As US Secretary of State John Kerry addressed a packed audience in the glittering surroundings of Brussels' Concert Noble on Tuesday, sitting in the front row was Irishman Neil McCabe.
The 38-year-old fireman from Kilbarrack in north Dublin has found himself at the centre of a new transatlantic initiative that aims to encourage trade between the US and Europe.
The Young Transatlantic Innovation Leaders Initiative – known as YTILI – was established by US president Barack Obama in 2012, with the aim of bringing young professionals from Europe to the US to share their ideas and skills with US policy-makers and companies.
Mr McCabe was chosen as the first Irish YTILI fellow and spent a month in the US in June this year as part of the programme.
Mr McCabe, who still works full-time for Dublin Fire Brigade, is the founder of 'The Green Way', an initiative that aims to cut carbon emissions while at the same time make cost savings. He got the idea nine years ago, at a time when morale was low at work.
“It was a tough time for Kilbarrack fire station. We’d just lost half of our staff who had been moved to another station and morale was very low. I’ve always been a do-er, so I had this idea that we could help the environment while saving money for the station.”
McCabe started encouraging his colleagues to start segregating waste to avoid landfill fees. He also secured €14,000 in crowd-funding an invested in the first thermo-dynamic solar collectors in Europe. All together, the initiatives led to savings of €10,000 for the station for the year which was reinvested. The concept was rolled out into 14 stations across the capital, resulting in Dublin Fire Brigade reducing its energy usage by 44 per cent, and leading to cost savings of €11 million.
His 'Green Way' idea was soon picked up by Dublin City Council and the European Union, where McCabe's expertise was used in the drafting of EU legislation on air and water quality. McCabe travelled over and back to meetings in Brussels while still working as a fireman in Kilbarrack.
For Mc Cabe , one of his main aims in encouraging other companies and communities to see the practical benefits of saving energy. "A lot of communities and businesses in Ireland and abroad feel that the government has told them to reduce their carbon footprint by 20 per cent but hasn't told them how," he says.
He is due to launch a free two-hour online training course later this month which will allows users to implement the Green Way initiative in their own communities and work places.
Tuesday's event in Brussels, at which US Secretary of State referenced the work of the YTILI fellows, is not the first time McCabe has met John Kerry, having previously met the US Secretary of State in June in Silicon Valley. The Dublin man was also an invited guest of President Obama at a symposium in June in California.