Description of the active role towards local sustainable energy in Europe
Eugene Conlon has over thirty years’ experience working with communities on topics relating to sustainability and sustainable energy. He has been fully dedicated to achieving more sustainable use of energy in Ireland over that time period. One of the ways in which he has worked to achieve more sustainability in Ireland is through the work being done by the Energy Team.
The Energy Team, as founded by Eugene Conlon, delivers a programme of education on energy and renewables titled “The Energy Ambassadors.” This education programme is aimed at individuals and communities and encourages people to take ownership of their own personal energy use and use more renewable energy. The Energy Team look at the big issues which are holding back progress in terms of energy sustainability in Ireland, and they are educating people on the economic, health and wellbeing benefits that come with switching to more sustainable methods of energy use.
The Energy Ambassadors Programme is delivered through interactive, facilitator-led sessions which engage people in an enjoyable learning experience about energy, and sustainable energy. These initial sessions are one-hour, introductory sessions which allow people to become better educated on their own energy use, and needs. The introductory sessions cover – conservation in energy use, control over energy usage; greater efficiency in energy use; understanding energy and renewables; technology and products to manage energy needs; renewable energy sources for Ireland; and energy and renewables knowledge transfer to communities, for communities. These sessions are bolstered by the information support provided by the Energy Team themselves, who provide further education and subsequent workshops.
This community focus is a central aspect of why Eugene Conlon is being nominated for this prize – by educating local communities, and empowering them with knowledge, Eugene Conlon and his Energy Team are helping sustainable energy to gain a foothold in local communities and inspire change at a local level. By inspiring this transition to renewable energy and having people take complete ownership of their energy use, needs and the impact this has on the environment. Communities have a collective impact, and by educating communities on how they can be more sustainable and benefit from that, Mr Conlon and the Energy Team encourage communities to recognise the power behind their collective action. A sustainable community talking to another community about their experience and the benefits it has brought is oftentimes more effective than any government body or institution telling people how, and why they should be more sustainable. This model of empowerment through education is giving local communities in Ireland the confidence they need to be frontrunners when it comes to consuming energy in a more sustainable way.
His Energy Ambassadors model is one which can be applied in countries across Europe, as the key messages of ownership, empowerment through knowledge, and a community focused movement advocating for more sustainable energy are messages which are universal in a Europe where the need for a transition to more sustainable energy, and living as a whole, are being recognised.
Mr Conlon recognised there was a need to empower communities when it comes to tackling climate change. If people do not understand the significance of their actions, they are unlikely to change their own behaviour, and so Mr Conlon and the Energy Team set out to change this. Rather than producing an information booklet for the local area, they took a much more personal, creative approach by building the Energy Ambassadors education programme.
Mr Conlon felt that community education was more likely to succeed, as communities would learn hands on what impact they have and would then be empowered to bring change by discovering what impact their actions actually did have. People are oftentimes just not aware of the power to change they hold, and so the Energy Ambassadors programme was created with the community impact in mind – by bringing people together, and educating them on their collective impact, Mr Conlon and the Energy Team aimed to inspire people to make the switch to sustainability. Through empowerment and education, the work done by the Energy Team allowed these communities to take ownership of their own environmental impact, and work together as a community to make that impact a positive one.
The education offered by the Energy Team is the result of a partnership with software developers, and energy and renewables experts, all of whom came together to create a fun, interactive education programme which takes an innovative approach to sustainability by putting the health and wellbeing of community at its centre.
The impact of the work done by Mr Conlon and the Energy Team on the people in the Dunleer community has been huge. The team has worked to secure funding to upgrade buildings, managing to do so in extremely high numbers – 200, to be exact, with homes, sporting venues and a local community office receiving upgrades to make them more sustainable. These upgrades have had a strong, and very clear impact in terms of energy – people are using less energy, they are using energy more efficiently, and they understand how to take a more sustainable approach to energy usage because of the education programmes offered by the Energy Team.
On a societal level, Mr Conlon and the Energy Team have increased the comfort people feel in the buildings they spend their time in. The upgrades which have been done have resulted in warmer, healthier, more energy efficient homes, which is great for the wellbeing of the local community. It has also brought economic benefit to the local community, with people now saving significant amounts of money on their energy bills – one participant in the programme stated that they were now heating and lighting their home for less than the price of two cups of coffee a day.
The impact of the Energy Teams work is felt beyond the community of Dunleer – the Energy Ambassadors programme has been delivered to over 500 people in Ireland, spreading the message of community focused sustainability across the country.
Through the knowledge offered by the Energy Ambassador’s programme, Mr Conlon aimed to overcome the first obstacle to becoming more sustainable – a lack of education on the topic itself. Mr Conlon’s vision for the future of the Dunleer community was that it would have the capacity to become a community where people were aware of how they could consume energy sustainably. Giving local people this knowledge meant that Mr Conlon and the Energy Team project were anticipating what would need to be done in order for a community like Dunleer to survive into the future – given the need for urgent action when it comes to climate change, the Energy Team project took the initiative to future-proof the way people in Dunleer live their lives by encouraging them to switch to a sustainable energy model sooner, rather than later.
In order to strengthen Dunleer’s position as a sustainable territory, the Energy Team began to work with the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland (SEAI). Through funding received from the SEAI, Mr Conlon and the Energy Team were able to upgrade several buildings by installing more efficient heating systems and insulation in homes, sporting facilities and community buildings. The upgrade of these buildings solidified Dunleer’s position as a sustainable territory – homes that are upgraded to a higher standard are more energy efficient and bring huge environmental and societal benefits. The Energy Team are the principle consultants when it comes to helping local communities gain access to SEAI funding for sustainable energy projects.
Eugene Conlon has over three decades of experience working with communities on sustainability. He was one of the founding members of the Dunleer Community Development Board, a community-based organisation in Louth, Ireland. The focus of this community board has been on building partnerships with voluntary groups, as well and business and state agencies, with the intention of building the community’s capabilities and capacity and is regarded as one of the more successful community projects in Ireland.
Mr Conlon, in his own words, wanted to do something ‘concrete and meaningful’ in his home of Dunleer, and wanted to ensure that the community he had grown up in would both survive, and thrive. He recognised that many people struggle to relate to much of the dialogue around climate change, and wanted to bring the issue closer to home, and get people thinking about how they can reduce their energy use.
With the support of Mr Conlon’s leadership, the Energy Team in Dunleer secured funding through SEAI to upgrade 200 buildings across mid-Louth. Upgrade works included installing more efficient heating systems and insulation, works which have reduced energy bills and inspired local communities to continue the drive toward sustainability, both because of the positive societal impact and the economic benefits gained. The work done in Dunleer has been replicated in communities across Ireland thanks to the work of the Energy Team. Mr Conlon is empowering local communities to live in a more sustainable way through his leadership and dedication to the cause of sustainable energy.