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Archive for March, 2011

Week 9- Corporate Social Responsibility

A new week and another new topic, this time it’s Corporate Social Responsibility. This weeks topic seems broader and more complex than anything we have touched on up to this. Corporate Social Responsibility sounds like such a good thing but how would it work in reality or could it ever work in reality? Corporations would not appear to me to be very interested in social responsibility except when it would bring some financial reward. Of course there are those corporate bodies that wish to ‘appear’ socially responsible in order to enhance their image and improve their selling power but are not in fact interested in social responsibility in any real sense. Are there really corporate bodies that take social responsibility seriously and act for the right reasons?

What is Corporate Social Responsibility and who would it benefit? More importantly how would those people who are the leaders and managers in business ever be convinced that there is some benefit to be had for the business… “Corporate social responsibility (CSR) is a commitment to behave ethically and contribute to economic development while improving the quality of life of our workforce and their families as well as the local community at large” http://www.nexeninc.com/Sustainability/glossary.asp (25-3-11). There are many definitions but this one best conveys what I think Corporate Social Responsibility should be about it must also be of benefit to the business otherwise it will not work. This definition is almost equivalent to Triple Bottom Line’: people, planet, profit. While the ideas are abstract and very hard to grasp, it is something I think we need to consider. Even the wording ‘the local community at large’ is hard to define, how local and how large? It’s hard to define and comprehend, in a concrete way, where ‘Corporate Social Responsibility’ begins and ends it is therefore difficult to have a workable policy or regulations that work. It is good that businesses would have a social responsibility and even better if this were set out in law but laws alone are not enough to ensure social responsibility, it seems to be concerned with something much deeper and more complex and must also be of benefit to the corporations, they must believe that “.. it is profitable to behave well”. http://ulsd.files.wordpress.com/2011/03/roleofcommunitysouthafrica.pdf (25-3-11).

“The goal of CSR is to embrace responsibility for the company’s actions and encourage a positive impact through its activities on the environment, consumers, employees, communities, stakeholders and all other members of the public sphere.” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Corporate_social_responsibility (24-3-11).

“Today, Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) is widely accepted as an essential component of business ethics – and a key management strategy in most big companies. CSR has become linked with the pressing need to conserve the planet’s diminishing resources “because the future of mankind everywhere is threatened by the degradation of the environment in which we all live and work”, as one commentator put it.” http://www.rasgas.com/files/articles/RG23_28_29%20CSR%20vF3.pdf (25-3-11).
In the developed world most people agree that the corporate leaders have obligations to society that reach wider than optimizing shareholder values but a lot of corporate leaders, who actually make the decisions, tend to disagree. One reason for this disagreement is that the businesses are generally owned by shareholders so any money spent on these wider responsibilities will be taken away from shareholders income. Personally I believe as these shareholders had the financial capability to buy into these businesses they wouldn’t mind the business doing something for its workers or the community that it’s part of. This would involve changing the way investors think and providing education around the positive advantages to be gained from moving towards becoming more socially responsible. This is happening as businesses are becoming more concerned with their reputations and Corporate Social Responsibility is seen more and more as taking positive action. Some companies adopt the Corporate Social Responsibility image because of the gains to be had from appearing to be green or ‘green washing’ as it has become known. “Green-wash– verb: the act of misleading consumers regarding the environmental practices of a company or the environmental benefits of a product or service.” http://sinsofgreenwashing.org/ (25-3-11). This green washing is for economic gain and as we know only too well in Ireland in the world of business money is power and money rules. The situation has and is improving as can be seen from the graph:

The impact of Corporate Social Responsibility has been very much embraced by Mc Donald’s and shows in a concrete way the impact of such responsibility. McDonald’s is the world’s largest chain of hamburger fast food restaurants.

According to the McDonald’s Corporate Social Responsibility website, McDonalds is all about taking action in order to achieve results. They believe that it is vital to always keep open lines of communication with customers and other key stakeholders. In 2007 McDonald’s began a sustainability project with the aim of improving conditions for farm workers in the Florida tomato industry, they realized that these workers and the land they till were all a vital part of the Mc Donald’s industry, even though they were far removed from the actual burger outlets. This in turn promotes good environmental practices in the land-based agricultural supply chain and makes the farm a sustainable business, which in the long term is of benefit to Mc Donald’s. McDonald’s purchase only 1.5% of Florida’s tomatoes annually, but their actions spread out like the ripples from the stone thrown into a pond and have lead to industry-leading grower standards that improved working conditions in other farms in Florida and have made the farms a sustainable business. There are other corporate bodies who were not involved in social responsibility and are now becoming involved perhaps because of “corporate accountability strategies by civil society groupings…can play a role in altering the context, facilitating improvements in the way corporate activities affect local workers/communities.” http://ulsd.files.wordpress.com/2011/03/roleofcommunitysouthafrica.pdf (25-3-11)

One such example is to be found in Durban, South Africa where there is a long history of poor relations between locals and oil refiners involving health and environmental issues. In 1998 a five-year environmental improvement plan for the refinery was put in place and is known as a good neighbourhood agreement (GNA). “The GNA had a number of significant outcomes in reductions in SO2 emissions, internal technology changes and improvements in management systems at the company. Whereas stakeholder perceptions of the effectiveness of the agreement varied, it was generally seen as ‘a step in the right direction’” http://ulsd.files.wordpress.com/2011/03/roleofcommunitysouthafrica.pdf (25-3-11) and shows some of the benefits of CSR initiatives.

This leads to the question of a global policy on CSR- should we aim for a global policy for the global village the world has become or should we leave it up to each country to regulate its own policy on CSR?

This is, again, a very complex question to answer. Initially when I heard the question I believed it should be a global policy but as we discussed the idea in class I came to agree with the person who suggested that it should be a national policy. The global policy seemed like the way to go as I believe, like many others, that everyone deserves to be treated equally regardless of their circumstances. When we discussed having a National Policy, however, I began to realize that every country is different, and one size would not fit all. Would people be able to work ten hour shifts in the blazing heat of 42 degrees as effectively as people working in conditions of 15 degrees, for example, not to mention nutrition and living conditions in different parts of the world? I am unable therefore to answer the question of who should regulate a policy on CSR, it is not as simple as it appeared at first, like a lot of the questions around sustainable development.

International companies, I believe, should have a policy that is common to all the countries that the company has operations in and it must be a very difficult job to develop a CSR policy that can accommodate and balance all the different needs and wants. “Consumers expect goods and services to reflect socially and environmentally responsible business behaviour at competitive prices. Shareholders also search for enhanced financial performance that integrates social and environmental considerations.” http://www.ic.gc.ca/eic/site/csr-rse.nsf/eng/rs00128.html (25-3-11).

The Main issue with Corporate Social responsibility:
The biggest problem and question in the CSR debate is the same today as it was during the Industrial Revolution- does the firm exist solely to maximise the profits it returns to its owners or do firms and managers have a broader responsibility to society at large? Large and small businesses are faced with this same complex dilemma. It appears that smaller businesses are better at implementing socially responsible policies, even in some cases without any awareness of the official terminology. This may seem like a contradiction as many large corporate bodies have designated personnel whose sole responsibility is to develop CSR policies. On reflection it is not a contradiction as smaller businesses are in many cases part of their community with a natural sense of Social Responsibility, which a lot of the time needs no policy, the business is just a part of the community and have an inbuilt sense of interdependence. This whole idea of CSR was less complex when put into context in Shelia Killian’s lecture. W e heard about the shop on Achill Island which is a working example of Corporate Social Responsibility and made me think of other such businesses, which I would not have associated with CSR. This shop, on Achill Island, is owned by the Sweeney family who may not have a CSR policy or may not even be aware of CSR terminology but their business is a good example of CSR in action. This business provides almost everything the community wants. They will provide any goods or services that the people on Achill Island want. Sweeney’s Business is, it could be said, is the heart of the community as they bring the whole community together and provide the goods and services needed by the community. They also have a long term connection with this community, are part of the community, provide employment in the community and give back to the community in many ways in return the community supports the business. This is sustainable development and CSR at its best. Big International Companies can learn from smaller companies who have this sense of social responsibility and provide working models for them. Unfortunately we lost a lot of these smaller corporate bodies during the boom years in Ireland and are now reeling from the effects. It is harder, I think, to develop a real social responsibility policy in big business, as there is the feeling of being a community within a community instead of the reality of being part of a wider community with all the responsibility that entails. When businesses get very big they sometimes loose the sense of connectedness and interdependence.

Corporations are made up of people and communities and have a responsibility to the people and the environment that are connected to them. In the long term, the more socially responsible the business is the happier the people connected to it. The happier people are the more they are willing to contribute and the better for us all and for our environment. As Michael Sabia, President and Chief Executive Officer of BCE Inc., has said, “Corporations are also social institutions. What they do and how they act and the role they play in the community they operate in is important. … We can build better communities, stronger communities and, frankly, better places to operate business. The opportunity we have is compelling.” http://www.ic.gc.ca/eic/site/csr-rse.nsf/eng/rs00128.html (25-3-11).

“Corporate social responsibility activities that integrate broader societal concerns into business strategy and performance are evidence of good management. In addition to building trust with the community and giving firms an edge in attracting good customers and employees, acting responsibly towards workers and others in society can be in the long-term interest of firms and their shareholders.” http://www.ic.gc.ca/eic/site/csr-rse.nsf/eng/rs00128.html (25-3-11).

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Week 8- Production and Consumption

Households now contain over 1,000 products (compared to 50, 25 years ago!” (http://ulsd.files.wordpress.com/2011/03/mcmahon-week-8-2011.pdf).

We hear again how low cost energy is the main driving force behind production – both Responsible and Mass Production. In order for production to occur there must be Consumption and consumption is driven by our needs and wants. Without us the consumer there would be no need for products and production. Lecture 1 began with a fact I found to be startling; regular households now contain over 1000 products. I find this totally amazing, it takes a while for me to count to 1000 never mind find 1000 products in my home I ponder. Yet when I begin to think this through I start to grasp the reality of the statement. The kitchen cleaning cupboard alone contains an endless array of products from Fairy Liquid for washing up, to Mr Muscle for every conceivable job and of course Window Shine and the obligatory Air Freshener. So, responsible production and consumption are alien to the world we live in. From the day we are born we require products, the number of products differs according to our social circumstance. We all, no matter where we live or who we are, have the same basic needs but this is not reflected in the way we use and share our resources and it is not reflected in our happiness levels. Strange as it may seem people in the developed world, that’s us, are less happy than people in developing countries!

We in the developed world are exposed to advertisements for products and it seems to me that as the world of advertising has developed so has our want of more and more products. This endless choice and supply of products do not it seems, from research, make us happy. We just believe that the more we have the more we want!

Production on the scale we now know it began back with the Industrial Revolution. Cheap and available fossil fuels, cheap labour and the development of technology fed this production. Not everyone in the world is benefiting from all this choice of products, as these choices and products are only available to those who can afford them! And maybe those of us who can afford the products are not benefiting from having them either if we could take a look into the future. There are still large numbers of people in the world who do not have their most basic human rights met because of our greed and our over use of the earth’s resources.

“Production is the processes and methods employed to transform tangible inputs (raw materials, semi finished goods, or subassemblies) and intangible inputs (ideas, information, knowledge) into goods or services.” http://www.businessdictionary.com/definition/production.html (18-3-11).
As we have seen in previous weeks the actions of people here in the developed world cause consequences for people and for the planet far from us. The fossil fuels that fed this mass production of goods have now started to run out with Peak Oil and goods are becoming more and more expensive. We now need to look at Responsible Production and Consumption before it is too late. We need to look at the consequences of our behaviour and take action. The effects of our behaviour are all too clear to us at the current time with the nuclear fall out in Japan spreading far beyond Japanese shores and having an enormous cost in human suffering. The piles of waste building up in landfills and oceans here in Ireland and all over the world which we know “can release harmful chemicals into the soil and water when dumped, or into the air when burned. It is the source of almost 4% of the world’s greenhouse gases”. http://thegoldenspiral.org/tag/waste/ (12-3-11). Gases which are causing climate change and all the destruction that brings.

The Celtic tiger brought positives and negatives into our lives and we need to face both now. A definite negative, I believe, is that we had so much money and such choice of products that we began to think we needed everything and did not stop to count the cost to ourselves or others. I believe this trend started as a result of having too many products and was fed by the producers and the media and unfortunately governments too. It seems to me that once one company/person discovered or invented a new product someone else had to improve it and create a newer version. This gives us the ripple effect again with a wide variety of choice and the ripples spreading out wide and people having little or no sense of responsibility.
Having a wide variety of choice is good for the consumer but we need to make choices in a responsible and sustainable way. We need to consider the cost of production and balance that with our need for the product. The choice is ours as consumers and we must become more aware of the power we have.
Consider the phases in a plastic water bottle lifestyle:

1. Let’s begin with raw Material Extraction- A common plastic used is Polyethylene Terephthalate. It is produced from oil which is extracted from the ground and is then transported to the refinery. This is not sustainable due to the current worries about the depletion of fossil fuels including oil.
2. Material Processing is next when Chemicals are added to the raw materials to form plastic.
3. Component Manufacturing- The plastic is manufactured by either blow molding or injection molding.
4. The bottle is assembled and Packaged- Labels from paper or plastic are made for each bottle. Paper is a raw material of wood. The bottles are not usually individually packaged but boxed in large quantities for transportation. The labeling and packaging is done in big factories which are powered by energy which is harmful to the planet and in most cases is not a sustainable form of energy.
5. Distribution and Purchase- The water bottles are distributed in bulk usually by trucks run on diesel. The water bottles reach the shops and the consumer and the packaging becomes waste.
6. Installation and Use- The bottle requires no installation and is easy to use.
7. Maintenance and Upgrade- The bottle is usually replaced but it can be recycled numerous times.
8. End of Life- Most bottles are put in the bin and end in the land fill and occasionally are incinerated. Plastic is not biodegradable so it just rots away but not for thousands of years. If the plastic is incinerated chemicals are released into the atmosphere. Plastic bottles can be recyclable but not as easily as glass bottles.

In lectures we consider other ways of doing things. The thing that stood out the most for me was the Gumdrop bin, it was designed for second life. It is the most disgusting option but I believe it works extremely well. It is responsible production provides a solution to an everyday problem. It is tidying up our towns/cities while also allowing for gum to be recycled and made into a new product.

I also was extremely impressed by the idea of ‘Designing for the other 90%’ as the products are helping the developing world. New ideas are developed that are making life better and making water recyclable which leads to sustainability.

It seems to me that we need to try to produce as much as possible locally and we saw an example of this in Cloughjordon. Their local farm produces food for the local community is not overproduced and therefore there is less waste and packaging and food is fresh for consumption. “With climate change, oil depletion, biodiversity loss, and even food security among the potential shocks, it is clear that we are facing a systemic crisis for which we are completely unprepared for. We have now reached the long predicted ‘limits to growth’ and find ourselves facing a convergence of challenges which are inextricably connected. We now urgently need to rethink the way we do things and to design systems and processes from the bottom up, in ways that fit this planets carrying capacity and we need to learn do this together, as communities.” http://www.thevillage.ie/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=35&Itemid=7 (20-3-11)
The community of Cloughjordan is setting a model for us all and it looks good too.

Week 7- University

1. What is a University and what does it do?

A University is a huge building; at least University College Limerick looked enormous last September. It is also a place I had looked forward to attending without much thought for anything other than the social life and it would be a bonus to study a Science subject. University for me has turned out to be so much more raising so many questions about life and the way I live. A University is a centre of and for learning and it has been a steep learning curve for me. It is a place where students like me are set free for the first time and have to come to terms with freedom and the responsibility it brings. For the first time the whole day comprises of a series of choices that are mine alone to make and it takes a while to realize the consequences of these choices! Universities are made up of “the assemblage of strangers from all parts in one spot” (The Idea of a University. I. What Is a University? John Henry Newman). A University is a place where people from all over the world gather, with different backgrounds, cultures, religions and personalities. It is a place of communication and self-development and a place where people work, live, learn and spend time together. It is about people, lots of people. It is also a social centre!

A University is a place where people can be educated for life and for a profession and where students get degrees. A University Newman says “is a school of knowledge of every kind, consisting of teachers and learners from every quarter”. Many things take place in a university; universities are, I believe, a microcosm of life. The word university is derived from the Latin universitas magistrorum et scholarium, roughly meaning “community of teachers and scholars”. Newman believes that “The general principles of any study you may learn by books at home; but the detail, the colour, the tone, the air, the life which makes it live in us, you must catch all these from those in whom it lives already”. A University should be a place where students get to meet and interact with those who know and love their subject and those like themselves who are getting to know their subject. In some countries the university is controlled by political or religious authorities. It is a place where information can be exchanged and explored and where students begin to ask questions after the rote learning of our Leaving Certificate. It’s a place where I discovered learning was for me and I had to be independent and self-motivated! “It is a seat of wisdom, a light of the world …… an Alma Mater of the rising generation”. (http://www.bartleby.com/28/2.html (12-3-2011). It is also good fun.

There are many different types of energy in universities. There is the initial physical energy- the heat, space, light and sound. There is also the energy within the university body. The energy generated by the university community, the mindset of people and their attitude. There is a pride attached to the University we students attend. The ethos, though unspoken can be felt and comes from the many policies within the university. These policies are a standard statement adopted by the authorities who run each university. Some policies many be seen as positives and others as negative, by the students, depending on the persons own out look.
Universities are an economy within an economy, just as they are a community within a larger community with the ripples, positive and negative, spreading far beyond the University gates. It is a place where goods are exchanged, distributed and consumed and where services are required.
There are many different cultures within the university- music, sports, clubs and societies. The best learning occurs when people experience positive aspects to university and university life. And when people feel supported, which is difficult given the size and variety of people and needs. Failure is experienced when people feel that the university has not lived up to their expectations or they have not performed to their abilities. Universities are centres of hope and opportunity. They provide opportunities for growth, development and technological advances. There are threats to Universities also from negative public image, budget crisis and the decrease in general achievements of the university.

2. What should a University do?

A University should provide people with a sense of community, where they feel they belong and are valued. It should be a place that is concerned with people firstly and then with education. It should be a place where people learn how to continue to learn because people never stop learning. A University should engage students in research and learning as students will go on to develop new ideas. Humboldt believed that “The university is reserved for what the human being can find by and within himself: insight into pure science. For this self-activity in the fullest sense, freedom is necessary, and solitude is helpful; from these two requirements flows the entire external organization of the universities. Lecture courses are only a secondary aspect; the essential thing is that people live for a number of years for themselves and for science, closely alongside like-minded individuals of the same age, conscious that this same place has a number of already fully developed intellects who are solely dedicated to the elevation and promulgation of science. http://www.schillerinstitute.org/fid_91-96/962_humboldt_education.html (12-3-11). While I agree that University students should have the opportunity and time to look in-depth at a subject I do not think that solitude would be good. There is I think a lot to be learned from interacting with others and the sharing of ideas. I also do not think it would be good if Universities were full only of people of similar age and interests as Humboldt suggests. Universities should promote lifelong learning where each person might seek to realize their unique human potential. Universities should be free from pressure from individuals and selective groups who might overwhelm the common good that the education system is meant to support. A University should promote critical thinking among its students and should not be concerned with “The economic justification for education – equipping students with marketable skills to help countries compete in a global, information-based workplace” (http://lass.calumet.purdue.edu/cca/jgcg/downloads/WhatIsAUniversity.pdf (12-3-11). Learning should be presented as a whole and not as separate subject areas which only serves to encourage a fragmented view of learning. Universities should also be concerned with the development of the whole person not just the intellect. As Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “Intelligence plus character – that is the goal of true education”.

3. What will a University look like 2050?

By 2050 universities will have changed greatly from what we know. Universities as we know them have not changed much over the last hundred years, they have just developed. The world is in a time of enormous change and this change will have a huge effect on the future of universities. Population growth is forecast to be 9.07 billion in 2050.This population growth will increase the demand for university places. Ireland’s government is currently cutting financial support to universities and this will affect the physical organization of campus, the personnel available and the budget available for research in 2050. Technological progress has changed the way students are taught with information easily available on the web in any location. Peak oil means that transport, the structure of buildings, goods and services available will all have an impact on universities in the future.
“Changes are occurring every day on a national and world scale – we are faced with economic globalisation, the revolutions in information technology and biotechnology, growing inequality and social exclusion (leading to a renewed struggle for citizens’ rights), violence of all kinds, environmental pollution and climate change. All of these things are increasing the need for new knowledge and skills, for new scenarios for our global society”. http://lass.calumet.purdue.edu/cca/jgcg/downloads/WhatIsAUniversity.pdf (12-3-11)
Universities too are faced with the need for change. I think universities will be smaller with more virtual universities and distance learning which presents the challenge of retaining a sense of community. Distance learning may be an add-on or the whole course and will allow flexible study and lifelong learning. Academic semesters will probably disappear, as is already happening, and students will start their courses when and where they wish. With distance learning the restrictions on places will not be an issue, as it is now. With distance learning failure will not be such a costly event and will be seen as an incitement to try again, not a reason to drop out of the system as happens now. Most information will be held electronically and the need for print on paper will be reduced. Face-to-face teaching may be lost and this would mean losing the chance to provide students with the whole feel for a lecture and the enthusiasm of the lecturer, loosing what Newman described as “the colour, the tone, the air, the life which makes it live in us, you must catch all these from those in whom it lives already”. With the development of the virtual university, students may lose the independence developed with the University experience and the life skills gained with independent living. One of the challenges that face universities of the future is to find a way to retain the opportunities for developing social skills and mixing with people from different backgrounds, cultures, religions and personalities. Universities in 2050 should, but may not, provide for the development of the whole person. One of the fears would be that Universities of the future would produce only social network graduates. University, I believe, will be about assessing knowledge learned elsewhere and awarding degrees based on this assessment. Universities will become centers of research more than places where things are learned. They will be places where people return many times to up skill. They will infuse sustainable thinking into campus life, drive innovation and be centres of in-depth research.
“Education should consist of a series of enchantments, each raising the individual to a higher level of awareness, understanding, and kinship with all living things.” AUTHOR UNKNOWN

Week 6- Food Glorious Food

“You must be the change you wish to see in the world.” — Mahatma Gandhi.

As I ate my breakfast this morning I wondered where my apple, cereal and milk came from. I had no idea. Did the milk come from the farm down the road? Did the wheat originate in Ireland? Was the apple from this planet? These are the sorts of questions that have been in my head since I heard of food miles and the damage it does to our planet. Before college it was a matter of eating without thinking. When college began a little shopping and cooking were required so this involved a little more planning and thought! But now there are many more complex questions that I would like answered.

“Food miles is a term which refers to the distance food is transported from the time of its production until it reaches the consumer. Food miles are one factor used when assessing the environmental impact of food, including the impact on global warming.” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Food_miles (5-3-11).

“An increase in food miles also increases the ecological footprint of the product, as it is necessary to transport it greater distances before being consumed, which produces more greenhouse emissions.” http://www.ecoaction.com.au/category.php?id=80 (5-3-11).

In week 1 we learned that the population is to hit 7 billion this year which made me realize what an impact this was going to have not only on climate change but also on food, food production, food producers and the land where all this food will be produced not to mention the miles this food will travel to get to the consumer. The steady rise in global population over the last few decades is accelerating more than ever now, meaning more and more food is needed to keep people alive.” According to Bread for the World, a nonprofit organization focused on ending hunger worldwide, nearly 16,000 children die from hunger each day. One child dies every five seconds because of hunger”. http://www.answerbag.com/q_view/2091266#ixzz1FlkHSFlQ (5-3-11).

I wonder how many more are going to die from hunger when the population hits 7billion? It is not us in the First world who are suffering but those in the Third world. It is the poor who suffer most when the price of food increases, as it will, with increases in the price of oil as it runs out and population increases. More people looking for a share of less and more expensive food. More areas of the world where food production is almost impossible and people fight hunger to survive.

“The world is now eating more food than farmers grow, pushing global grain stocks to their lowest level in 30 years.” http://ipsnews.net/news.asp?idnews=33268 (5-3-11)

The more I think about food the more I feel put out by it. It may sound contradictory but food is killing people, food production is killing our land and our planet. I wonder though is it food that is damaging all these things or is it us, the people in the first world, who are the problem? We are creating the problems of climate change, energy consumption and lots of other things all of which are connected to our action and inaction.

The variety of food that is available to us here in Ireland, for example, is crazy. We have come to enjoy Chinese, Asian, Indian and all sorts of other foods from all over the globe. It seems to me that the more the Celtic tiger roared the hungrier we, as a nation, became and the more likely we were to be eating food that had travelled half way round the world to get to our plates. Twenty years ago would it be common for people to have a Chinese every Friday night? … I believe not. As we had more money we were able to afford food that had travelled from further away. This had its benefits for the Irish economy as Irish producers were able to supply large quanties of meat, cheese, milk and the likes. But did our importing of bananas from Brazil or carrots from Israel help the Brazilians, the Israelites or the planet? …I believe not! “Assuming your food has come from the capital (of Brazil), Brasìlia travelling to the capital (of Ireland) Dublin, it has travelled approximately 5376 miles (8650km) as the crow flies. This is equivalent to an Aeroplane journey that would create approximately 1935 kgCO2 or 528 kg Carbon.” http://www.organiclinker.com/food-miles.cfm (5-3-11). This is one hell of a lot of damage for some bananas and bananas are not the only food we import. It is hard to believe but we are importing lots of food that could easily be grown in Ireland, things like carrots, cabbage and apples. When transportation, processing and packaging is added to the food system equation, the fossil fuel and energy costs of our current food system puts huge stress on the environment and this for food we could be producing locally and which would assist us in becoming more sustainable. This brings my mind back to the plots in Cloughjordan and the community commitment to growing and producing their own food.

The idea of stopping the movement of food from one country to another would seem like the solution but an impossible one as far as I can see. If this happened it would cause many problems even possibly war. One of the main problems is that food trade is an integral part of world trade, if this practice ceased it would destroy many economies that rely on the production of food for export. Of course many countries also rely on the import of food to feed its citizens. In Ireland we export tons of beef; if this were to stop it would have a terrible effect on our economy and on the families connected with this industry. This would then greatly reduce our GNP figures as our exports would fall. We are trying to fight our way out of an economic crisis, and not trying to go deeper into one.

There are no simple answers to all or any of my questions. But it seems that no one answer is the right one. We each have choices to make on a daily basis which can help. Each one of us needs to think more about our food; think when we go shopping for food about where it originated and look out for locally produced food. This will help to sustain the local economy and also reduce food miles. Think, buy and consume food that is produced locally when possible and after that source food that has travelled the least miles, as we must accept that some food travel will always be necessary- back to the bananas!

“There are many good reasons for eating local — freshness, purity, taste, community cohesion and preserving open space — but none of these benefits compares to the much-touted claim that eating local reduces fossil fuel consumption. In this respect eating local joins recycling, biking to work and driving a hybrid as a realistic way that we can, as individuals, shrink our carbon footprint and be good stewards of the environment.” http://www.nytimes.com/2007/08/06/opinion/06mcwilliams.html (5-3-11)

We must become more aware- more aware of our needs rather than our wants- for water, consumer goods, holidays, food. We must also become more aware of the ripples sent out by our actions- climate change, peak oil, global warming and hunger.

Cloughjordon

Individually, we are one drop. Together, we are an ocean.” Ryunosuke Satoro.

Our trip to Cloughjordon was planned well in advance so I had time to check out the website but I could not have imagined what was in store. Many of us including myself expected mud huts that would do no damage to the earth and people who were very alternative. I thought it was surreal that we were greeted in the Church hall, which has been there since long before the Cloughjordan eco project was even a dream. I had imagined that local people would be suspicious of these “eco freaks” we had come here to meet. I could not have been more mistaken about the houses, the people and the relationship between the Cloughjordon villagers and the eco-village. When entering the eco-village I was quite shocked to notice that all the houses and sites where planned like a normal, modern housing estate. Where were all the mud huts I had expected to see? Some of my peers thought the houses were quite close together but I think some of the houses built in estates during the “boom” were just as close and very few of us complained about them. I had expected the houses to be spaced out but it was explained that the houses were built close together so less cement was needed for making footpaths and the likes. This made good sense as resources were shared and it would I think also encourage a sense of community with all the benefits that brings. The main aim of the eco village is to provide sustainable living with the focus on the people, the villagers, who live there. The village will it is hoped “provide a healthy, satisfying and socially-rich lifestyle while minimising ecological impacts” http://www.thevillage.ie/ ( 25-2-11). The main focus of the village is its people, the community.

As the actual development of the village only started four years ago I was really surprised with the number of buildings that were already fully completed and the number of others still under development as the budget for many of these houses was planned during the “boom” and many peoples circumstances have changed since then but people are obviously very committed to this lifestyle change. As we toured the village it seemed to me that all the buildings were made from wood so it was quite a surprise to see that there were actual houses made from cob. Cob “is a building material consisting of clay, sand, straw, water, and earth ….. Cob is fireproof, resistant to seismic activity, and inexpensive”. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cob_(material) (24-2-11). My favourite house was the circular house which was being developed from this cob material. “This technique requires almost no money or skill, and involves very little environmental destruction while at the same time allowing for creative and organic designs which blend into the surroundings” http://www.iaosb.com/html/cob_construction.html (25-2- 11).

It is intriguing to think that residents can be totally independent in the constructing of their own house, which was not what I had expected; residents can build it themselves, as many have, or they can employ contractors the only restriction is that the house conforms to the Village Eco Charter. “The Ecological Charter is a document drafted by the members, in consultation with a broad range of specialists, and agreed by the members through consensus. It is a ground-breaking document setting out the rules and aspirations relating to the ecological objectives of the community. In relation to construction of homes, the Charter states the objective of creating ‘safe, healthy homes, using materials that have as low an environmental impact as possible (including embodied energy) from manufacture, transport and disposal’ and outlines practical ways in which this can be achieved.” http://thevillage.ie/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=77&Itemid=2 (24-2-11) . It is freedom with a sense of responsibility not what I had expected at all. The Eco village provides “self-organising adaptive systems instead of command-and-control ways of organising.” http://www.thevillage.ie/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=78&Itemid=2 (25-2-11)

Cloughjordan Eco village has the largest solar feed in Ireland which they resourced from pooling together their grants; yes this is a friendly neighbour hood where people care about their neighbours, locally and globally. This solar feed along with the woodchip boilers provide the water and heat supply for the entire village. These are both 100% renewable with the use of zero fossil fuels, so people who live here are not contributing to Climate Change. This village is all about people caring for each other, working together to make their lives and our planet a better place. They are providing a model of sustainable living that works for them where people like us can go and be challenged. “The eco village project is striving to create a fresh blueprint to …. be a model for sustainable living in the 21st Century.” http://www.thevillage.ie/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=35&Itemid=7 (25-2-11)

The streets are designed to encourage people to walk and cycle which in turn should discourage vehicles. This will all contributes to a happier, more active community. Along the paths there will be fruit trees, nut trees and shrubs grown which will help lower the CO2 emissions but also provide healthy food for the community. They explained to us about the Community Farm. The farm is co-owned by the eco-villagers and other people from around the Cloughjordon area. It really impressed me that the eco-village has made such strong links with the native Cloughjordon community and do not isolate themselves; the people who live here are part of the wider community. This has many benefits for both communities- the ecovillagers are spreading their ripples wider all the time, like the stone thrown into the pond. The local people get to make little changes to their own lives and move towards sustainability and both communities get the benefits of sharing resources and ideas as they work together. Two communities become one better and stronger community.

The farm is comprised of 28 acres outside the village and another 12 acres within the eco-village. This farm produces a wide range of vegetables, milk and often meat. When it is at full capacity it’s expected to be able to provide for 80 families. Along with this each house in the eco-village is given an allotment for their own personal use. The villagers are therefore sustainable with their food supply and are calculating zero food miles, always a bonus! Community Supported Agriculture “creates synergy between growers and producers with grain produced for local bakers and milk for cheese-makers, resulting in a democratic and integrated food production system leading to employment and local food security.” http://www.thevillage.ie/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=58&Itemid=12 (25-2-11). The idea of creating jobs within the community that are locally generated and supported in the current recession has got to be the way forward.

Having studied critical thinking I believe it is clear to see that the Villagers are critical thinkers. The village is really well planned by the community and as far as I could see they have everything included: a variety of house styles to account for individual taste, accommodation for visitors, enterprise centre and even live/work units. “Sustainability is inherently static. It presumes there is a point at which we can maintain ourselves and the world, and once we find the right combination of behaviour and technology that allows us some measure of stability, we have to stay there. For these uncertain times we need a new approach. We have to build our capacity to be able to handle unexpected changes. We, and our communities, need to be more than simply sustainable, we need to be regenerative and build the capacity not only to absorb shocks, like the current financial crises or changing weather patterns, but to evolve with them. In a word, we need to be resilient. If sustainability is about survival, resilience is about being able to overcome the unexpected, to adapt and to thrive”. http://www.thevillage.ie/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=35&Itemid=7 (25-2-11). While the village is set out to be sustainable now with the economic crisis they hope the community will be resilient and sustainable. We have run our economy into the ground. Our economy and the world economy are in virtual ruin. We have traded sustainability for excessive growth, resilience for global trade. Peak oil sees the end drawing near of the first world’s race to expand into every corner of the planet and to consume every last resource. We rely on oil to transport our food and are living in a time when cheap oil is becoming a thing of the past. The cost of food will significantly increase and our capability to get it from source to end user decrease unless of course we can become sustainable and more community based like the Cloughjordon model.

I found the whole trip extremely interesting and would love the opportunity to return when the development is complete. I went expecting mud-huts while I return with a new vision for Sustainable Developments future. The most amazing thing was that the houses were modern yet individual but there was still a strong sense of community and self-sufficiency. There is an old African proverb, quoted by Al Gore in his Nobel Prize acceptance speech, “If you want to go quickly, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”

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