Sustainability Day at Croke Park
By Cian O’Connell
“The Sustainability Day is a chance to highlight the work that is going on all year round,” Míde Ní Shúilleabháin, Croke Park Sustainability Officer, explains. “It also gives us a chance to trial new things like our reusable cup scheme, it serves a dual purpose that way.”
Today at GAA headquarters for the All Ireland SHC Semi-Final clash between Limerick and Kilkenny Croke Park is running its first-ever trial of reusable cups when the bars in the Lower Hogan Stand will host a pilot deposit-return scheme to cut down on the amount of plastic waste produced on match-day.
Míde Ní Shúilleabháin accepts that so many avenues can be explored by working with different groups. “It isn't something we can do on our own,” she admits. “For example we put in swift boxes recently around the stadium. That was supported by our wildlife management consultant, wildlife management services and Birdwatch Ireland. They gave us the information, the same with Sustainability Day.
“It is about getting feedback from what GAA suppoters want and some GAA supporters are experts in their field. They will come back to us with suggestions, they will see some things we don't see. It is about reaching out to the wider GAA community, looking at how we can get better in an area.”
So how does that work out? “We have our own sustainability programme in Croke Park,” Ní Shúilleabháin replies.
“We try to mainstream it with everything we do, but at the same time because we have put ourselves out there in the last 10 years people are more likely to get in touch. Things that we haven't noticed or things they suggest we try to act on.
“The reusable cups would have been on our radar. People will say things to us about having water fountains around the stadium, people have been asking for that. It is about us setting the agenda in a way, but in Croke Park we are in a privileged position because we have this fantastic stadium with the staff and resources that smaller clubs don't have.
“It is about pushing it out to the wider GAA community, but it is also about hearing what the GAA community are saying to us from their own observations, expertise, and expectations of what the GAA should be in terms of an example.”
With so much happening no two days are the same as a Sustainability. There is always some issue to try to assist with.
“That is what keeps it interesting,” Ní Shúilleabháin admits. “It is important to highlight our sustainability committee and our stadium green team. The aim is that everybody is involved in the sustainability effort and that sustainability isn't a department or one person at a desk or one activity.
“It is about all the decisions we take when we are taking them. Building, buying something or staff training that we are thinking what would the sustainable impacts be and how can we ensure we aren't having a negative impact and how can we do something that is extremely positive. For example the swift boxes we have put them up behind Hill 16 and also in the new GAA Handball Centre. It was a new build so we thought about it before it was built.
“The ecological building design was also put in the swift boxes. When you start a new project you should be thinking about what can we do that is positive and how it will have a legacy effect, anything that will make things better for future generations.”
Significant strides have been taken during the past decade which is a source of optimism for Ní Shúilleabháin, who is encouraged by the response of GAA members.
“I think you can definitely see the change,” she acknowledges. “In the stadium long before my time set up a sustainability programme around 10 years ago. In my time in the last year we have seen a huge change in how people are engaging.
“People are expecting more and they are more interested in what we are doing. It isn't only looking towards Croke Park, also wondering what they can do. It is becoming easier too with things like the reusable cups we are trialling.
“A few years ago there wouldn't have been a company in Ireland that could have facilitated that for us. Sometimes in Ireland we can be at a disadvantage because we are an island nation.
“We don't have the advantages in terms of material and services that they have on mainland Europe. That is changing more and more in terms of energy supply and the options with waste management, waste reduction, waste recycling.
“All those areas are becoming easier and easier to make a positive change because there is a whole shift in mindset occurring at all levels of GAA membership.”