children grow to become disengaged adults… and we’re all painfully aware of the environmental damage they can cause.

May 082008

Glengarriff Lodge A few weeks ago we spent a wonderful weekend at what has to be one of the most enchanting houses in the whole of West Cork, perhaps the entire country. Nestled on its own little island between a fork in the Glengarriff River, this thatched former hunting lodge of the Earl of Bantry is like something straight out of a childhood fantasy.

Set in three acres of beautifully tended gardens, surrounded by mature trees that blend seamlessly with nearby native woodland, the fairytale house sits gently in this idyllic rural landscape. As we drove over the little wooden bridge onto the island I had to pinch myself to make sure what I was seeing was real. This was Glengarriff Lodge… and it was absolutely breathtaking.

Continue reading »

Apr 162008

Published in the Career Moves section of The Evening Echo on Monday 14 April 2008

CSR; when I first heard it I thought it was another one of those far fetched American crime dramas. Then I discovered it was an acronym for Corporate Social Responsibility… and remained none the wiser.

So I Googled it (interesting aside: did you know that the name Google was an accidental misspelling of the word googol – the number 1 followed by 100 zeroes), and was promptly presented with 4,530,000 results on everything anyone could ever want to know about Corporate Social Responsibility.

First stop, Wikipedia, that font of online knowledge, which informed me that CSR: “is a concept whereby organizations consider the interests of society by taking responsibility for the impact of their activities on customers, suppliers, employees, shareholders, communities and the environment in all aspects of their operations. This obligation is seen to extend beyond the statutory obligation to comply with legislation and sees organizations voluntarily taking further steps to improve the quality of life for employees and their families as well as for the local community and society at large.”

When I got my breath back I read it again.

CSR then is basically a commitment by an organisation to do business in a socially responsible way… to go that extra mile, to be a good corporate citizen and to look after the people and the environment it interacts with. It’s about businesses looking outside the corporate box and acknowledging their broader responsibility to society as a whole.

Which all sounds very laudable. But are businesses really doing it?

Plenty of high profile Irish organisations profess to be. That Google list I mentioned earlier contains links to comprehensive CSR Statements from the ESB, Coillte, Tesco Ireland , KPMG, Repak and others. But are they just words, or is the concept of CSR really resonating with organisations and punching through the profit-skewed view of Irish CEOs?

How many employees, for example, really and truly believe their employers are putting their best interests ahead of the corporate bottom line? Or that management would opt to go with a more costly supplier simply because they could demonstrate better environmental credentials? Would your HiPPO (Highest Paid Person in the Organisation) choose to forsake profit for the greater good? Some might answer yes, but my guess is that the vast majority would have to say no. Or at least not yet.

But that could be changing. The pressure on businesses to become more environmentally and socially responsible is growing all the time, thanks largely to the high profile of environmental issues surrounding climate change. Higher consumer and employee awareness of these issues and of how corporate entities are responding to them means that addressing them is moving out of the realm of positive spin and PR, and is fast becoming an economic imperative.

People are demanding more accountability from the companies they do business with, and the companies they choose to work for. These days if a company can’t demonstrate that its taking its social responsibilities seriously it can potentially impact the calibre of its future workforce and erode its customer base. Corporate Social Responsibility isn’t just about doing the right thing any more… it’s about staying competitive in a rapidly changing world.

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Mar 112008

Tom Raferty of “Tom Referty’s Social Media” has just set up a new blog to explore green issues. He ran a competition on his blog to suggest a domain and ended up choosing lowerfootprint.com — which was one of my offerings.

Tom passed on a Fire Eagle invitation (thanks Tom) for the winning suggestion. Fire Eagle is Yahoo’s new geographically aware platform that, in theory, will let other applications “know” where in the world you are at any given time, allowing them to tailor their services accordingly. I’ve signed up, but so far there’s no user-level application for the technology… although I see there are a few things in the pipeline. I’ll write more when there’s something to report.

Meanwhile I’d like to wish Tom all the best with his new venture. The more we can all do to bring the issues surrounding climate change to a mainstream audience, the better. Check it out, subscribe to the RSS feed, comment, encourage debate, spread the word, raise awareness.

Businesses are slowly coming around to the fact that they need to become more ecologically responsible — and the greener application of technology certainly has a big huge role to play in that transition. At present jury’s still out on how many are doing it for ethical/environmental reasons and how many are simply jumping on the eco-PR bandwagon — but the fact that they’re doing it at all is, I suppose, a step in the right direction.

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