My Oblique Approach

A Behavioural Change

Written by Neil McCabe

After two years of research, my grass roots project was an attempt at trying to improve the Fire Station’s fabric as a morale lifter. I had wanted to create a physically better working environment for the crew. If I could reduce the running costs of the Station and re-invest the savings with the crew buying into the project, motivation levels would improve. The crew started to participate in the project because they wanted to. Their participation had a new effect on the running costs of the Fire Station and they could see that the more they took part – the more the Station improved. I had always wanted to lessen our carbon emission production but if I had looked only to achieve emission reductions in the beginning, I don’t think anyone would have been interested.

The behavioural change had to happen first. Thanks to the exemplar actual actions, (over 300 completed projects,) Kilbarrack Fire Station is now a hub of sustainability to the surrounding community and proof of how real leadership can be demonstrated as better use of public money. Dublin Fire Brigade has now gone on to roll out The GreenPlan across its estate. Last year the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland (SEAI) teamed up with Dublin Fire Brigade as part of the Better Energy in the Community scheme (BEC) and invested almost €500,000 in The GreenPlan. The work being carried out was on two more Fire Stations simultaneously, located in Finglas and Blanchardstown. This year Rathfarnham Fire Station is the next Station to be retrofit and refurbished using The GreenPlan system. Kilbarrack has always been a flagship, test bed and visual to help the public physically see and learn from the ideas and technologies installed. I have Thermodynamic Solar Collectors facing east and flanked on both sides by large sycamore trees. Yet they produce 68℃ hot water for the Fire Station’s showers and kitchen. The heat comes from wind and rain, abundant in Ireland, and the solar heat is a bonus. Below the collectors is a 1000 litre, heavily insulated, hot water storage cylinder. 

Some people ask me, what was I thinking? Are the panels facing the wrong way? I get the chance to educate them on the many benefits to thinking outside the box, embracing new technology and changing their behaviour. In fact after some months, I had to introduce a blending valve to lower the temperature of the water. Before there were fancy phrases like “crowd funding” I had asked the Firefighters to sponsor the purchase of the Thermo Panels with their own money. It involved setting up a bank account and credit union account. At that stage the crew had bought into the concept of becoming stakeholders of their Fire Station. I couldn’t give them a financial return on their investment but I could show that the Fire Station would be a better place to work. Our government has set the target of 33% energy reduction in all public services by 2020. Dublin Fire Brigade has already hit 44% energy usage and carbon reduction since the baseline 2008 figures. 

But The GreenPlan is a methodology that is not exclusive to Fire Stations and Fire Brigades. Since writing The GreenPlan back in 2008, I have gone on to write The GreenPlan for communities, swimming pools, leisure centres, libraries and heritage projects such as the Mansion House in Dublin where the Lord Mayor resides. The GreenPlan is being used as a step by step based accreditation built on Actual Actions to develop measured behavioural change that affects an impact on climate change. In essence when I took on building The GreenPlan with no experience or third level education, I never thought I would end up building an advocacy for climate change and being asked to speak in many countries around the world. What started off in a Dublin Fire Station by accident to improve morale is now recognized as a world’s best practice. Large companies, corporates, SMEs need to take a serious look inside their organisations and look to change their culture. Sustainability Reports are not supposed to be a PR stunt or a version of advertisement using a pretend Corporate Social Responsibility ethos. 

These values have to be embedded into the culture of the organisation first and the only way to do that is to start thinking in a disruptive manner using behavioural change as the driver. Why? Because it is the right thing to do rather than “being seen to be green.” It will have positive impacts on future generations. Not doing so means that the next generation will look back and remember you did nothing when you needed to show leadership. Communities too are becoming resilient and if we look at the speed information is passed on social media, it is only an inkling of what is to come. This is brand damage and regardless of the type or size of the brand, consumers will become more and more educated; they will make educated, informed decisions on their purchases and loyalty.