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12 ways West Cork is leading the way in sustainability

February 19th, 2024 8:00 AM

Under the right conditions, the 26-acre solar farm at the Lilly plant near Kinsale is capable of producing over 60% of the site’s daily energy requirements.

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12 great organisations, people, businesses and schools who are going the extra mile for sustainability and our environment around West Cork

This article originally appeared in our Greener Living West Cork supplement, which was free inside The Southern Star on February 15th.

Small changes yield big results

Change by Degrees, Kinsale

Madeleine Murray and Dr Tara Shine of Kinsale-based Change by Degrees.


A CHANCE meeting while sea swimming not only sparked a friendship between Madeleine Murray and Dr Tara Shine, but also a business idea that’s helping global organisations deliver sustainable futures.

The Kinsale-based trailblazers set up Change by Degrees in 2018, providing eLearning and training to organisations locally and around the world, empowering them by building the essential skills, knowledge, and motivation they need to work sustainably.

The aim is to upskill hundreds of thousands of employees through their learning platform so that they can change how they work, the impact of which will include carbon reduction, environmental stewardship and positive social impact. An overwhelming 96% of employees view sustainability as a top corporate priority, yet, 60% see a lack of information as the main obstacle to sustainable action. Change by Degrees are bridging that gap. ‘You can’t run a sustainable business unless every employee is upskilled and empowered to work differently,’ says Madeleine.

This year they became a B Corp – a designation given to a business meeting high standards of performance, accountability, and transparency.

‘This third-party certification sets us apart from competitors and demonstrates their sustainability credentials and legitimacy, ensuring trust and transparency amid “greenwashing noise”,’ added Madeleine.

She pointed to a recently-published list of 20 high-impact climate actions that individuals and households in high-income countries can take that together could reduce up to 25% of future greenhouse gases. Reducing food waste was on top.

‘Households in Ireland throw away between €700-€1,000 of uneaten food each year. It causes pollution and is an incredible waste of hard-earned money,’ she said. Her advice for 2024: ‘Meal plan, befriend your freezer and get inventive with left overs.’

Sustainable farming and food production

Carbery Group, Ballineen

Members of the Carbery cheese production team accepting the company’s Origin Green gold member award for 2023.


GIVEN its roots as a co-operative owned by its farmer shareholders, Carbery has always had a commitment to doing more with less.

The plant in Ballineen is focused on extracting every drop of value from the milk it sources from the 1,200 shareholders located in West Cork.

In recent years, it has focused on water reduction, energy efficiency and waste-to-landfill reduction. Its biggest challenge will be further decarbonisation and there are major plans in that space with the development of solar PV on and off-site as well as scoping opportunities to develop further Anaerobic Digestion (AD).

Carbery is also an Origin Green gold member – Origin Green being Bord Bia’s sustainability programme.

On-farm, Carbery suppliers face a major challenge to reduce their carbon footprint and the company is focused on supporting these efforts.

Through its Carbery Greener Dairy Farmers and its support for Assap (the water quality advisory programme), the company is supporting education for farmers.

In trialling ground-breaking research approaches on Farm Zero C outside Bandon – its model for climate-neutral dairy farming – the company is covering a wide range of options to ease this transition for farmers. Finally, through the Futureproof programme, Carbery and the West Cork co-ops are financially incentivising sustainable activity on farm that will impact carbon emissions as well as enhancing water quality and the financial sustainability of local dairy farms.

Affordable, energy-efficient homes

Carbery Housing Association, Skibbereen

Jose Ospina (second left) accepting an award for Carbery Housing Association at the recent Irish Council for Social Housing Awards. Also included are Paul Gleason, Allianz; Cllr Dan Boyle, CHA board member and Ana Ospina, operations manager.


CARBERY Housing Association (CHA) was set up in 2001 by residents of Skibbereen and Baltimore, to provide housing and associated amenities to groups that are excluded from the housing market.

But it goes a step further too, by delivering innovative, energy-efficient and sustainable homes.

Led by a voluntary board of nine members, with an employed operations manager, it’s a registered non-profit company and charity and has Approved Housing Body status with the Department of Housing.

Chaired by José Ospina, he has over 40 years of experience in social housing and project development and management in Europe, Colombia, UK and Ireland.

CHA’s main housing activity has been buying homes in the city and country under the Mortgages to Rent Programme. Where owners-occupiers are unable to meet mortgage repayments, CHA has secured loans from AIB and the Housing Finance Agency, to buy the homes and keep families housed paying ‘council equivalent’ rents. CHA manages and maintains the homes, carrying out repairs and improvements as required, including energy retrofitting.

Ana Ospina, operations manager, is responsible for housing management and energy activities, supported by Liam Loftus, board member responsible for works. To date CHA has purchased 21 properties with 11 more in the pipeline.

Four of these properties have received core retrofitting to a B2 standard under the Warmer Homes Scheme, three have received deep retrofit and have had heat pumps installed under the Better Energy Communities Scheme and four properties have benefited from the innovative REDWoLF solar domestic energy system, which generates most of the power used in the homes and sells excess energy generated to the national grid.

For 2024, CHA has proposed a solar community social housing project for Sherkin Island. This involves building of six family homes aesthetically tuned to the local environment, and generating, storing and managing their own solar energy.

Nourishing people and the planet

Two Green Shoots, Glengarriff

Kloe Wood and Adam Carveth of Two Green Shoots.


KLOE Wood and her partner Adam Carveth launched Two Green Shoots in Glengarriff in 2017, driven by a desire to ‘nourish people and the planet.’

Seasonally, they offer two botanically themed accommodation offerings: a B&B for private groups and a unique glamping experience. They also welcome visitors to their edible garden, The Garden of Re-Imagination to learn about and feast on the wild and exotic plants they grow from fragrant Fuki stems to lemon-flavoured shamrock.

The rest of the year they travel across Ireland and the UK both virtually and in-person designing edible, nature focused, sustainable and resilient gardens. To date they’ve worked with custodians and craftspeople to breathe new life into over 50 green spaces from inner city sanctuaries in Dublin and London to seven-acre escapes on the Wild Atlantic Way.

In 2023 they teamed up with Clean Coasts to give visitors and guests a 10% discount for completing a beach clean during their stay or visit. Those that didn’t have the time, they directed their donation toward working with a local artist to craft an interactive installation in the gardens – a giant nest swing made from ghost fishing nets recovered from the Atlantic with cord made from recycled plastic bottles.

2024, they say, will bring the biggest changes to the business since they started with a focus on scaling up the production of the edibles they’ve been trialling over the last six years while also launching a rewilding project on Esk Mountain.

Regenerative tourism options

Goleen Harbour

Melanie Furniss and Matt Mills of Goleen Harbour.


ZERO-carbon holidays, weddings and events on the edge of Europe are what’s on offer at the first eco resort on the Mizen peninsula.

Goleen Harbour is the brainchild of Matt Mills and his partner Melanie Furniss. The regenerative tourism project comprises a mix of cabins, pre-pitched bell tents, a unique geodome, along with tent and camper pitches.

It’s under development since 2016 when Matt converted the farm to organics and planted a 7.5-acre native woodland with 7,500 trees.

2018 saw them design and build their first EcoCabin from locally-sourced and up-cycled materials. EcoCabin designs specify ground screw foundations to reduce impact on biodiversity and utilises passive solar principles with a highly efficient building fabric.

Over the following years they brought their tree planting total to 12,000; introduced ‘Gather & Learn’ courses on topics such as building with hemp and lime, developed the first of three geodomes in their special area of conservation, two more EcoCabins and an events space from locally sourced Douglas Fir.

Also on offer are leave-no-trace activities like bike trials, target archery, bushcraft, a guided farm walk on the 38-acre farm and coastal foraging.

‘With a determination to be zero carbon for heat and power we installed a district heating system powered by an Irish-made pellet boiler fed with Irish pellets produced from sawmill waste. We have also ordered a MyGug micro-anaerobic digester to turn our food waste into biogas for cooking to be installed this year,’ said Matt.

‘We are also working with the National Parks & Wildlife service to try and encourage pairs of chough to breed at our site with the installation of a chough box,’ he added.

Goleen Harbour has already raised over €1m in investment and received €200,000 in grant aid through Bord Iascaigh Mhara’s Blue Economy programme.

Matt and Melanie are strong believers that without a vibrant, healthy community, there won’t be a sustainable future, and are committed to the area.

Other plans this year include a sauna-building course at the end of this month, followed by other courses including how to build a timber frame cabin and welding.

Leading the way for three decades

Organico, Bantry

Hannah and Rachel Dare.


SET up nearly 30 years ago by Rachel and Hannah Dare’s parents, Organico health food shop in Bantry has always been ahead of the crowd in terms of operating sustainably and promoting that way of living. From the very beginning its ethos has been about cultivating an organic, sustainable and healthy lifestyle.

‘We aim to have a positive impact on our customers, our team and the wider community and the environment is at the forefront of this,’ said Rachel. ‘We want to put the environment in the centre of what we do, but don’t get us wrong either, as we are far, far from perfect. So rather than perfection, we are consistently looking for small ways to improve. So maybe it’s not about buying an electric car but more about editing the daily decisions we make with the focus on local and sustainable; reducing our waste and generally buying and consuming less,’ she added.

A lot of their big business decisions are affected by their environmental impact and their carbon footprint – from deciding on packaging for online products to what/ where their pensions are invested.

‘We signed up to ‘Too Good To Go’ at the end of last year, which is an app that allows food businesses to sell food still good enough to eat but which needs to be eaten that day. We have also stopped using single-use cups for all our takeaway coffees and look forward to introducing the ‘2gobowl’ in 2024 for takeaway soups and rice bowls etc.

This has been a learning curve for us and customers and it can be tricky to change over but with a bit of focus and determination we can make small changes and they all add up,’ said Hannah.

Brilliant berries, and beef too!

Derry Duff Organic Farm, Bantry

Dr Steve Collins of Derry Duff Organic Farm.


AN organic hill farm high up on the slopes of Knock Buí, the tallest mountain in Cork, between Bantry and Glengarriff is trialling regenerative farming practices – and getting great results.

Historically a sheep and cattle farm, Derry Duff farm has diversified into growing blueberries and health-boosting aronia berries using innovative farming methods.

The farm is run by Dr Steve Collins and his wife Claire. Steve is a medical doctor with an additional doctorate in nutrition and a global expert in the treatment of starvation, who for over 30 years worked to alleviate famine.

He eschews artificial fertilisers, herbicides and pesticides and instead promotes a diverse environment to naturally control pests and build soil and fertility by using natural organic mulches. Instead of costly, artificial, chemical-based bag fertilisers and toxic herbicides, at Derry Duff the blueberries are mulched using wool fleece and wood chip, sourced from local farmers. These natural wholesome materials, supress weeds and slowly release the wide range of essential nutrients the berry bush plants need.

At the same time they nourish and build the biological life of the soil increasing the fertility for the future.

The result is not only delicious naturally grown berries that contain more healthy nutrients and no chemical residues, but also a balanced natural environment that is becoming increasingly productive.

Through buying local wool, the Derry Duff approach also helps to improve the local wool market increasing the incomes of local farmers.

Steve and Claire also run a nursery as well as producing and selling high-quality, organically-raised Dexter beef. They also have a luxury lodge for guests to stay in.

Climate action in the community

Green Skibbereen & Cecas

Chairperson Trish Lavelle hard at work at Cecas.


GREEN Skibbereen was founded in 2020 by a group of people from West Cork with the aim of supporting the widest community engagement in climate action, biodiversity and sustainability.

In August 2021 the group embarked on a hugely ambitious project to develop a community centre and venue for climate action and sustainability in Myross Wood House, Leap. It’s called Cecas standing for Centre of Excellence for Climate Action and Sustainability.

‘It’s been an exciting couple of years,’ said chairperson Trish Lavelle. ‘Some of our key achievements have been restoring a biodiversity-rich native woodland in Myross Wood, which has seen the planting of over 1,500 native trees, a tree nursery developed, new footpaths restored to improve public access and a thriving volunteer group, the Friends of Myross Wood, working in the woodland.’

Other achievements over the last 12 months include taking the first step in retrofitting Cecas through the installation of thermodynamic solar renewable energy to provide 100% of its hot water, hosting over 50 events and 30 different community groups, supporting 15 local small businesses through renting out workspaces and studios, opening two shops to retail the best of vintage and locally-made crafts.

Cecas welcomed around 7,500 visitors over the course of the year at events, markets, conferences, courses and of course visitors staying in the Airbnb.

‘We also delivered our new and very popular Introduction to Biodiversity course as well as a host of other community-focused courses, events and workshops and established a volunteer-led and very productive Community Garden.

‘Volunteers sit at the heart of Cecas and in 2023, as well as our local community volunteers we welcomed 10 international volunteers from Canada, Germany, France, New Zealand, England, Spain, the US and Denmark who chose to come and work with us because they can see the value of the project.

‘Their contribution has been incredible and we are so grateful for the work of all our volunteers,’ said Trish.

This year is another busy and exciting one for the group which celebrates its fourth anniversary around this time.

‘We are not slowing down in 2024 and will be delivering our first Climate and Community Course, developing the first Climate Action Youth Club in West Cork and hosting a Biodiversity Festival to mention just a few of the new initiatives coming to Cecas,’ concluded Trish.

Realising the value of ‘local’

Fields SuperValu, Skibbereen

John Field, his daughter Ruth and her husband Adam Walsh.


THE team at Fields of Skibbereen seized the recent revamp of their supermarket as the perfect opportunity to significantly reduce the shop’s carbon footprint and energy consumption.

The most visible change for shoppers are the newly-introduced doors on the shop’s fridges, says Ruth Field who said it was a no-brainer for them in terms of benefits.

‘If you think about it, without the doors you’re basically chilling half the shop, while you’re heating the other half. Just like you’d never dream of leaving your fridge door open at home, it just didn’t make sense particularly as half of our floor space is refrigerated,’ she said.

Fridge units are now also run on CO2, compared to gas previously, which is another sustainable step forward for the business.

Other plans this year include developing solar panels on the roof of the building which will heat all the water used at Fields.

The new Deposit Returns Scheme unit has also taken up position in part of the store’s trolley bay to incentivise shoppers to return and recycle plastic bottles.

‘Our electrician Brian O’Neill also recently overhauled all the store’s lighting, as part of the revamp. It’s now all LED, and all on sensors, and timers so that as soon as the shop closes, all the lights will turn off,’ said Ruth.

‘Sustainability is vital and is at the heart of every decision we make. We are always looking for ways to reduce our carbon footprint and be more environmentally friendly,’ she added.

‘The importance of buying and shopping locally has never been more relevant than it is now and Fields has long advocated the importance of local suppliers. We are a large business with a big team and we feel very lucky to live in what we consider to be one of the most beautiful parts of this world and we will continue to work hard to keep it like that. We have to if we are going to protect West Cork for future generations.’

Picking up on people power!

Clean Coasts

Mark McCarthy advocates not only the environmental but also the social benefits of being a Clean Coast volunteer.


CLEAN Coasts is part of the An Taisce Environmental Education Unit, working with communities to help protect and care for Ireland’s waterways, coastline, seas, ocean and marine life. The group has over 2,000 volunteer groups and individuals based all around the country including Mark McCarthy in Schull.

Mark has been a Clean Coast volunteer since 2017, and with a strong presence on Instagram and TikTok, he encourages others to get involved. He was also one of the shortlisted nominees at the 2023 Clean Coasts Ocean Hero Awards held in Dublin recently in the category ‘Campaigner of the Year.’

There are many groups and individuals volunteering in West Cork such as Siúlóid@CCRC, a diverse walking group of 20 at Clonakilty Community Resource Centre who commit to monthly beach clean-ups since World Water Day 2023. Open to all, the group includes members from various organisations like the Men’s Shed and Cope Foundation, and was also shortlisted at the Ocean Hero Awards in the Equality, Diversity and Inclusion category.

Elaine Doyle of Clean Coasts said ‘these groups are the backbone of the organisation.’

‘Clean Coasts runs events, initiatives, campaigns and calls to action all with a focus on protecting our coasts and waterways. These include clean-ups for World Ocean Day in June and Citizen Science clean-ups for the Big Beach Clean in September.

'We run corporate team building workshops based around litter picking and have a grant scheme for our groups to further their valuable litterpicking. We run the #2minutebeachclean campaign to promote the importance of micro-volunteering and the Think Before Your Flush campaign to educate on the link between the toilet, sink, pipes and the ocean,’ she said.

Mark, a volunteer with the Irish Coast Guard in Schull, added: ‘I’ve been a “picker upper” (beach cleaner) for a very long time, long before the days of social media and sharing but in today’s world I think it can be a really powerful place when it comes to promoting the #2minutebeachclean and environmental awareness. It’s especially good when you see other likeminded people doing the same as you. Most beach cleaners pick up marine plastic and rubbish from the coastline because it’s the right thing to do and not for any kind of recognition, but having a place to share can definitely help inspire and keep you going.

‘And it’s is so easy to make a difference by litter picking. You can spend two minutes on your own picking up litter on the street, in the park, on the beach or join a local group – the social and environmental benefits are wonderful.’

Sowing the seeds of knowledge

St Patrick’s Boys National School, Skibbereen

Principal Alan Foley and teacher Brian Granaghan in the garden at St Patrick’s BNS in Skibbereen.


AN award-winning geodome and garden was set up at St Patrick’s Boys NS, Skibbereen in 2016.

It was set up to encourage the students to engage with nature and allow them to learn in an environment that would be a haven for nature as well as being a productive garden for growing all sorts of crops. It has certainly achieved that and so much more since.

‘Since then we have grown many fruits and vegetables and the garden has developed over time into a biodiversity sanctuary for all kinds of wildlife,’ said teacher Brian Granaghan.

‘It means a lot to the school to have such a beautiful and productive garden and we are lucky and feel proud to have it. We have won many awards with our garden including the Muintir na Tire Cork School Garden of the Year as well as a national Get Involved award for sustainability. We are also a Nature Hero school with the Biodiversity in Schools scheme.’

In 2024 the school plans to use its new composter to make its own compost.

‘We will also get going with our organic fruit and vegetable plans for another bumper crop of delicious and organic produce for the pupils, families and staff to share,’ added Brian.

A focus on ‘continuous improvement'

Lilly, Kinsale

Under the right conditions, the 26-acre solar farm at the Lilly plant near Kinsale is capable of producing over 60% of the site’s daily energy requirements.


Eli Lilly and Company has been on a sustainability journey since arriving in Kinsale in 1978. Today, with 1,200 employees on site, the company remains committed to making life better, and continues to keep sustainability front and centre of development plans.

Making medicines requires the use of valuable resources including energy, water and raw materials, and Lilly has ambitious 2030 goals to reduce its usage, on a global, and local scale.

Locally, the company worked closely with thought leaders to put together a plan. Together, they identified five key areas for sustainability efforts, with measurable deliverables to stay on track.

Reducing energy usage is a top priority. In the last year, a total of six energy saving projects have been completed, resulting in a reduction of over 4,000 tonnes of CO2 emissions. Lilly Kinsale is home to one of Ireland’s largest solar farms, 21,402 PV solar panels, spanning an area of 26 acres. On a sunny day, the solar farm can generate about 4.5MW, which is over 60% of the site’s daily demand.

Lilly employees play a valuable role too. In the last 12 months, they’ve spearheaded a plastic recycling initiative to repurpose recycled plastic into a raw material used for benches and planters, diverting a significant proportion of what would otherwise be waste plastic, to make 570 garden benches and planters.

Sustainable travel is another pillar, and the company has put a lot a lot of effort into finding alternative ways get people to work, instead of bringing cars. In early 2023, Lilly Kinsale introduced a bus service travelling to the rural site from Cork city, which has been so successful, they recently launched a second route.

Lilly has always looked at sustainability with a ‘continuous improvement’ focus. Whether that’s bringing a bus to site, or installing a biomass boiler, every change matters.

Read the full Greener Living West Cork supplement via our ePaper here

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