THE people of Clonkilty like to break new ground. It became Ireland’s first Fair Trade Town in 2003, then in 2018 it became the first Autism Friendly Town in the country.
Now, in 2019, you can add the moniker: ‘Cool Community’, in recognition of Clonakilty’s determined efforts to tackle climate change at a local level.
The Cool Community title is awarded by the the Cool Planet Foundation, the brainchild of entrepreneur Norman Crowley, who is a local himself, hailing from nearby Ballinascarthy.
Cool Planet is an educational offshoot of Crowley’s environmental company Crowley Carbon, based in Enniskerry, Co. Wicklow. The company has forged a strong reputation in the solar sector and also acts as a green energy consultant to several international-scale businesses. Crowley has also gained attention with his Electrifi project that converts classic cars such as Ferraris to run on 100% electrical power.
As a local boy done good with strong green credentials, he was the natural choice for the chamber of commerce to invite as a guest speaker at a public meeting on climate change held in the town back in May.
“Orla O’Donovan from the Clonakilty Chamber got in touch and asked me to come down and give a talk,” recalled Crowley.
“It was a Bank Holiday Monday so we thought a handful of people might turn up, but when I got there the place was packed, there must have been 300 people.”
He was surprised, but also delighted by the enthusiastic reception, but didn’t really expect much to develop as a result of the talk.
“People talk a lot about climate change, but when it comes to actually doing something, that’s when it gets difficult,” he said.
That may be true for most towns, but not go-ahead Clonakilty, as Crowley soon discovered.
“I got another call from Orla, maybe two weeks later, and she’s asking what can we do in Clon’? What can be done at a the local level? What’s possible?,” said Crowley.
So the next step was a green audit for the town; he sent down some experts from Crowley Carbon and, clipboards in hand, they took a thorough look at Clonakilty’s green credentials.
“There’s a globally recognised metric we use,” said Crowley. “It comes from Project Drawdown and we look at everything through the lens of climate change. Where does your energy come from? What do you do about plastic? What about meat? How about transport, solar energy, refrigeration, all of that.
“So once that was done, we went back to them and said, now if you really want to make a step change you can do this, this and this.”
Crowley admits at this stage he expected things to slow down, but as always Clonakilty was not to be found wanting. They established their own ‘CoolClon’ committee and set about addressing the issues raised in the audit.
“We told them, you need more car charging stations, you should have water refill stations, solar power, lots of things to address,” said Crowley.
“We didn’t think as a community they would do much because there’s a lot of talk about climate change.”
When Orla got back in touch a month later, Crowley was in for a surprise.
“Orla and the Chamber just blew us away,” he said. “We came down about a month later and they were telling us: in a year we’re going to have 50 charging stations and this is where they’re going to be; we’re going to have this many refill stations, solar panels here and there, it was amazing.
“On every metric they weren’t just going to be slightly better, they were going to be the best town in Ireland by a long way, they were going to have more charging stations than the centre of Dublin!”
Part of the plan was the CoolClon exhibition event held in the town recently, that Crowley was happy to attend — and he even brought down an electric Ferrari. An exhibition and forum for ideas, locals turned out in force to learn what they can do to help stem the literal tide of climate change as flood prevention works continue in the town around them. The event covered everything from electric cars to agriculture, recycling and green energy.
Crowley added: “They have done this as a community. They didn’t wait for politicians or grants, they aren’t giving out that it’s somebody else’s fault. They have just put it together themselves basically, and the key message of the whole thing is that community message.
“This is the community leading on climate change. People feel the weight of climate change on them but they don’t know what to do about it.
“All of a sudden, this is a community leading the way, not a government leading the way, and it’s had the effect since we’ve been speaking to other towns about it, they are saying ‘wow that’s amazing, we can do that’.”
Among those attending the event was local businessman Eugene Scally, who runs Scally’s SuperValu in the town. It gained global recognition for its autism friendly policies and, as part of CoolClon, he plans to introduce ten electric car charging points and solar power for the store. He for one is not surprised that the town is now embracing the green agenda with gusto.
“I blew into town in 1984 and what I’ve found over the last 35 years is that the positive attitude of the people is absolutely fantastic,” said Scally.
He has been driving efforts to reduce packaging at the supermarket and added, “The general community in Clonakilty are very forward thinking, people are great to get behind an idea, give it their full support and get stuck in.
“The next project is the environment, it’s sustainability. The town has huge plans for the next 12 months with the CoolClon initiative.”
Scally’s expect to have their ten charging stations up and running by next summer but there are many initiatives already happening across many of the CoolClon objectives.
The first water refill station, a private venture, is already in place in Recorder’s Alley and many more small steps along the way are taking shape.
Crowley added: “The amazing thing about the little things is that one would be a little thing but here they commit to it. There are more and more little things happening and that really is a big thing!”