After acquiring a masters degree in sustainability, Sustainable Sue worked & now writes to help create change in U.S. business practices.
Can you imagine a country that wholly accepts responsibiity for producing goods in an environmentally friendly way? Ireland is that country - the first of its kind. Its new sustainability program is already changing the country's reputation in Europe from exporting commodity food and drink products to exporting premium, healthy foods that buyers are willing to pay extra for. And it's reducing the country's carbon footprint at the same time. Where Ireland already had a reputation for being "green," now it has one for being sustainable and organic as well.
All this is due to a new program, launched by Bord Bia in 2012, called Origin Green. This article shows how the Origin Green program works, and how it has benefitted Ireland's local farmers, and food and drink manufacturers.
Board Bia's Origin Green Program
Bord Bia is Ireland's agricultural exports and promotion entity. Based in Dublin, it has eleven other branches in Europe, the Middle East, and China - regions to which it exports food. Although Ireland is best known for its beef and Guinness, it also produces 50% of the world's cream liqueurs and 10% of its baby formulas.
Origin Green was launched in 2012 in the middle of an economic depression. Food exports immediately started increasing. The following year Bord Bia exported food to 175 countries worldwide and sales reached $11.5 billion (10 billion euros) for the first time ever.
Bord Bia developed the Origin Green program to provide tools for the country's entire food and drink industry to go sustainable - to increase the health of its products and the efficiency with which they are produced. The benefits of the program are multiple:
- Preserves and wisely utilizes Ireland's natural environment and rich soils.
- Reduces Ireland's carbon footprint.
- Helps feed an increasingly hungry world with food that is healthy.
- Increases food exports to counteract the downturn in Ireland's economy.
- Helps local growers and manufacturers reduce costs and increase profit margins.
The Origin Green program works with its participants to audit and streamline their current production processes. Adding to already existing sustainability data from former work with the cattle production sector, the board started collecting data for all the other sectors too. With it they developed a sustainability blueprint for each sector and section of the country, so that program participants could compare their own practices with the model and know what to improve. Then they started promoting the program.
The profiles below show how well the program is working so far . . . but first, what is sustainability anyway?
Definition of Sustainable Agriculture
Sustainable agriculture requires that high quality food, drink, and floral products be grown in the following way:
- Production methods are efficient, utilizing all resources wisely and wasting nothing.
- The natural environment's health and biodiversity are protected and maintained, even improved where possible.
- Farmers benefit from increased networking opportunities and their work is paid well.
- The health and well-being of employees and their local communities are taken seriously.
- All animals and crops are grown in a way that is healthy and safe for them.
Any good sustainability program takes all of these factors into account. They are all built into Bord Bia's Origin Green program.
How the Origin Green Program Works
When a participant signs onto the Origin Green program, they can expect to take the following steps: Register, host an initial audit, develop a sustainability plan, take action on targets, hold verification audits, work with the board to promote products and sales.
Simply put, all participants in the Origin Green program develop sustainability plans, then are audited every 18 months to see how they're doing. So far over 70,000 farms have had carbon footprint assessments, 90% of all beef growers are actively participating, all of the nation's dairy farms are undergoing first audits (over 18,000 enterprises), and 372 manufacturers have registered.
The audits are key. Bord Bia's professional auditors and the participants walk the grounds together (see dairy section below) and send back data using handheld devices. The data is automatically added to Origin Green's database, then compared with figures already gathered to find ways of improving current practices. Together they look at such factors as:
- Carbon footprint
- Waste management
- Feed consumption
- Daily weight gain or output levels
- Fertilizer and nitrogen use
- Energy and water management
The results of this program have been nothing short of amazing. While reducing their carbon footprint, and water and energy use, the quality and quantity of farm and factory output has jumped. Here are several examples of how the program has affected its participants.
Sustainable Meat Production - Grass Fed Beef
John Power has been working his cattle farm in County Warford, Ireland for 45 years. He traces back five generations and possibly further that his family has worked the land. He has a passion for what he does.
When John started working with Bord Bia to improve his production, McDonald's Europe contacted him to become a flagship farm for them. McDonald's requires that their producers grow beef in an ethical, environmentally friendly, and economically viable way.
With their guidance added to Bord Bia's, John now gets maximum production from every acre, raising his beef as near to nature's way as possible, with full traceability. Using the calculations tools Origin Green provides, he can produce viable figures of his farm's sustainability, fully accredited, to prove how well it's working.
John also works closely with Board Bia to get the message out to the world that a grower can get maximum production out of every acre of land, while still preserving the environment. The video above right shows the incredible condition his cattle are in. They're heavy, fit, with hides that are shiny and eyes that are clear. John says he would never sell anything that he would not consume himself, which bodes well for anyone eating a McDonald's burger in Europe.
Sustainable Dairy Production
The table and video below show the actual process an Origin Green auditor goes through when auditing a participant. This dairy farmer, Brian Daniel of Kilkenny, prepared ahead of time almost five hours. The audit is detailed and comprehensive, usually lasting two to three hours, starting with a run-through of what will happen and the participant signing permission.
Origin Green Dairy Farm Audit Components
|Object Audited||Inspection Targets|
Clean milk tank with proper temperature & sealing. No spiders, flies, bird droppings to contaminate milk. Updated medicines.
No residue on milking lines and tubes. Clean floor with no water pooling. Lids on feed boxes.
Calving boxes, calf and cubicle sheds
Adequate lighting, cleaniness, functioning water troughs. No sharp projections that could cut cows or calves.
Registration tags on cows, no docked tails, general health & cleanliness. Working water troughs. Protective fencing.
Clean, well maintained. Strong, functional ramps.
Plenty of air space, with separate feeding area. Special tank for effluent collection.
Accurate, up-to-date record keeping, incl. herd counts & medical records. First aid kit. Farmer inputs data re. use of resources to OG website.
Sustainable Crop Production
With its sustainability program, Bord Bia encourages growth of crops that best fit Ireland's weather and soil conditions. Because the country is well suited to grow cool season crops, blueberries are a special favorite. When Ireland has a cold snap that devastates warmer weather crops, blueberries thrive. They end up larger, sweeter, and juicier than most imported varieties. Ireland currently produces over $23 million worth of blueberries.
The crop producers below grow other cool weather crops. Here is how Origin Green helps them thrive:
- Jim Hoey - Hoey Farms in Lusk, North County, Dublin
This farm produces mainly cabbage - six different kinds. They also grow kale, wheat, and potatoes. Working with Bord Bia enabled them to increase the health and yield of all crops. They tested the soils, available sunlight, water, and other resources, ran the data through Origin Green's calculations, and modified their practices accordingly.
- Philip Draper - Coolnagrower Organic Farm, Birr, County Offaly
This 250 acre farm went fully organic in 1994. They grow 120 acres of vegetables like carrots, turnips, beets, leeks, onions, and potatoes. They sell 90% of their vegetables to supermarkets. Farmers markets and box sales take the rest. Origin Green helped them with better ways to prevent disease and improve the health of the soil, so they didn't have to use synthetic fertilizers or insecticides.
Cool Season Crops Thrive in Ireland
Ireland's Food & Drink Manufacturing Sector
Many of Ireland's food and drink manufacturers are small companies that started out making and selling products from their own farms. The experiences of the following three are typical of this sector's improvement in working with Origin Green:
- Daniel Emerson - Stonewell Cider
Origin Green gave this cider maker a method for quantifying his environmental footprint, then going beyond it. Bord Bia hand-walked Daniel through the assessment process, identified key areas to work on, and provided extra support for accreditation. With those credentials, Daniel safely promotes his goods overseas to markets worried about the industry's environmental impact.
- Tom Keogh - Keogh's Potatoes & Crisps
Working with Origin Green helped Tom increase exports. The relatively rigorous evaluation process also enabled him to cut costs by finding a way to wash potatoes that reduced the amount of water used. Tom believes it's important that Ireland's image as "Green Ireland" be preserved, so that buyers know where to go to get healthy food.
- Breda Maher - Cooleney Farmhouse Cheese
This small company lacked marketing expertise, so Origin Green's services in marketing its products overseas were a big benefit. The accreditation process took a lot more time than Breda expected, but was worth it. Her whole team now has a heightened awareness of costs and efficiency. They reduced their energy use, which was a huge cost savings, and also generated savings with better waste management.
Other small manufacturers note that Origin Green helps them find more sustainable technologies to process their food with. They appreciate the quick and efficient communication and support offered by the program, where consultants help them set targets, and provide training and suggestions for what to work on next. Companies are able to cut back on energy and water use in production and packaging processes.
They also like using the Origin Green label to promote their products overseas. It has great credibility, which is key to marketing products successfully. One manufacturer mentioned how important it is that Ireland can provide high quality food and drinks, grown sustainably, to regions like the Middle East, which imports 99% of its food.
Promoting Sustainability Locally
Ireland is not the only place where food can be produced sustainably. Does your area? What can you do to promote sustainably produced food and drink in your area?
- Send the link to this article to your state or county representative and encourage them to develop a similar program.
- Look to see if your local government offers assistance for farmers to grow crops and animals sustainably. If not, suggest it to your local politician.
- Look for local farmer's markets and CSA's (Community Supported Agriculture) where you can buy healthy food and flowers. Alternatively, ask local grocery stores if they offer locally grown food. Spread the word.
- Grow your own produce, eggs, rabbits, or whatever you have room and time for.
The more sustainably food is grown, the better off the world will be. Disease abounds where food is unhealthy, which hurts everyone. People who feel bad complain a lot, make their lives worse, and sometimes get violent. Environmentally poor areas, like the Middle East, that can't grow their own healthy food, also get violent.
Areas that have plenty of good, healthy food, on the other hand, are generally peaceful and good places to live. With your help, and caring government entities like Ireland's Bord Bia, we all can help the rest of the world move in that direction, as well. What can you do?
This content reflects the personal opinions of the author. It is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and should not be substituted for impartial fact or advice in legal, political, or personal matters.
Natalie Frank from Chicago, IL on January 04, 2018:
Sustainable Sue (author) from Altadena CA, USA on January 04, 2018:
I agree. I would love to see the U.S. do something like this. We'll have to keep an eye out for politicians we can elect who would support such a program.
Natalie Frank from Chicago, IL on January 03, 2018:
I have always heard of how beautiful Ireland is and of course it's nickname suggests how green it is. It's nice to know that efforts are being taken to ensure it remains the Emerald Isle. The issues of sustainability are extremely important globally and your article underscores this critical area. It would be great if we took Ireland's initiative and put some of this in place across the board in the U.S. Thanks for a fascinating article!
Arthur Russ from England on June 10, 2017:
Yes, as you probably know, foxes are omnivorous. Although I don’t know if you knew that in Britain we have two groups of foxes; rural foxes and urban foxes. The same as we now have rural birds and urban bird populations, one of the distinctive difference between rural and urban birds is that the pitch of the urban birds songs are higher e.g. to be better heard over traffic noise.
The Bristol University has over the year’s co-ordinated studies into the urban fox; including their diet, which varies from city to city. For example, below are the typical diets of urban foxes in Bristol and London.
Bristol Urban Fox Diet:-
• 64.3% - Scavenged meat and other scrap foods (mainly from residents feeding foxes).
• 15.5% - Invertebrates, including earth warms, insects and snails etc.
• 6.1% - Wild birds.
• 5.3% - Fruit.
• 4.9% - Wild mammals.
London Urban Fox Diet:-
• 34.8% - Scavenged meat and other scrap foods (mainly from residents feeding foxes).
• 21.4% - Invertebrates, including earth warms, insects and snails etc.
• 14.4% - Wild birds.
• 13.1% - Wild mammals.
• 7.6% - Fruit.
Pets can form a small part of their diet (especially in London), but not cats, and it tends to be more vulnerable pets at most risk where they are not properly secured e.g. a rabbit in a rabbit hutch with feeble latch on the door.
A fox is no match for a healthy adult cat, and because foxes are opportunist, they’ll keep their distance from a cat rather than risk confrontation. In fact years ago we had the delight of seeing one of our cats and a group of fox cubs happily playing together on our lawn early one morning while the mother fox kept her distance and watched on (keeping an eye on her cubs); it’s one of those moments in nature that’s a delight to watch.
In fact we treated ourselves to a wildlife camera last year; so when I’ve got a little more spare time I want to start capturing the foxes in our garden on camera. I did a test run for ‘proof of concept’, and posted first trial run (camera in our mini orchard) on YouTube: https://youtu.be/mPIJdJTPpio
Sustainable Sue (author) from Altadena CA, USA on June 10, 2017:
I had no idea that foxes eat snails. Would that there had been a couple in the condo complex where I use to live. My roses were constantly attacked by snails. Ants too, although I stopped that by planting a bunch of alyssum and watering more. And good for you for companion planting!
Arthur Russ from England on June 09, 2017:
Foxgloves are only poisonous to mammals (including humans), which mammals instinctively know. The reason I encourage foxgloves to seed in our vegetable plot is because of its attractive flowers, and because bees love it. Bees being one of the many friendly insects we encourage to our garden through ‘companion planting’.
The other wildlife we encourage into our garden includes foxes, hedgehogs, newts, toads, frogs, birds, butterflies, ladybirds and bees. This year the foxes have been very effective in keeping the snail population in check in our back garden, so almost all the vegetables I’ve raised from seed and planted out have survived without snail attack.
The borage and marigolds flowers (which add colour to the veg plot) are both edible, and make an attractive addition to salads, so both the bees and we benefit.
Sustainable Sue (author) from Altadena CA, USA on June 08, 2017:
I want a birdbath! We have some wild parrots around here that would love to indulge, I think.
Foxglove is one of the wildflowers in your garden, you said? Are they poisonous against insects too, or just humans?
Arthur Russ from England on June 07, 2017:
I fully agree, that’s why when many years ago I wanted to use a section of our back garden for organic vegetable gardening to be almost self-sufficient in vegetables I decided to plan it along the lines of the original 16th century Elizabethan English cottage garden. Very informal, where herbs, flowers and vegetables are all grown together e.g. allowing wild native plants such as poppies, marigold, foxgloves and borage etc. to naturally seed and grow between the vegetables. The main advantages include ground cover to conserve water and smother weeds and camouflage against pests etc.
Although I’ve indulged in some LED lighting for our wildlife pond, the birds love the birdbath which I’ve incorporated into the design; as this video shows:- https://youtu.be/NHokPsmANtc
Sustainable Sue (author) from Altadena CA, USA on June 07, 2017:
The best garden ecosystems preserve as much of the natural landforms as possible. Either that or add what wasn't there before, in order to create a balance and incorporate local wildlife. Good for you for giving an important role to your wildlife pond!!
Arthur Russ from England on June 06, 2017:
Thanks for the article which I found it very enlightening, and it's good to see projects like this being successful. Organic gardening is one of my passions, which I do in my back garden to be almost self sufficient in our own veg. Part of my philosophy in our garden is to work with nature e.g. our wildlife pond plays an important roll in sustaining its echo system.
Sustainable Sue (author) from Altadena CA, USA on June 01, 2015:
Thank you John. And thanks for letting me use your video. I'm glad you liked the article.
John Power on May 31, 2015:
I never saw your message or article till just now. It was a very comprehensive report and very well written. I do indeed believe passionately in what I do and can stand over everything in the video clip. Thank you for using it in your article.
Sustainable Sue (author) from Altadena CA, USA on January 21, 2015:
Thank you Ghaelach. I always appreciate it when someone in the know comments positively on my articles. Your description of where you used to live makes me want to live there too - it's different from Germany, eh? You take care too.
Ghaelach on January 21, 2015:
An excellent hub full of very interesting facts.
When I see anything that mentions Ireland all else stops until I've watched or read report.
Although I live in Germany with my wife (German), and I unfortunately went into early invalid retirement, my heart is over there in Ireland on a tiny farm in the mountains of mourne in Co. Down.
You have given your followers a lot of valid information about the Emerald Isle.
Take care Sue and have a nice day.