Origins of the GreenPlan

Where it all started

Written by Neil McCabe

When I started writing The GreenPlan, I was employed by Dublin Fire Brigade as a full-time Fireman in 2008. I spent a lot of time explaining the many benefits of Dublin Fire Brigade (DFB) and Dublin City Council (DCC) manipulating the economic downturn to our moral and financial reward. We could use actual actions that reduce carbon to spur the local economy and if managed correctly, renewable technology and its application could be a game changer. If I had suggested a DFB GreenPlan research and development project in the height of the Celtic Tiger era, would Senior Management listen to my suggestions and take heed? Most probably a gesture of some funding or other would have been approved, with no real account or genuine commitment for our environmental actions.

It is amazing to think that my whole story started with the collection of used batteries! Morale was low in Kilbarrack Fire Station because, we had lost 50% of our crew in only a one week period. They had relocated to a new modern “sexy” Fire Station in North Co. Dublin. They took over 20 years’ experience per person with them and motivation among the remaining Fire Crew diminished.  I didn’t like seeing how this affected my colleagues and the working environment. Being a “doer”, I had to do something about it. So I placed an empty cardboard box on a table and wrote “used batteries here” on the side of the box.

Within one month the box was overflowing with used batteries and the Crew taking part were the same Crew that didn’t like coming to work because motivation was low. This was when I first noticed the power of behavioural change and realised I could instigate a morale improvement project that would benefit the environment at the same time. The only problem I had was that there was nowhere to bring the batteries for recycling. I soon became the go-to person and before long I was giving out jobs and tasks to the Fire Crews. Each new project saved the running costs of the Fire Station and lessened our impact on the environment.

There was also no cost to Fire Brigade management because these behavioural projects were carried out under the banner of “Shared Responsibility” on the fire crews personal time as a belief that they were becoming Stakeholders in the future of the Fire Station. The Crew even separated domestic waste into piles of recycling and brought the waste to bring centres for recycling, in their own vehicles, on their own time – after finishing working the night shift. This caused an immediate drop in the volume of waste sent to landfill and because we only paid for the waste collected we saved money too. By this stage I had condensed my approach and realised The GreenPlan (as it was now being called) was a step-by-step vehicle for transparent change.  I honestly wasn’t fully sure that my approach would cause such positive environmental impacts as by-products of the behavioural change. When I did notice this I started to plan for scaling The GreenPlan and so started the evolution of The GreenPlan’s Seven Themes and Two Core Principles.

Management embraced the idea of change but were worried when I announced that I wanted Kilbarrack Fire Station to become the world’s first Carbon Neutral Fire Station. It’s not that they thought I was over-ambitious, it’s that no one, including me, really knew what Carbon Neutral meant. The phrase Carbon Neutral wasn’t a buzzword back then the way it is today. Sustainability was a word only used in business terms. I was given full support and permission to run trials and experiments on Kilbarrack Fire Station as the flagship for Dublin Fire Brigade.

In 2010 The GreenPlan© for Kilbarrack Fire Station, now the World’s First Carbon Neutral Fire Station was launched by the City Manager of Dublin City Council and the Lord Mayor of Dublin. The City Manager Mr. John Tierney named Kilbarrack Fire Station as a hub of sustainability for the community around the Fire Station and said that he believed that every Fire Station in Dublin would follow suit. The Lord Mayor of Dublin Mr. Gerry Breen said he could see how “The GreenPlan is a template that all City Council and County Council Departments can follow and indeed the other Public Services in Ireland too”. Now in Jan 2014 The GreenPlan is part of Dublin Fire Brigades Business Plan and Four Fire Stations have been fully transformed with a further four more prepared for this year. When I was battling with the creation of The GreenPlan back in 2008, I had no idea I would end up delivering such social and environmental impacts.