All for one and one for all
Wednesday, March 27, 2013
GET Local is a new platform to help small businesses tap into nearby resources, says Oliver Moore
FOUR ‘green’ entrepreneurs are empowering communities racked by austerity to start new businesses. Their initiative is called ‘GET’Local (Generate Enterprise Together).
Launched last year, GETLocal has had an impact in Borrisokane and Lower Ormond, in Tipperary, with more places due soon. The idea is simple: provide a platform to help communities develop new local enterprises in crucial areas.
“Our mission is to reverse the outflow of wealth from the Irish economy, which will reduce energy, food and transport costs, and redirect spending power for the benefit of the local community,” they say.
GETLocal focuses on the localised, low-carbon economy. They aim to help unemployed people create their own enterprises, by sharing information, coaching, niche skills, start-up capital, back office services, and customers.
The focus has been on food, energy and transport. The GETLocal social franchise is the brainchild of Aidan O’Brien and Ross Rabette, who live in what is fast becoming Ireland’s eco-business hub, Cloughjordan.
Rabette, 37, wanted to set up bioenergy villages in Ireland. “I moved to Cloughjordan, knowing that I would meet like-minded people to work with there. Aidan O’Brien brought a distinct jobs focus.”
O’Brien specialises in construction with natural materials, and has built many of the houses in Cloughjordan’s eco-village. The two have been joined by Alice D’Arcy and Dave McDonnell. D’Arcy supports food enterprises, while McDonnell fund-raises.
D’Arcy has a PhD in environmental science, specialising in the environmental impact of food and farming.
“My work in ecology, environmental sustainability, and research made GETLocal attractive to me. I like the fact that it has joined up a lot of economic areas, and that empowering communities to run things themselves, using their own resources, is a key part of it. The ethos of collaboration is important,” she says.
McDonnell is fundraising in the US, capital which GETLocal will make available to new enterprises, in partnership with a lending institution. Rabette is a biosystems engineer, and has designed and installed district heating systems and renewable energy technologies.
Cloughjordan’s eco-village has a district heating system powered, each year, by 200 tonnes of woodchip, while eco-villagers and residents of Cloughjordan own and operate a community farm.
Rabette said of his experiences in Germany: “The bioenergy villages in Germany were certainly inspirational,” he says. “In Juhnde, for example, they use fermented energy crops and farm slurry for gas capture, which provides heat and electricity. The community ownership model is key to the success of over 50 bio-energy villages there.”
Rabette says there are sustainability issues with bioenergy villages — many plant and then cut the growth to generate energy. He says it’s possible to take the best of the energy-capture technology without destroying the locale. “With, for example, food waste composting for energy capture, or more sustainable woodland management practices, to thin, rather than clear-fell, the forests.”
Community ownership of resources is growing in Germany, where 50% of renewable energy is owned by individuals or communities. This provides one fifth of all of Germany’s electricity.
Rabette cites the sharing economy. How often does anyone use all their power tools? Pooling those tools into an easy-access library would be savvy.
Rabette says communities import massive amounts of energy through their food, transport and houses. Energy is money. “The average household consumes about 90,000kw hours of imported energy, and food is the biggest category of fossil-fuel dependence, at over 40,000. Transport is second, and in-house costs, such as heat and electricity, are third,” he says.
Borrisokane, a few miles from Cloughjordan, is the first town to which many of these eco-business ideas have diffused.
There was resistance to the idea initially. “Because of the potential green agenda. But most of the best business opportunities lie in the green economy anyway, so money talks.
“We mapped resources, found gaps, helped develop business models and sought out the right kind of people to deliver them. We put on collaborative start-your-own-business courses, which created lots of synergies”.
Rabette says people interested in retro-fitting can use materials sourced from the materials bank, to also make chicken coups, or wood-log stores. “So just by putting on these courses, we supported people, but they also supported each other.”
At the GETLocal office in the town, they have built back-of-house supports, including developing software systems for purchasing products and services, a database of customers, training, contracts, sites and innovative fundraising techniques.
The latter, spearheaded by McDonnell, is vital in an economy where banks are not lending significantly. These services are part of how GETLocal will generate its own income, after the start-up phase.
Concurrently, a range of connected, nascent businesses is developing. These include libraries — tools, arts and materials — and a community food compost service.
Is there space for such initiatives to blossom? Maybe it all comes back to the price of potatoes, as Rabette says. “Borrisokane is a big potato-growing area. Middle-men pay farmers here €200 a tonne. After the potatoes are driven to Belfast and then Dublin, for processing and packaging, the consumer, even in Borrisokane, pays €1,300 a tonne. Why not form a consumer hub and approach farmers with a price just over €200 a tonne? Or, approach a hub member to start growing potatoes for that price?”
D’Arcy says: “A lot of friends and colleagues have emigrated, there aren’t huge opportunities in my area. After my PhD, I was unemployed. I’m hoping to help create employment, to help people establish businesses, so people who don’t want to leave the country don’t have to.”