€3.9m @UCC project will empower businesses to meet sustainability challenges

17 February 2021
By Mary Bermingham
mary@TheCork.ie

File photo of a large factory

Business owners must prepare for the new regulations that will follow the passing of the forthcoming Climate Action Bill, according to the project leads behind a new €3.9m University College Cork initiative that aims to help industry make the most of the green transition.

The Sustainable Futures project will empower businesses to not only meet its new legal requirements in transitioning to a low-carbon future, but to see new opportunities while meeting Ireland’s climate challenges.

A growing number of businesses require a skilled workforce who are knowledgeable in sustainability and decarbonisation, and who can place climate concerns at the heart of strategy, operations, and decision-making while at the same time maximising employment provision and profitability.

Sustainable Futures is a cross-university initiative that will bring together science and enterprise, academia and industry, to drive sustainability and decarbonisation by developing new qualifications and Continuing Professional Development courses that will draw upon UCC’s renowned expertise in the environmental field.

Project lead Dr Marguerite Nyhan, Lecturer in Environmental Engineering in the UCC School of Engineering at the Environmental Research Institute (ERI) and MaREI researcher, said sustainability is a complex problem that requires a complex solution.

“The Government’s Climate Action Plan proposes major national carbon emissions reduction targets. As such, there has never been a more urgent time to create leaders in environmental sustainability in industry, enterprise, business, and broader society who will drive the transition to a zero-carbon future.

“This can’t be solved by any one discipline and as such, we have brought together engineering, science, business, management and sociology. Sustainable Futures aims to help leaders to take action on climate change and sustainability by applying academic rigour to real-world problems through engagement with industry.

“We will develop curriculums, deliver courses, and identify challenges and solutions to sustainability and decarbonisation through engaging with enterprise in the university. The Sustainable Futures courses are aimed at providing cutting-edge knowledge and thought leadership to industry on how they can transition their companies towards zero carbon and environmentally sustainable practices.

“The transition to sustainable and net-zero carbon enterprises is one of the biggest opportunities for companies in the coming years,”

she said.

Prof Sarah Culloty, ERI Director and Head of the College of Science, Engineering, and Food Science (SEFS) said:

“The newly published Climate Action Bill emphasises the need for industry to shift to a zero carbon and resource efficient business model, and the value of academic-industry engagement has never been more important than when it comes to supporting our colleagues in industry through this transition.

“This investment in a Sustainable Futures industry-university collaboration will enable us to leverage our transdisciplinary research expertise in support of Irish companies, by delivering practical, research-based training and providing a dedicated, collaborative working space in our Environmental Research Institute’s Lee Road Building and the UCC School of Engineering,”

she said.

Prof John O’Halloran, Interim President of UCC and member of the Sustainable Futures team, said:

“We are the university for and of sustainability. This is about translating our knowledge into practice, as set in our Green Mission: student-led, research-informed, practice-focussed.”

Prof John O’Halloran, Interim President of UCC

The project leverages UCC’s Sustainability Strategy and the interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary strengths and capacity developed over 20 years within the Environmental Research Institute and its reach across 20 disciplines at UCC. The inter-disciplinary, inter-institutional approach of the project is particularly suited to address the complex challenges of the transition to a low-carbon economy and the outputs of the project will provide benefits across a range of industries.

The project aims to engage with industry and business to pursue an enterprise-informed curriculum development, mapping the skills required for the transition to sustainable enterprise practices through decarbonisation.

It will further develop new Higher Diploma (Level 8), Postgraduate Certificate (Level 9), Postgraduate Diploma (Level 9), and full Masters (Level 9) qualifications, aimed at a number of demographics including university graduates from all disciplines, operational staff within industry partners, and early to mid-career, current and aspiring leaders who want to develop their capacity to drive the business response to sustainability challenges. New Continuing Professional Development courses will also be developed, aimed at professionals across all sectors wishing to enhance their skills in fields to deliver on all aspects of environmental sustainability within enterprise.

Led by UCC, in collaboration with Maynooth University and Sligo Institute of Technology, the Sustainable Futures project has been awarded €3,913,440 under the Department of Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science’s Human Capital Initiative.

Global project members from Massachusetts Institute of Technology are applying international best practice to the initiative.

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