Innovation is Key for the Sustainable Village #32 #cong17

By Bernard Joyce.

Bernard Joyce #31 Sustainable Village

Photo by Thomas Lambert

Innovation has always been at the heart of the village. Resources were managed, harvested and traded. From the beginning of time, the early settlers of the Céide Fields in North Mayo used stones to build walls to contain their livestock. Later under the Brehon Laws, the system of townlands that we know today were established to ensure the sustainable allocation of resources to the tribe. 

In my own village, trade centred around the corn mill and the train station. Access to the railway encouraged other enterprises to emerge. Blackcurrants and strawberries were grown to supply the jam factory in Leitrim, Apples for the Cider industry and tomatoes and other luxury items for the discerning shoppers in the big cities. Surplus produce was sold in the village shops.

The Watermill has long-since stopped and the train no longer stops. The scope for innovation has narrowed. The cheap food that has become so readily available because of the seemingly endless supply of cheap fossil fuels means that we spend a much smaller percentage of our income on food. Local producers, shops and pubs can no longer compete, and businesses are closing. As businesses close and people have to conduct their business elsewhere the local economy starts “leaking” resources. The multiplier effect which would see every €1 spent locally generate another €4+ can no longer happen when there are no local businesses left.

If cheap fossil fuels are central to the demise of the local village, they are also central to the demise of our planet. We get snippets of that impact more often of late when we witness rare weather events, but it is often what we don’t see that is having the greatest impact. The fish we now eat, for example, contains microbeads of plastic, a petroleum product that is contained in household items such as shampoos and soaps. Experts say that 2050, we may not even have fish in our oceans.

Despite the warnings however, the world continues its orgy of cheap consumption. Up until now, the myth that environmental well-being and economic prosperity were not compatible has driven consumption. But more and more successful businesses are adapting the triple-bottom-line to their businesses where success is measured in social, environmental as well as financial outcomes.

Perhaps the biggest impact to the way in which we do business is the emergence of the “Circular Economy”. Traditionally industry has operated in a linear fashion: Take, Make & Dispose. The Circular Economy on the other hand is a regenerative system in which resource input and waste, emission, and energy leakage are minimised by slowing, closing, and narrowing material and energy loops. This can be achieved through long-lasting design, maintenance, repair, reuse, remanufacturing, refurbishing, and recycling. 

Some of the world’s largest corporations are starting to adapt the circular economy model, partly perhaps of increased environmental awareness but also by a recognition that resources are finite, and it makes good business sense to make the most of what is available.

The circular economy relies heavily on a move to localisation and innovation. The village can not only benefit from the circular economy but can act as a driver. The availability of natural resources along, technology and the ability to innovate are already driving change. A company in rural Leitrim is set to start production of the first Irish Electric Car. While we do need to get our act together with broadband, it is now possible in any rural location to study any subject, to collaborate and even, using 3D technology to manufacture. New Media Inc. a company with offices in Dublin. Dubai, Beruit and Palo Alto was set up in Iraqi Kurdistan with many of the key company positions held by family members including women in a country where many women are now even allowed to work. The trend of migration of young people to the cities for employment is starting to change as location no longer becomes an issue.

The paradigm is shifting back again to the village as the hub as the opportunity to harness human, natural and social capital presents itself. Our villages must become models of the circular economy keeping money, food and energy in the local economy and eliminating leakage. We have to leverage technology to create employment and access to education.

Like many other villages, we were producing clean renewable energy in my village back in the 19th Century to power the mill. We had a commuter rail link before we had cars. #

We must learn from the past as we enter the unchartered waters of the future and do what we do best talk – and have the conversation about the village of tomorrow. 

CongRegation © Eoin Kennedy 2017 eoin at congregation dot ie