Wednesday, January 9, 2013


The Republic of Ireland was one of the economies hardest hit by the recent global recession.

With unemployment reaching 15 per cent earlier this year and the Irish Government having to make austerity cuts that make those emanating from Whitehall look positively generous in comparison, there remained serious doubts as to whether the Celtic Tiger could recover any of its bite during the next decade.

Yet despite these challenges, the new Irish Government has begun a serious fightback and is continuing to look to innovation as the key driver in growing its economy for the future.

In particular, it is developing key strategies that are focusing on those areas of the economy it sees as being critical in transforming the business sector over the next decade.

One of these is the so-called Green Economy that encompasses a range of activities spread across different sectors that have the common objective of providing goods and services in a sustainable way that reduces the impact on the environment.

These include renewable energy, energy-efficient products, resource-efficient production techniques, the re-use, recovery and recycling of waste, water management and low carbon vehicles.

And it is not surprising that there is a focus by the Irish on the Green Economy that, despite the World’s economic problems, is estimated to be worth around nearly £4 Trillion pounds by 2015 and to be employing round 36 million people around the World.

So how are the Irish going to try and capture a small but significant slice of this important and growing sector?

The clues to this are to be found in “Delivering our Green Potential”, the recent policy statement by the Irish Government on growth and employment in the green economy.

According to this document, Ireland has significant strengths and advantages that it can leverage to exploit business opportunities in the Green Economy.

These include abundant renewable energy resources that raise the prospect of Ireland becoming an exporter of clean energy to the UK in the future and a strong research base that is highly relevant to a number of opportunities.

The country also has excellent natural resources such as clean water, air and land to support sustainable economic development as well as an outstanding natural environment and rich biodiversity to develop and support green tourism and related activities.

More importantly, it has a number of exemplar companies and organisations with a proven track record and international credibility in the Green Economy.

It is a comprehensive document that any politician or policymaker in the UK would do well to read thoroughly. However, in my opinion, five key issues jump out as being worthy of further consideration.

First of all is the role of government itself. Politicians are often accused of commissioning hefty strategic tomes that then lie gathering dust on the bookshelves of their civil servants. A critical part of this document is the high commitment to real action being demonstrated by the Irish Government to ensure that it takes the lead in pushing forward its green policies.

For example, the government has established a clear policy for renewable energy that will further develop wind energy, ocean energy, bioenergy, sustainable transport energy, and the supporting energy infrastructure.  Through this, it aims to achieve a 33 per cent reduction in public sector energy use by 2020.

Secondly, there is appreciation that the green economy can be applied across all sectors. Indeed, the Irish Government has now engaged in growing a green financial services industry as a key niche i.e. those capital markets, investment-banking activities and related advisory services that support the development, financing and promotion of a low carbon economy.

With global investment in this niche sector predicted to grow fourfold to over £600 billion by 2020, Ireland is looking to develop its reputation as a world-class green financial management hub. Indeed, green assets under management in Ireland have tripled in the past four years.

Thirdly, there is the continuing commitment to supporting green innovation through encouraging and facilitating collaboration between the university sector and the business community, predominantly by prioritising research in areas such as smart grids and smart cities, sustainable food production and processing, and marine renewable energy.

One excellent example of this is the Irish Maritime and Energy Resource Cluster (IMERC), which is a collaboration between Government Departments, state agencies, higher education institutions and industry partners led by University College Cork. IMERC is aimed at using the expertise and experience of researchers, teaching staff and naval personnel on the development of an ecosystem of innovation in the maritime sector and is underpinning Ireland’s position as an early leader in the ocean energy sector.

Fourthly, there is the issue of skills. It is widely recognised that the green economy often relies on jobs with specialist knowledge and expertise, especially in the fields of engineering, science, technology and mathematics. As a result, universities, as well as further education colleges, are being encouraged to align their courses with the needs of companies within the green sector in Ireland.

Finally, and most importantly, there is the key issue of branding and the drive to create an established international image to promote Ireland’s “Green” offering. In particular, this green image will be focused on attracting potential inward investors that are looking to base their operations within an environment that supports green policies.

Therefore, while Ireland still has a long way to go to recapture its former status as the Celtic Tiger, it is at least developing a strategy that is looking to grow the economy in a key sector during the next few years.

It is an approach that could and should be emulated on this side of the Irish Sea.