The Environment Must Be At The Heart Of All Decisions

“We need to mobilise the four and a half million people living in Ireland to place the environment at the heart of their decisions and actions every single day – only by doing this can we build a sustainable future,” according to Laura Burke, Director General of the Environmental Protection Agency.  She was speaking at the 11th Annual Environment Ireland Conference on the topic of ‘Building a sustainable future’.

A sustainable Ireland, Ms Burke said, is an Ireland which has a vibrant economy that offers a decent livelihood for all its citizens; people and communities that help and respect each another; and underpinning this, a protected environment that allows us to live safe, healthy lives.   To become sustainable, she added, we all need to change the way we act as consumers, in our homes, our businesses and our public bodies.

“We are all consumers – we need to eat, we need to work, and we need to travel,” she said.  “But our challenge is to do this within the planet’s capacity.  Recent WWF data shows that living like an average EU citizen requires 2.6 planet Earths to sustain us.  And here in Ireland, that statistic is even worse – we live as though we had 3.2 planets at our disposal.”

She set out the challenges Ireland faces in becoming more sustainable – but also the benefits for our health, our wellbeing and for the economy.  And the EPA would play its part, she said, by providing ever better information and research to help citizens make more informed choices.

“At a global level,” Laura Burke said, “a recent IMF Report states that environmentally harmful subsidies aggravate climate change and worsen local pollution and congestion.  In Ireland, according to that same report, we spend $1.2 billion on fossil fuel subsidies, or $261 per head.  This is but one single example of subsidies that distort the market and stifle innovation.”

She called on all public bodies to use their influence and their budgets to drive the green economy through green public procurement.

“Government departments and agencies spend €8.5 billion every year on goods and services,” she said.  “This immense sum is a powerful market driver which can influence producers and service providers to embrace the green economy. The EPA has published a guide for public bodies on using green criteria in their procurement processes.”

She called on businesses to do two things: to develop more sustainable goods and services, and to become more resource efficient in the way they currently work.  Businesses can make significant savings, she said, through preventing avoidable waste of resources.

“The EPA’s Green Business programme helps companies save money on energy, water and waste bills – reducing their impact on the environment while increasing competitiveness.  Last year, for example, we worked with one meat factory to save €150,000 in a single year through smart water and energy use.”

Laura Burke highlighted how the environment and our health and wellbeing are inextricably linked.

“A thriving, clean environment provides the very basis of good lifestyles and we need to look beyond simply protecting people from threats in their environment to considering how the environment can deliver a much wider range of health benefits. The availability of high quality green spaces such as parks, woodlands and the countryside, and blue spaces such as lakeshores and seashores encourages activity on the road to better health.”

At the conference, Ann Phelan T.D., Minister of State with responsibility for Local, Community and Rural Economic Development issues at the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government, launched the EPA’s revamped and redesigned web resource, Ireland’s Environment.  The resource provides easier access to information on the state of Ireland’s environment. It includes high level data on different environmental themes and indicators that will be updated as new information becomes available. The site has easy links to information for citizens on how to “Get Informed” and “Get Involved” to help people make informed choices. 

Ms Burke closed by calling on all consumers – each and every member of the population – to live sustainably and to consider the environment in their everyday decisions and actions. She concluded,

“At its heart, environmental protection is simply about making the world a safe, productive and pleasant place to live – right now, and into the future. When we look more broadly to sustainable development, our mission grows to embrace creating happy and prosperous communities. Rather than being in conflict with growth, a clean healthy environment is the foundation for successful economies and societies.”


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