Sustainability course


Cultural Exchange Belfast 2007


What do you think would improve the lives of people in Northern Ireland, in relation to the environment?



Things to think about

Rich countries in that they dominate economies.

Infrastructure not able to support natural disaster.

Need to build a better future via Government, or economics.

Rich and poor are two ends of a spectrum

Awareness, geography, planning.

Think global act locally.

United Nations Climate Change Conference. Paris  2015

Rio Earth Summit 1992


Structure of Course

10 Sessions


Global links / trade

Exploring principles, Quality of life, social economic constructs

Think globally act locally.

Exploring positive and negative factors

Eco homes

Safe energy / resources

Ethical working

Reducing global footprint

Big business impact


Gas Guzzlers


Reduce, recycle, reuse

Integration of Global village

Food chain


Immigration/ what contribution does they make towards the economy

What is the place for wind farms?


What do you think would improve the lives of people in Northern Ireland.?


Last month’s session on being neighbourly went right to the core of sustainability and set the scene for working within a community to achieve a shared sense of value for a sustainable environment. The discussion about wind farms demonstrated the complexities of achieving a sustainable energy strategy. The discussion regarding large gas guzzling four by four automobiles helped to illustrate some of the challenges.


As I see it there are al least three components to s sustainability strategy.


  1. The natural environment often now found only in wildernesses and to a lesser extent in wildlife parks which provides us with natural living resources.
  2. The, at home environment where we live and conduct our daily lives.
  3. The work environment where we work and make our living.


Vitally a key environmental challenge includes the link between these as transport and travelling large distances is often required.


It will take a commitment from all members of society to providing a better sustainable design for Northern Ireland society.


Sustainability in Society

It is obvious to some that there is a need to think about the type of society we should work towards. Those of us who think we have greater insights into environmental matters need to clearly communicate the benefits of a more sustainable society so as to win over the sceptics who will spend for convenience to enjoy today without worrying about tomorrow.


What aspect of your own life has given you an awareness of the environment that makes you decide to choose to be concerned and take action to demand sustainability? Sustainability may mean different things to different people but basically sustainability is living in a way that does not impair the ability of future generations to enjoy the benefits given to us by our wonderful blue planet. It is crucial that we develop a strategic focus for future development. The people of Northern Ireland should be encouraged to ask questions about the state of their environment, at home, at work, and about the transport systems that gets them to work and home. The links between local impacts and the wider global impact also needs to be explored to stimulate a desire to take action to facilitate improved public transport. Structures and systems need to put in place to ensure that progress can be made towards a sustainable quality of living in Northern Ireland.



It would be desirable to establish a society that functions sustainably and where there is real sense of valuing the local and wider environment to support a high quality of living that supports individual, family and neighbourly needs. Each individual could be encouraged to think about their own individual role and asses the contribution they make towards a sustainable future.



Measuring success/ transport measures

Standard socioeconomic parameters provide a vital assessment of an economy but it is becoming more and more obvious that a sustainable solution needs to meet an environmental agenda. It is obvious for example that the transport network for getting children to and from school is becoming very stressed and adding stress to peoples lives in the form of traffic congestion impairing quality of living. As I travelled on the school run form Bangor to near Holywood recently far too many cars were observed as single occupancy. I know that there is an active rail service but the need for a bus service is clear. Where do all these cars park when they get to Belfast or wherever they go? All that unnecessary stress and energy consumption!

Why should we choose to be so dependent on our cars?


Quality of Life

Quality of life is currently strongly linked to income and capital. The concept of value (you can not put a price on many things e.g. A smile.) needs to be promoted above the price of things. Short term pricing discounts the future and looks for a capital return over say 3 years or less. However investing sustainably requires investments that add environmental/sustainable value in the long run for a future able to support natural resource abundance and a high quality of living based on value. How often has it been said that today we know the price of everything but do we really know the value? The housing market is I believe currently overpriced and often the price of a house today does not truly reflect its value. Those with least capital and less money value the house even more then the person with lots of capital and cash.

I am not suggesting that a sustainability strategy is easy to achieve, but there is now a real opportunity to start that process now.

Can anyone else see the benefits of this approach?

Increased awareness and partnerships


Perhaps a questionnaire/ research could be conducted to ascertain the views of the public to give them an opportunity to air there views re environment.

Measurements of car use, journey time, fuel use, time spent in traffic jams and the frustration levels would yield useful information. Can we come up with proposals to design a better system of public transport that adds value to our quality of living?

Is this a role for our community planners and transport mangers or environmental strategists, or is there a need for closer working to bridge the gap between environmentalists, planners and developers?


Increased awareness of our individual impact could be a good starting point. The

WWF global impact survey is quite a useful starting point as this highlights that we are already beyond limits to growth globally. Luxury and comfort come with and environmental cost which is more and more recognisable to some in the community.


Integrated environmentally aware Public Transport

It will be essential to demonstrate that the benefits to the community in reduced environmental impacts and quality improvements will offset any fears about the loss of freedoms from not taking the car.




Additionally, there is a real need to deliver an increased awareness of the value of natural living habitats to the wider public. For example maintaining parks for their aesthetic beauty and natural (semi natural) habitats. Aesthetic qualities are significant environmental benefits but many benefits are much more basic in that natural habitats provide many rich resources from which we sustain our existence. Our environment has the potential to be abundant in riches form food to providing water. Fish, Honey, Fruit, lamb all come to from the natural (semi natural environment)


It would make an excellent case study to asses the role of bees for example in pollination or to more fully understand the productive capacity of the ocean. Continuous education and curriculum developments in ecology and environmental science are vital. Sustainability as a key element in business economics needs to be expanded and WWF have set the ball rolling here by offering courses for business leaders to integrate sustainability practices into their business plans.

There is a real job to be done in educating the public about the sustainable value of the Natural Living Assets all around us and in our inshore and coastal waters. The extent to which these valuable resources can be damaged by conflicting uses of the natural environment needs to be fully recognised and the detrimental effects discouraged. It may help to encourage visits to wildlife centres to develop an increased awareness of the damage done by pollution whether chemical, social or by simply being careless. The RSPB for example already works to increase awareness in this way. It will be essential to communicate our point of view that the environment is our greatest natural asset and needs to be looked after.


The Atlantic Salmon

Agriculture provides us with healthy food and needs to be assessed for its sustainability and the extent to which this activity impacts upon other environmental resources. A key environmental resource linked to the oceans is that of salmon. Rivers produce the young salmon which are dependent on a clean unpolluted river habitat with free migration routes to the sea and free migration for returning adults. There have been many ecological mistakes made in the past. Dredging, Forestry, Agricultural run off (e.g. pig slurry/ silage) and more recently numerous applications for “sustainable” hydro schemes. Holistic measures need to be developed to ensure that the environment is developed in a way which accommodates the needs of all resources. Many Irish salmon rivers have been neglected and virtually destroyed. There are many examples form all around the world of modern practices which have negatively impacted on environmental value. You may argue that salmon farms have replaced the need for wild salmon just as battery hens have replaced the demand for wild chicken but ultimately the basic food for salmon or chicken comes form a complex ecological ecosystem and it this that needs to be protected sustainably. All our lives and those of our neighbours depend upon it.


Agriculture needs to work to ensure that it does not impair rivers courses or negatively impact other parts of the environment. Water needs to be treated with greater respect and fully valued. We turn on the tap and take it for granted that clean clear, fit for drinking water will emerge with no environmental costs involved.



Energy needs to be valued and conserved as a scarce natural resource.

I have concerns about carbon capture and growing energy as that may not actually reduce consumption of energy and we may continue to consume without recognising the true environmental costs of production.


As with all Natural Resources Energy needs to be truly valued for its utility to individuals and utilized equitably.


Foundations for the Future

The recent report on the environment in Northern Ireland “Foundations for the Future”, highlighted the great opportunities that exist in Northern Ireland.


Environmental Protection Agency/Proactivity

The uniqueness of Northern Ireland’s past has created an opportunity to catch up, with regard to implementing EU legislation and directives to better manage the environment. There is a role for a new environmental protection agency to be developed to be an independent body responsible for environmental implementation and monitoring. Additionally there is an emerging role for pro activity for environmental groups to implement their own socially responsible campaigns and strategies for environmental progress towards sustainability.


Forward looking business may well consider the competitive advantages to be gained from taking the initiative to develop development strategies which are truly sustainable and which ensure a bright value added future which can be passed on to the next generation without compromise.


Perhaps the greatest challenge for any group wishing to enhance the sustainability of the environment in Northern Ireland is to find a way of working without compromising the ability to deliver or to survive today. I attend this course to study for action but struggle to find the necessary financial and sustenance support. There is so much to do with so little. However it may be that true that sustainability is doing a lot with little resources and makes a little go a long way. Being neighbourly may well facilitate positive outcomes.


Brendan Kerr

02 Oct 2007

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