Ashoka Ireland’s Fiona Koch finds out how two social entrepreneurs united to empower everyone to make their communities go green.
Neil McCabe is no ordinary entrepreneur. A full-time firefighter, he rose to prominence as a homegrown environmental guru when, in 2012, he turned his home station in Kilbarrack, north Dublin, into the first carbon-negative fire building in the world.
Five years and many prizes and accolades later, McCabe’s The GreenPlan model has been integrated into the Dublin City Council plan, rolling out to eight of Dublin’s 14 fire stations. The results include cost savings of more than €11m, and a reduction of 44pc in energy demands. Building off its success, McCabe has now begun promoting a bold new vision for the whole island. He wants to “turn Ireland green” by helping every community to reduce carbon emissions by 20pc.
His method? A free online training course, The GreenPlan Champion for Communities, offered through the free open learning platform Alison, which takes just two hours to complete and provides users with customisable toolkits, to implement sustainable practices locally.
‘The GreenPlan has resulted in cost savings of more than €11m, and a reduction of 44pc in energy demands’
Following The GreenPlan’s tested procedures, course-takers are encouraged to pilot incremental energy-saving steps on a building in their local community, with the goal of lowering its carbon footprint. Any savings accrued through the implementation of the plan are then reinvested in local social projects – for example, setting up a Men’s Sheds chapter or Grow-It-Yourself group.
More than 800 people have registered to complete the course since its launch in October 2016, including the Lord Mayor of Dublin, Brendan Carr. “Each one of us has an obligation to create a more sustainable future, and educating ourselves is a fundamental part of that process,” the Lord Mayor said in January. “I have written to all the mayors in Ireland asking them to follow me and take up the challenge, and encourage their communities to follow suit.”
‘Each one of us has an obligation to create a more sustainable future, and educating ourselves is a fundamental part of that process’
– BRENDAN CARR, LORD MAYOR OF DUBLIN
Alison, the technology platform through which the course is offered, has a socially focused mission of its own. As one of the world’s largest free online learning platforms, providing free certified learning to 10m registered learners worldwide, it has received prestigious awards for its work in making education more accessible to all, including a UNESCO Award for Innovation in ICT for Education in 2011.
Headquartered in Galway, Alison was founded by CEO Mike Feerick, who, like McCabe, is a social entrepreneur. The two met through the Ashoka Fellowship, which recognises and supports innovative leaders in the sector.
Under the course’s current structure, students receive a certificate from Alison upon completion. McCabe has already designed two sequel courses, to be launched in the next 12 months. Students who complete all three courses will earn an Alison diploma, “a badge of success for active community leaders and sustainability experts worldwide”, according to McCabe.
‘It’s a groundbreaking idea that allows communities to practically engage with their man-made and natural environment’
– NEIL MCCABE, DUBLIN FIRE BRIGADE
It’s a remarkable achievement for a firefighter with a Leaving Cert level of education to be pioneering global education and training in sustainability – a fact that is not lost on McCabe, although he is not interested in personal recognition. He is earnest and enthusiastic about his vision to get everyone in Ireland thinking more proactively about how to reduce their carbon emissions. “It’s a groundbreaking idea that allows communities to practically engage with their man-made and natural environment,” he said. “It’s also incredibly simple. And free.”
Asked about his goals for the year ahead, McCabe said he would love to see 2,000 students complete the course by the end of 2017.
“Of those 2,000, if even 100 change-makers embed The GreenPlan toolkit into their community, that means 100 locations, 100 physical spaces, have reduced their carbon footprint by 20pc. That’s an incredible start – and, once the other 1,900 follow suit, then you have a domino effect. That’s when you start talking about system change.”
By Fiona Koch
Fiona Koch is communications manager for Ashoka Ireland. She writes about trends and innovations in the social sector.
Neil McCabe and Mike Feerick are members of the Ashoka Fellowship, the world’s largest network of leading social entrepreneurs. To find out more about The GreenPlan and Alison, and to take the free course online, visit the website.
Ashoka fellows Bart Weetjens and Matt Flannery will be speaking in Dublin this summer at Inspirefest, Silicon Republic’s international connecting sci-tech professionals passionate about the future of STEM. Book now to get your Early Bird tickets.