Young eco-innovators – get your thinking caps on

These competitions recognise young people’s role in combating climate change


As people struggle to embrace the radical lifestyle changes required to combat the effects of climate change, the moral argument about saving the planet for future generations is often made. So, it’s highly relevant that both state agencies and non-governmental environmental organisations offer young people the opportunity to come up with practical solutions to reduce the impact of climate change and/or improve their local environment.

The An Taisce Green-Schools programme, which started in primary schools and has since expanded into secondary schools and third-level colleges, is probably the best-known environmental initiative which brings staff and students together to improve their local environment. Some other award schemes such as the Young Social Innovators include an environmental category in their competitions, and the Irish Architecture Foundation’s National Architects in Schools initiative often includes energy-saving in buildings. But here, we’ve chosen to focus specifically on the competitions that draw on the individual talents and vision of primary and secondary school students themselves.

Eco-Unesco Young Environmentalist Awards

The longest running of all the environmental competitions, the Eco-Unesco Young Environmentalist Awards are open to young people aged between 10 and 18. Biodiversity, Climate Change, Eco-Art & Design, Community Development, Eco-Enterprise, Eco-Health &Wellbeing, Energy, Waste, Local to Global and Grow are the 10 themes that can be explored in projects.

“The Young Environmentalist Awards is a celebration of the commitment of young Irish people to take action on important environmental issues at both global and local levels,” says Elaine Nevin, national director of Eco-Unesco.

Raising awareness of issues within their school and community is an important aspect of the competition. Students also learn new skills by making films, apps and even rap songs, to reach out to their peers and communities.

About 4,000 students entered 300 projects in the Young Environmentalist Awards in 2017 and from this a shortlist of about 80 projects was drawn up. The students of these shortlisted projects present their project at the finals in the Mansion House in Dublin in May each year.

The top award in the 2017 Eco-Unesco awards went to students at Kill O’ The Grange National School in Dublin, who lobbied for the introduction of a “bottle bill” which would include a deposit refund scheme on glass and plastic bottles.

Other top awards went to students from Loreto College Swords, who raised awareness of the decline in the bee population due to chemical sprays (while providing a habitat for bees and other insects in their school grounds), and a project from Bailieborough Community School in Co Cavan, where students created an outdoor garden to improve biodiversity in their environs.

Other innovative projects included a small hydro-electric generator used to charge a mobile phone, dog kennels made out of non-recyclable plastics, and wearable sensors that detect harmful air pollutants.

Registration for the Eco-Unesco Young Environmentalist Awards for the academic year 2017/2018 opens in September. See for full details.

SEAI’s One Good Idea

The Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland’s One Good Idea is a sustainability competition for primary and secondary school students, now in its 10th year. The aim of the competition is to increase students’ understanding of energy efficiency and climate change in their homes, schools and communities. Students are encouraged to create innovative campaigns to highlight the small changes that can make a big difference to “our lives, our pockets and our planet”.

In 2016/2017, more than 350 campaigns were developed, 20 of which reached the national finals in Croke Park Conference Centre, Dublin last May. The finalists are encouraged to incorporate dance, song or drama into their final presentations in front of the judges.

The Ursuline Secondary School in Thurles, Co Tipperary won the 2017 SEAI One Good Idea competition for their campaign, Wattaware. The campaign raised awareness of the long-term savings that can be made when householders choose household appliances with higher energy ratings.

St Patrick’s National School in Bruree, Co Limerick won the primary-school award in 2017 for their campaign to tackle water wastage whilst promoting simple ways to conserve water.

Commenting on the competition, Minister for Communications, Climate Action and the Environment Denis Naughten says: “At the heart of the SEAI One Good Idea is the development of the engaged, active and creative citizen. It’s extremely encouraging to see the work, dedication and passion these students show in raising awareness of climate change and getting their classmates, teachers, families and communities to make small changes to their behaviour.”

The EPA’s Story of Your Stuff video competition

A new competition for 2017, this Environmental Protection Agency competition invites secondary school students to create a video which illustrates the journey of a product from “the cradle to the grave”.

The aim of the competition is to make people think more about the environment in their consumption habits and, specifically, how they can use and dispose of their stuff in a sustainable way.

Students are invited to choose an everyday object (eg plastic water bottles, pencil sharpeners, phones) and use video to illustrate its life cycle: where it comes from, how it is used in its lifetime and, most importantly, where it ends up.

Iga Manulak and Emma Jackson, students from St Mary’s College, Ballysadare, Co Sligo were the winners in 2017 for their video which examined the life of a pencil from its origin in a Brazilian tree to its end in a compost bin in Ireland.

“The winning entry is amazing, with some beautiful shots. The story is told in a very creative and inspiring way,” says Christian Tierney, music videographer, photographer and the Story of Your Stuff ambassador for 2017.

Other videos in the first year of the competition explored the story of an apple and the story of paper. The application process for the academic year 2017/2018 opens in January 2018. See for more details.

Young Reporters for the Environment

This was the first year that this international competition was open to Irish students aged between 11 and 21 through their school, college, university or youth club. Managed in Ireland by An Taisce’s Environmental Education Unit, the competition invites students to focus on a local environmental issue by writing a report, taking photographs or making a video.

The theme chosen by An Taisce for 2017 was the Litter Less Campaign, and students focused on litter-free lunches, reusable coffee cups and water bottles, and clean-ups in their schools and communities.

Internationally, the competition embraces broader themes and aims to empower young people to take a stand on environmental issues they feel strongly about. Winners of the national competitions go forward to partake in the international YRE competition.

Laura Quinn was the junior winner of the 2017 Young Reporters for the Environment competition for her essay on the environmental devastation caused by micro-plastics (a shortened version of her essay was published on the Irish Times Student Hub).

“It is critical that there are more assertive, informed young people reporting on the environment and working towards a better future,” says environmentalist Duncan Stewart, one of the judges of the 2017 competition.

  • For more details of the Young Reporters for the Environment competition for the academic year 2017/2018, see or phone An Taisce’s Environmental Education Unit at 01-4002202
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