The relationship between industrial production and the environment has very rarely been a happy one.
So it comes as an agreeable surprise to find that an international manufacturing company, Intel Ireland, seems to have an active interest in protecting, and even restoring, biodiversity not only on its own site, but in the nearby communities of Leixlip, Celbridge and Maynooth, and even further afield.
“We would love to create a situation in which every employee becomes an advocate for biodiversity,” says Mark Rutherford, the company’s environmental health and safety manager.
This does sound too good to be true. How authentic is this commitment? How much of it is simply the familiar PR effort to put a new green sheen on the same old degrading and destructive industrial practices?
This article appeared in The Irish Times on 14 October, 2017. For full text, click link below
“Those are legitimate questions,” says Moira Horgan, marketing manager of Business in the Community Ireland, an organisation which advises companies on Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR). “There is a lot of greenwashing out there for sure. But Intel is so authentic, it is an exemplar of how to engage employees and local communities in environmental issues.”
Horgan’s organisation last year developed a biodiversity wheel, a visual tool designed by Hannah Hamilton to assist companies to integrate biodiversity – which often seems an abstruse concept, outside their remits – into their environmental management systems.
When most companies think about the environment, explains Hamilton, they think about avoiding pollution, hazardous waste, and so on. “We wanted to bring biodiversity up from the bottom of the deck, and demonstrate that it was quite easy to embed good biodiversity practices into their management thinking.” Intel was one of the first companies to adopt this tool.
In Intel’s case, says Rutherford, adopting the wheel system was much less a matter of adopting new practices than of highlighting and documenting for their staff, from senior management to shop floor, activities the company has undertaken for a long time.
On a series of walks around the vast Intel site, environmental engineer Teresa Bodtker and external relations manager Lisa Harlow show me some of them: a small arboretum (all native trees), a 300-year old orchard, bird feeders, insect hotels, bat and bird boxes, native plantings in the car parks and a very large wildflower meadow they have just created beside their sports pitches.
There is even an indoor meeting garden planted for pollinators, with details like extra deep crevices in the brickwork to attract solitary bees. They have created maps, widely distributed throughout the site, that encourage staff to take walking breaks along four routes. The passion of both women for their work is obvious and infectious.
The jewel in the Intel biodiversity crown, however, is probably its engagement with the ecological health of the Rye Water, a tributary of the Liffey that flows through its land. Since 1994, just two years after the company was established here, it has sponsored the restoration of this important trout and salmon river, which is surrounded, at a nearby point, by the Carton/Rye Water Valley Special Area of Conservation.
Intel works on this project with the UCD School of Biology and Environmental Science, and the company was the catalyst for forming Friends of the Rye with local anglers, the county council and other stakeholders.
“Intel is a really curious case,” says Jan-Robert Barrs of UCD. “It’s a very big corporation, but they really seem to have their eyes on improving things for their staff and local communities. And they now see biodiversity as part of that improvement. They are getting people who were not focused on the environment to think about it in a different way.
“Their initiative has changed the river completely, it’s now one of the most studied rivers in Ireland, the trout and salmon are doing really well,” says Barrs. He adds that Intel has been the driving force throughout. He says the company is now pushing for, and willing to assist with, work on catchments upstream from their land, where persisting problems have negative impacts on biodiversity downstream.
Barr’s impressions are echoed by Tom McCormack, chair of the Kildare branch of BirdWatch Ireland: “All big companies today make some effort to keep the local ‘greens’ happy,” he says. “But the enthusiasm at Intel is very different.”
He finds that other companies in the county are willing enough to go through statutory environmental procedures. But at Intel he gets invited in by Bodtker and Harlow to discuss the concerns that underlie those procedures, to find out how the company might go above and beyond these formal requirements and create additional biodiversity benefits.
He has also noticed another detail. One of his branch’s projects is the provision of nest boxes for swifts. “Other companies,” he says, “tend to want anything like this front of house, where their visitors can see what they are ‘doing for the environment’. But Intel were quite happy to put them on an out-of-the-way structure, Blakestown House, where swifts are more likely to use them.”
Intel also promotes biodiversity in local communities off site. The company has long been involved in assisting schools to participate in An Taisce’s Green-Schools program. It also offers substantial grants, and volunteer labour, to support projects that are entered in its relatively new Pride of Place competition, and many of these are biodiversity-related.
Mary Jennings, treasurer of Maynooth Tidy Towns, says that she and her colleagues have found Bodtker and Harlow “very enthusiastic, embracing, easy to approach and work with. They’d inspire you to do more for biodiversity yourself.”
Given that Intel has employees from 20 counties, and that many of them now volunteer in their own home communities on behalf of the company, perhaps Rutherford’s vision of each employee eventually being an advocate for biodiversity is not so very far-fetched, after all.
Biodiversity at Intel: Views from the staff
Maeve Byrne, project manager, Intel Ireland
“I definitely feel that I have benefited from the inclusion of biodiversity at the Leixlip campus. Sometimes just the opportunity to get away from the desk and spend time in places like the orchard or the arboretum or the wildflower meadow is really valuable. Also, as someone who has a keen interest in photography, I have enjoyed taking the camera out with me and capturing some of the natural beauties at the site – even though this is clearly an industrial location, it’s amazing the amount the natural features and aspects of biodiversity that you come across every day.”
John Kennedy, researcher, Intel Labs
“I have been delighted to see the genuine interest and respect for biodiversity on site over the years. As well as funding professional surveys of the flora and fauna, protection of the SAC, planting of native woodland and wildflower meadows, and installation of spawning beds in the Rye, I have also witnessed the willingness of Intel to support local voluntary groups.
“The site was happy to facilitate a very enjoyable Birdwatch Kildare Branch outing to the wilderness at the back of the site where evidence of badger, deer, otter were all detected as well as a rich variety of birds: buzzard, kingfisher, numerous warblers and the stunning jay were all present.”
Intel Ireland employs 4,500 people, producing silicon microprocessors for computers. Its buildings occupy about half of a 360-acre former stud farm. See also Embracing Biodiversity at Intel
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