NEIL MCCABE

Sectors:
Target Population:
Ireland,

Neil McCabe is utilizing the existing infrastructure of firehouses, a locally oriented and trusted arm of government, to provide a local, national and international example for green transition. A firefighter by trade, Neil is using the institution of the fire station as an entry point to bring sustainability into communities around Dublin and across Ireland. Neil realised that fire stations have profound potential to serve as exemplars for greening, as they use a tremendous amount of water and fuel, are in operation 24hrs a day, and are often based in older structures. More importantly, they are also based in nearly every neighborhood, have vast existing infrastructure, and are integral to communities. Thus they provide an opportunity to build leadership in transitioning to sustainable practice and modeling enhanced community participation.

This profile below was prepared when Neil McCabe was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 2013.

INTRODUCTION

Neil McCabe is utilizing the existing infrastructure of firehouses, a locally oriented and trusted arm of government, to provide a local, national and international example for green transition. A firefighter by trade, Neil is using the institution of the fire station as an entry point to bring sustainability into communities around Dublin and across Ireland. Neil realised that fire stations have profound potential to serve as exemplars for greening, as they use a tremendous amount of water and fuel, are in operation 24hrs a day, and are often based in older structures. More importantly, they are also based in nearly every neighborhood, have vast existing infrastructure, and are integral to communities. Thus they provide an opportunity to build leadership in transitioning to sustainable practice and modeling enhanced community participation.




THE NEW IDEA

Neil has created The Green Plan, an initiative originally implemented in his first pilot within the Kilbarrack Fire Station, which became the first carbon neutral fire station in the world. Neil’s Green Plan is a clear methodology outlining strategies and procurement approaches to move towards sustainability, from using wastewater in fighting fires to setting up social ventures that manufacture retrofitting equipment. With an emphasis on the sustainability and replicability of the Green Plan, Neil prioritizes refurbishments that are cost-saving and channels those cost savings into further efforts in a virtuous cycle. Neil identified the power of local procurement as the most effective entry point into the problem of wasteful energy consumption, as locally sourced materials cut costs while also reducing the carbon footprint. In encouraging local production of previously difficult-to-source tools and parts, Neil seeded 20 new local businesses with guaranteed markets. Neil uses the fire station as an example for the communities that surround them, expanding green initiatives into homes and institutions through the fire house model and conducting educational workshops in communities and schools on fire safety, biodiversity and sustainable development. Working in conjunction with the city and corporations, Neil has designed the Better Energy in the Community programme, allowing fuel-poor households to utilize credits for greening technology while also providing a financial resource for government to realize their energy goals.

Neil’s Green Plan has become a template strategy for all fire stations in Dublin and is being applied to other institutions across Ireland, such as business parks, hospitals, and library systems. Integrating his work with fire stations to affect change at the policy level, Neil is working within the system to transform it in practice from the most local level of government through to the top. The Green Plan has become the basis for Dublin City Council and County Dublin’s sustainability strategy, is being applied across Ireland and in Scotland and is helping guide initiatives at the European Union level.

Neil has created the Green Plan, a strategy originally implemented in the model Kilbarrack Fire Station, making it the first carbon neutral fire station in the world. Neil’s Green Plan outlines strategies and procurement approaches--from using waste water to fight fires to setting up social ventures to manufacture retrofitting equipment-- to move towards sustainability, prioritizing those refurbishments that are cost-saving, and channeling those cost savings into further efforts in a virtuous cycle. Neil uses the fire station as an example for the communities that surround them, expanding green initiatives into homes and institutions through the fire house model and conducting educational workshops in communities and schools on fire safety, biodiversity and sustainable development.  Neil’s Green Plan has become a template strategy for all fire stations in Dublin, and is in the process of being rolled out across Ireland. Neil is integrating his work with fire stations to affect change at the policy level, working within the system to transform it in practice from the most local level of government through to the top--his example and the Green Plan has become the basis for Dublin City Council's  and County Dublin’s sustainability strategy, and his model is helping guide initiatives on the European Union level and in countries across Europe.Neil has created The Green Plan, an initiative originally implemented in his first pilot within the Kilbarrack Fire Station, which became the first carbon neutral fire station in the world. Neil’s Green Plan is a clear methodology outlining strategies and procurement approaches to move towards sustainability, from using wastewater in fighting fires to setting up social ventures that manufacture retrofitting equipment. With an emphasis on the sustainability and replicability of the Green Plan, Neil prioritizes refurbishments that are cost-saving and channels those cost savings into further efforts in a virtuous cycle. Neil identified the power of local procurement as the most effective entry point into the problem of wasteful energy consumption, as locally sourced materials cut costs while also reducing the carbon footprint. In encouraging local production of previously difficult-to-source tools and parts, Neil seeded 20 new local businesses with guaranteed markets. Neil uses the fire station as an example for the communities that surround them, expanding green initiatives into homes and institutions through the fire house model and conducting educational workshops in communities and schools on fire safety, biodiversity and sustainable development. Working in conjunction with the city and corporations, Neil has designed the Better Energy in the Community programme, allowing fuel-poor households to utilize credits for greening technology while also providing a financial resource for government to realize their energy goals. 

Neil’s Green Plan has become a template strategy for all fire stations in Dublin and is being applied to other institutions across Ireland, such as business parks, hospitals, and library systems. Integrating his work with fire stations to affect change at the policy level, Neil is working within the system to transform it in practice from the most local level of government through to the top. The Green Plan has become the basis for Dublin City Council and County Dublin’s sustainability strategy, is being applied across Ireland and in Scotland and is helping guide initiatives at the European Union level.




THE PROBLEM

Much of local government infrastructure in Ireland and across the EU is outdated and energy inefficient, with few funding resources available to remedy the situation. For example, fire stations function as both a place of work and home - housing firemen overnight in order to keep staffed at all times - and therefore consume far more resources than most buildings. Additionally, the job of a firemen itself is very resource heavy - fire engines eat up fuel while putting out fires that require mass amounts of water.

EU member states have made a commitment to reduce carbon emissions by 20% by 2020, with Ireland making a bold commitment of reducing emissions by 33%. However, with a struggling economy and every sector battling for funds, Ireland has stalled. The government has made an ambitious commitment to carbon emission reduction without a financially feasible strategy. Government, particularly local government, is often slow moving, risk averse, and bureaucratic.

Climate change is daunting. Vast problems engender passivity, at the community level as much as the governmental, with the size of the problem squashing the hope that small actions can make a difference overall.

Managing a household’s energy consumption can appear simple enough. Turn off the lights. Unplug appliances. Use the heat and A/C sparingly. However, the process of greening can become confusing, with a litany of different products and approaches, from types of light bulbs to appropriate insulation. This information is not readily available to broad communities, and there is no designated body educating people about how to use less and thus cut costs.

Furthermore, publications on climate change are often dense and scientific, making them inaccessible to the general public. Moreover, said publications often lack realistic and simple recommended actions for those who want to start doing something about climate change. Environmentalism, perhaps because it is often discussed among academics in high brow terms, is seen as a luxury of the upper class, though the pressures of environmental degradation fall far more heavily on the poor and working class.Neil has created The Green Plan, an initiative originally implemented in his first pilot within the Kilbarrack Fire Station, which became the first carbon neutral fire station in the world. Neil’s Green Plan is a clear methodology outlining strategies and procurement approaches to move towards sustainability, from using wastewater in fighting fires to setting up social ventures that manufacture retrofitting equipment. With an emphasis on the sustainability and replicability of the Green Plan, Neil prioritizes refurbishments that are cost-saving and channels those cost savings into further efforts in a virtuous cycle. Neil identified the power of local procurement as the most effective entry point into the problem of wasteful energy consumption, as locally sourced materials cut costs while also reducing the carbon footprint. In encouraging local production of previously difficult-to-source tools and parts, Neil seeded 20 new local businesses with guaranteed markets. Neil uses the fire station as an example for the communities that surround them, expanding green initiatives into homes and institutions through the fire house model and conducting educational workshops in communities and schools on fire safety, biodiversity and sustainable development. Working in conjunction with the city and corporations, Neil has designed the Better Energy in the Community programme, allowing fuel-poor households to utilize credits for greening technology while also providing a financial resource for government to realize their energy goals. 

Neil’s Green Plan has become a template strategy for all fire stations in Dublin and is being applied to other institutions across Ireland, such as business parks, hospitals, and library systems. Integrating his work with fire stations to affect change at the policy level, Neil is working within the system to transform it in practice from the most local level of government through to the top. The Green Plan has become the basis for Dublin City Council and County Dublin’s sustainability strategy, is being applied across Ireland and in Scotland and is helping guide initiatives at the European Union level.




THE STRATEGY

Neil began with a single fire station and has since crafted an approach that develops more efficient systems for greening, saving the user (fire station, community member, city, and county) money which can be reinvested in further spread. He is utilizing the strong, comprehensive local infrastructure of the fire station to inject sustainability practice downwards into communities and upwards through local, national, and international government.

Kilbarrack Fire station was not always the envy of firemen around Dublin. It was in major need of a makeover, 20 years overdue, and was rapidly losing its crew members to a new station up the road as the morale of the station continued to drop. Not wanting to see his Brigade fall apart, Neil began thinking about ways to cut costs in the fire station so that they would have money to spend on refurbishment. Neil realised that fire stations have profound potential for greening, as they use a tremendous amount of water and fuel, are in operation 24hrs a day, and are often based in older structures. He started small, asking the firemen to hand in their old walkie-talkie batteries to recycle instead of throwing them out. Then he moved a small step further, asking the fire men to take the plastic and glass waste from the station home to add to their personal weekly recycling collection. As the firemen became more invested, Neil developed a plan to overhaul every last part of Kilbarrack. With no clear funding source, Neil went to his fellow fireman, asking for an informal crowd-funded investment of €14,000, promising none of it back. A testament to the confidence Neil instilled in his peers, he secured the funding from the brigade and went on to execute a comprehensive greening plan for Kilbarrack - The Green Plan - resulting in the first carbon neutral fire station in the world.

Guided by two desired outcomes - behavioral change and carbon emission reduction - The Green Plan has three distinct phases. Phase I focuses on low hanging fruit, the quick and easy wins (from LED light replacement to basic recycling) that produce energy and cost savings immediately. This capitalizes on the window of opportunity to get buy-in and support. Phase II is longer and includes all additional greening initiatives that are needed to fulfill the desired outcomes but that may be harder to see through. However, during this phase, the support has been established and a small amount of funding secured from Phase I. Phase III, the final phase, focuses entirely on investing the savings in innovation. Innovation is key to continue to discover new ways to save money and reduce energy use. Every project Neil begins must have low capital outlay, a quick payback period, and replicability - three fundamental guidelines he has applied to all his greening endeavors.

Neil’s Green Plan defines and monitors sixteen actions aimed to reduce carbon emission, energy consumption, water use and waste, and to enhance biodiversity, transport, society and procurement in a sustainable way. Using Kilbarrack as a testing ground and a visual for future adopters, Neil implemented a broad menu of projects, from combining reused shower water and collected rain water in a homemade storage tank he designed to supply the fire engine with water to starting a vegetable garden behind the station to both feed the firemen and take the compost output of the station. The savings for the station were significant. A key part of the strategy, Neil ring fences the savings resulting from greening efforts to then reinvest in replicating the model in the next fire station, local home, city, etc. The savings from Kilbarrack have thus been reinvested in the greening of Phibsboro Fire Station, and the savings from Phibsboro will be invested in the greening of Finglas Fire Station, and so forth. The fire stations have served as highly visible pilots for much broader systematic green redesign.

As the visionary and leader for the greening of Kilbarrack, Neil had to secure the buy-in and participation of all of the firemen. Through their involvement, the firemen became the unlikely but accessible face of sustainability in their local communities. Respected and trusted by all, the firemen were well placed to disseminate their knowledge throughout the community, without being written off as elitist or preaching. Adding a new layer into their existing role, they began teaching sustainability and biodiversity in local schools, taking children on tours of Kilbarrack, and educating the general public about small cost-saving actions.

Working with government and corporations, Neil has created the “Better Energy in the Community” scheme, a concrete strategy for the firehouses to inject green approaches and provide support to fuel-poor households in the surrounding communities. This also provides the government with a sustainable way to fund their commitment to reducing emissions by 33%. The scheme rewards energy efficient projects resulting in energy savings with energy credits. Big corporates and manufacturers are fined for surpassing certain quotas of carbon emissions, and thus receive poor ratings. They can offset this rating by buying energy credits from others. Neil has secured a commitment from oil companies to buy said energy credits, thus ensuring a revenue stream for the greening efforts. He has focused on turning waste into resources, extending from institutions all the way out to the people at the edges, such as the energy poor and unemployed. Neil helps citizens and cities make small changes/upgrades that will generate energy credits to then sell on. The money earned through the energy credits is then channeled back through the fire department to be reinvested into the next greening effort, either in another fire station or into another community. Not only does participating in the scheme cut costs for the community, while also spawning more greening initiatives, it also instills in citizens a feeling of belonging to an important movement for both civic participation and climate protection.

Neil has led a process of seeding up to 20 small businesses to manufacture parts to lower the costs of energy efficient and socially conscious products for households, from LED lights to new forms of insulation. Finding that these products were prohibitively expensive or shipped from China, he isolated the parts causing the spike in price and made deals with local business owners, guaranteeing business to those who produced the parts. By producing the parts locally, he not only cuts costs but also reduces the carbon footprint of the materials while creating new local economies. He has guided others in setting up these companies, offering guidance and a guaranteed market rather than owning them himself, forsaking a significant amount of money.

Constantly growing his knowledge about climate change and sustainability through his work at Kilbarrack and in the community, Neil made himself into an expert. In realizing how the combination of several simple changes can add up to substantial energy and cost savings, Neil decided to package his model into the Green Plan, so that others could apply the method to fire stations across Ireland and the world and indeed in cities and counties as well. Neil always had a much broader vision than one firehouse. His efforts have stretched far beyond the walls of Kilbarrack. 

Neil was then tapped to develop a Sustainability Plan for Dublin. Applying the same principles of the Green Plan to Dublin, Neil designed the Sustainability Report for Dublin, which wrote the Green Plan into the 5-year plan of the city. Additionally, the Green Plan has been written into the Dublin Fire Brigade’s 5-year business plan, thus becoming policy for all fire stations in the county. Fire brigades and local governments from across Ireland are working to implement his model locally.

After working with Dublin to develop a Sustainability Plan for the city, Neil has been rising as a key leader on climate change and sustainability internationally. He is currently advising Scotland, who are in the process of creating the first united Scottish Fire service, an amalgamation of the 9 existing brigades into one. He has also been called on by the British Parliament as an advisor on addressing climate change and serves on EU bodies regarding climate change and government. He is also a co-founder on a project called “Fired Up,” whereby he has been playing an active role in designing and piloting green fire engines to be used across Europe.Neil has created The Green Plan, an initiative originally implemented in his first pilot within the Kilbarrack Fire Station, which became the first carbon neutral fire station in the world. Neil’s Green Plan is a clear methodology outlining strategies and procurement approaches to move towards sustainability, from using wastewater in fighting fires to setting up social ventures that manufacture retrofitting equipment. With an emphasis on the sustainability and replicability of the Green Plan, Neil prioritizes refurbishments that are cost-saving and channels those cost savings into further efforts in a virtuous cycle. Neil identified the power of local procurement as the most effective entry point into the problem of wasteful energy consumption, as locally sourced materials cut costs while also reducing the carbon footprint. In encouraging local production of previously difficult-to-source tools and parts, Neil seeded 20 new local businesses with guaranteed markets. Neil uses the fire station as an example for the communities that surround them, expanding green initiatives into homes and institutions through the fire house model and conducting educational workshops in communities and schools on fire safety, biodiversity and sustainable development. Working in conjunction with the city and corporations, Neil has designed the Better Energy in the Community programme, allowing fuel-poor households to utilize credits for greening technology while also providing a financial resource for government to realize their energy goals. 

Neil’s Green Plan has become a template strategy for all fire stations in Dublin and is being applied to other institutions across Ireland, such as business parks, hospitals, and library systems. Integrating his work with fire stations to affect change at the policy level, Neil is working within the system to transform it in practice from the most local level of government through to the top. The Green Plan has become the basis for Dublin City Council and County Dublin’s sustainability strategy, is being applied across Ireland and in Scotland and is helping guide initiatives at the European Union level.




THE PERSON

From a young age, Neil assumed a lot of familial responsibility. Growing up in a working class household with a single mother, he recalls making toys out of wood for his younger sister for Christmas when store bought presents were not an option. He left high school early to support his mother and siblings, starting a window cleaning business and partnering up with a friend to make and sell wooden numbers to homeowners as address markers for their front doors. 

Firefighters have played a profound role in Neil’s notion of social change and leadership. As a very young child, a fireman carried him from a burning building. This rescuer left a profound impression. Someone deeply focused on creating positive change, Neil pursued a career as a firefighter, seeing this path as a way to literally save people’s lives.

A problem solver by nature and with only a high school education, Neil transformed his previous work environment before doing the same for Kilbarrack. During a short stint working for Dublin City Council, he found that the employee morale was very low, with people working overtime for free. Additionally, there were no canteens for people to gather in for a cup of tea and a break from work. Neil took it upon himself to change the culture of the workplace. He founded a canteen and got it up and running, serving healthy food instead of the usual fried snacks (this in itself he views as a serious accomplishment). He also set up a running club, encouraging his colleagues to join and get active. Through small activities such as these, he began to hone his skills at empowering people and changing behavior.

The driver behind the greening of Kilbarrack, Neil has a devout commitment to his brigade and his vision of turning the dated, inefficient systems on their head. Neil has found that his work is considerably more effective working within the system, as traditional, insular hierarchies are somewhat closed to outsiders. As such, he navigates within the system, working a shift as a fireman in addition to his work with the Green Plan on the local, national, and international stage.

A true entrepreneur, Neil encouraged local manufacturers to produce equipment he needed so that he would have faster, cheaper access to parts. While convincing the producers to set up shop in Ireland, Neil also had to convince the customers that the products were good and necessary. For example, Neil wanted whole fire stations to be powered by LED lights. But because he would have to get the lights specially made, he had to first persuade the architects and engineers that the savings were real and worth it. Beyond the desire to establish local economies, Neil is particularly passionate about ethical procurement. He never forgets that one of the most significant streets in Dublin, O’Connell Street, is paved with slabs that were made through slave labor; and part of his approach to procurement is always to ask what the impacts are on the communities producing the purchased goods. Described as a “bomb of positivity - the type of person who you can drop into anything and they will figure out what they need to do,” Neil has been able to navigate through a bureaucratic system seamlessly, while also staying true to his vision and to himself.Neil has created The Green Plan, an initiative originally implemented in his first pilot within the Kilbarrack Fire Station, which became the first carbon neutral fire station in the world. Neil’s Green Plan is a clear methodology outlining strategies and procurement approaches to move towards sustainability, from using wastewater in fighting fires to setting up social ventures that manufacture retrofitting equipment. With an emphasis on the sustainability and replicability of the Green Plan, Neil prioritizes refurbishments that are cost-saving and channels those cost savings into further efforts in a virtuous cycle. Neil identified the power of local procurement as the most effective entry point into the problem of wasteful energy consumption, as locally sourced materials cut costs while also reducing the carbon footprint. In encouraging local production of previously difficult-to-source tools and parts, Neil seeded 20 new local businesses with guaranteed markets. Neil uses the fire station as an example for the communities that surround them, expanding green initiatives into homes and institutions through the fire house model and conducting educational workshops in communities and schools on fire safety, biodiversity and sustainable development. Working in conjunction with the city and corporations, Neil has designed the Better Energy in the Community programme, allowing fuel-poor households to utilize credits for greening technology while also providing a financial resource for government to realize their energy goals.

Neil’s Green Plan has become a template strategy for all fire stations in Dublin and is being applied to other institutions across Ireland, such as business parks, hospitals, and library systems. Integrating his work with fire stations to affect change at the policy level, Neil is working within the system to transform it in practice from the most local level of government through to the top. The Green Plan has become the basis for Dublin City Council and County Dublin’s sustainability strategy, is being applied across Ireland and in Scotland and is helping guide initiatives at the European Union level.




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