Studying engineering and sustainability opened up a world of opportunities for Elaine Doyle, as Claire O’Connell found out.
A foundation in engineering or science can be a passport to the world, and engineer Elaine Doyle is living proof. Her work and interests have seen her, among other things, working in the energy sector in Ireland, in Guatemala building a water harvester, in Uganda meeting social entrepreneurs, and now as founder of her own environmental education enterprise Boltz Sustainability, she is developing 'seed bombs' to encourage biodiversity.
A native of Mallow, Co Cork, Doyle studied manufacturing engineering at the University of Limerick and worked in the pharmaceutical sector. "Life was good and the money was good and I enjoyed working in the pharmaceutical sector, but I knew I wanted to get into the environmental sector," she recalls.
A job in the waste-management industry further fuelled her interest in the environment and short-term volunteering at a national park in Ghana gave her a richer perspective. "At the time I always had it in my head that the only way change could be made was by renewable energy, and I still do believe that," she recalls. "But when I was volunteering [I realised] there is lots to do with people, as well, and the change that people can make."
A world of change
Back in Ireland, Doyle studied for a master's degree in sustainable development at Dublin Institute of Technology and worked with wind energy and environmental consulting companies. Her work with Real Eyes brought her into contact with a type of charcoal called biochar, which can be used to enrich soils and sequester carbon.
She pitched a business idea about biochar to the Ben & Jerry's Join Our Core competition and it resulted in another inspiring trip abroad. "I got to the finals and went to Uganda with them for 10 days with other European entrepreneurs," she says. "We met Ugandan entrepreneurs and saw different social enterprises going on there."
Nor was that the end of Doyle's travels: last year she went to Guatemala, supported by Irish not-for-profit organisation EIL Intercultural Learning. Along with journalist Nicola Corless, Doyle spent several weeks in a highland forest park, living with a local family, learning about the environmental threats and working on projects; including building a rainwater harvester. They also spent a week in a coastal area working with an English charity to help protect turtles, and they brought Irish cultural entertainment to local schools with music and sport.
Educating tomorrow's environmentalists
Back in Ireland, Doyle often visits primary schools, too, where she talks about the environment, renewables and sustainable living. "Kids are very mechanically minded," she says. "If you get them to think about how anything that moves can create electricity, they say instead of using coal why can't we use wind, it's opening their minds."
Doyle is now encouraging schoolchildren – and everyone else – to get more hands-on about encouraging biodiversity with 'seed bombs', which she is developing through Boltz Sustainability.
There are two types of seed bomb: dirt and paper. "The paper bombs have paper and seeds and it's for growing in your house and encouraging apartment gardens," says Doyle. "Dirt bombs are made of clay, compost and wildflower seeds and you can plant them or throw them. I am now looking at putting biochar into these seed bombs as a way of introducing people to it."
Active for change
As well as her work in environmental education, Doyle is also active with the Ashoka Change Nation Transition Towns network in Ireland and Northern Ireland, where she is looking to highlight positive developments in sustainability. "We are inundated with doom and gloom but there are a lot of fantastic things happening," she says.
And she is on the committee of Engineers Without Borders Ireland , which last year supported an Irish engineer to work in Uganda as a volunteer with the water and sanitation organisation The Busoga Trust.
Celebrating Engineers Week
Engineers Week runs from 9-15 February across Ireland. On Wednesday, Doyle will speak at 'An evening of inspiring ideas' at the TOG hackerspace in Dublin and the following day at the Engineers Without Borders Ireland conference on Engineering Change. She sees engineering as a strong degree that has supported her in going on to explore various interests. "It's a great foundation and a way of thinking mechanically or electronically that helps you understand the rest of the work you do, too."
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