With the growing concern for Ireland’s progress regarding environmental sustainability, new inter-departmental research projects emerge that aim to contribute to a greener, more connected country.
The island of Ireland has always had a very ‘green’ reputation. Green pastures, lush green landscapes and an array of coastlines. However, when it comes to Ireland’s reputation regarding sustainability practices – it has been proven not to be as ‘green’ as many may have believed. According to the most recent Sustainable Progress Index (2020) produced by Social Justice Ireland, within the EU15, Ireland ranks worst in progress regarding the environmental category within the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Contributors to the research report highlights the mounting challenges ahead for Ireland regarding SDG 7 – Affordable and Clean Energy, SDG 12 – Responsible Consumption and Production, SDG 13 – Climate Action and SDG 15 – Life on Land. Ireland has been criticized on a number of occasions for its low share in renewable energy levels, its reliance on fossil fuels and biofuels within public transport, its high levels of municipal waste production alongside its GHG emissions and low levels of circular material use. Other areas of concern in Ireland centre around overfishing and biodiversity loss.
Recognition of Green Care in Ireland
With this increasing concern, comes new innovative forms of thinking for the green communities in Ireland that recognises the interconnected aspects of wellbeing and environmental sustainability. Interest in Green Care has grown significantly amongst many individuals and groups across the small country of Ireland. As highlighted in a number of other articles, Green Care refers to nature-based therapy or treatment intervention, designed, structured and facilitated for individuals with a defined need (Green Care Coalition, 2015).
Collaborations at government level
One of Ireland’s most prominent and recent research projects that recognises Green Care is the Nature and Environment to Attain and Restore (NEAR) Health Project which is jointly funded by the Environmental Protection Agency and the Health Services Executive. In 2020, the NEAR Health Project created a toolkit titled ‘Connecting with Nature for Health and Wellbeing’. The toolkit is a combination of research and activities available for practitioners, educators and businesses to use to enhance their awareness and practice of Green Care. The aim of the research is to investigate how nature and environment can help society attain and restore health. The research team “combined environmental health, social innovation and medical fields to build capacity, develop and transform knowledge for communities, policy makers and practitioners” (NEAR, 2020). The research also investigated how individual’s value and experience nature, health and wellbeing while outlining the barriers that exist to connecting with nature on a deeper level. It highlights what people want from their future environments regarding health and wellbeing.
Findings from interconnected Green Care research
A selection of the findings from this research are as follows:
- The importance of valuing blue and green space in Ireland for both economic and non-economic benefits,
- How participatory processes can increase social cohesion and facilitate community connectedness,
- Blue and green spaces in Ireland where seen to have high potential for hosting activities that help foster connectedness among citizens as well as promoting an ethic of care,
- Funding is needed to support and build on the relationships between health and outdoor promoters, providers and practitioners.
The NEAR Health Project is a jointly funded initiative by the Environmental Protection Agency and the Health Service Executive to support pro-environmental behaviors and conservative practices amongst the citizens of Ireland. Other findings and activities from the toolkit can be found here.
As Ireland continues its journey of formally recognizing Green Care, it is imperative that collaboration projects between Government bodies such as the Department of Environment, Climate and Comminutions (DCCAE), the Department of Health and the Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation continue to work together to jointly work towards the advancement of environmental sustainability, wellbeing practice and economic development.
- The final sunset of 2020 in County Meath, Ireland. Photo taken by local community development practitioner and yoga teacher, Mog Downey.
- NEAR Health Toolkit cover photo, 2020.
- Clark, Kavanagh and Lenihan., 2020. Measuring Progress: The Sustainable Development Progress Index 2020. Social Justice Ireland. Accessed on 20th of February 2021. Available online at: https://www.socialjustice.ie/sites/default/files/attach/publication/6248/measuringprogress-thesustainableprogressindex2020new.pdf?cs=true
- Green Care Coalition., 2016. Discussions from the Green Care Coalition Working Group. Accessed on 19th of February 2021. Available online at: http://publications.naturalengland.org.uk/publication/6719816098906112
- NEAR Health, 2020. Nature and Environment to Attain and Restore Health Toolkit. Environmental Protection agency, Johnstown Castle, Ireland.