The publication by the High-level Group on Green Enterprise Developing the Green Economy in Ireland last month sets out the case that ‘the green economy can make a significant contribution to Ireland’s economy by creating employment and export opportunities in areas such as renewable energy, energy efficiency and consultancy, waste management, recovery and recycling and water and wastewater treatment’ .  Indeed Mary Coughlan Tánaiste and Minster for Enterprise, Trade and Employment and Eamon Ryan, Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources , both take the position that the green enterprise sector is central to the development of the smart economy in Ireland. It is interesting to note, however, the almost complete absence of any attention to social matters in this document. ‘Green’ and ‘enterprise’ seem to be solely conceptualised as environmental and commercial. This is a narrow view that harks back to an archaic, but still persistent, technical fix approach to societal problems where it is assumed that a win-win situation for the environment and the economy will inevitably trickledown to the social and community. This has not proven to be the case in the past so it is not clear why it will be the case in the future.

The document squarely ignores the immensely innovative work, work that is absolutely enterprising, already done by communities for communities in the pursuit of sustainability and resilience.  Activities of community-based, not-for-profit (although by no means necessarily unprofitable) organisations around the country already promote a ‘green economy’ in its broadest and most valuable sense. This work, including that of community-based recycling schemes, rural transport networks, community gardens, community sustainable energy initiatives, biodiversity protection and environmental education programmes provide employment (often for the most disadvantaged in our society) but much more. The added value of these initiatives in terms of developing self esteem, social skills and cohesion, civic engagement and mutually supportive co-operation (which may be termed social capital in the round) are hard to quantify but extremely significant nonetheless. Where communities are mentioned in the report it is in the context of educating them to accept new technologies in their backyard or by curtailing the planning system(one of the last statutory areas in which people can, in theory, express their views on immediate changes to their lived environments) to facilitate developments.  The document does identify a need to provide a ‘showcase for innovation through supporting easier access to environmental research and development, information on technological developments, and the creative, educational and community sectors in developing environmental products and services’(p.31), but the primary motivation for community engagement seems to be improving the ‘green brand’ of Ireland such that  ‘the vision of a green economy and society … provides a powerful marketing tool to encourage potential students to study engineering and related disciplines’ (p.37). Little is said about the climate justice implications of moving towards a low carbon society. Perhaps this is unsurprising given the faithful following of OECD definitions of the green sector and the useful disciplines to promote it which are confined to chemistry, material science, mechanical and electrical engineering, biotechnology, environmental sciences and ICT. Indeed Mr Angel Gurria, Secretary General of the OECD, at the recent launch of the OECD’s Conclusions and Recommendations of their second Environmental Performance Review of Ireland (at Trinity College Dublin 4th November 2009), when questioned, was unable to provide any indication that the OECD considers climate justice to be an important issue. While normally conceived of as a rich vs. poor country issue climate justice has more complex geographies that are, and will increasingly be, created by inequalities within as well as between nations

The report of the high-level group on green enterprise indicates that  there remains a predilection for business as usual free market environmentalism with all the tools and technologies commonly associated with a neoliberalisation of  both nature and society. What is needed is a suite of innovative approaches to the economic and environment crises currently faced in Ireland, and globally, approaches that recognise and support the worth of social creativity as a crucial third pillar of sustainable development.

Anna Davies