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10 innovative Irish companies steering us towards a green future

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Enterprise Ireland has launched a new campaign spotlighting companies from Ireland that are scoring sustainability goals.

This week, as the world turned green for St Patrick’s Day, Tánaiste Leo Varadkar, TD, launched an international green innovation campaign from Enterprise Ireland.

Taking the opportunity of the national holiday to showcase Ireland’s green innovators and the contribution they make around the world, Varadkar said: “Climate action is, after all, an enormous business opportunity.

“As the world emerges from Covid-19, we need to understand that there will be no return to the old normal. We’ll need to build back better and prioritise the sustainable investments that underpin a global green recovery and the transition to low-carbon economies.”

Ready for a Green Future puts 10 companies that are leading by example at the fore of its campaign. These companies are helping to reduce the use of fossil fuels and tackling emissions-heavy sectors such as food production, construction and transportation with creative sci-tech solutions.

Abbey Machinery

Abbey Machinery has an agricultural heritage dating back to the 19th century, but the company has evolved with the times and is a pioneer of low-emission slurry spreading (LESS).

Slurry spreading is just one of the factors contributing to agriculture’s significant ammonia emissions. But with Abbey Machinery’s LESS applicators, farmers can reduce emissions by placing slurry in narrow bands.

Continuing to innovate, Abbey’s new smart slurry tankers are fitted out with automation and sensing technology. For example, a near-infrared sensor analyses the slurry make-up, enabling farmers to target nutrients when and where needed, reducing the widespread use of artificial fertiliser.

CitySwift

Transport is a huge contributor to global carbon emissions and passenger road vehicles are the main culprit, accounting for almost three-quarters of all transport CO2 emissions.

Any effort to reduce the number of road vehicles can change that, which is where Galway-based start-up CitySwift comes in.

CitySwift’s cloud-native platform aims to improve the performance of urban bus networks through data analytics so that more people can ditch the private car in favour of public transport. The data engine is already used by bus services in the UK and last year the company raised €2m in funding and began expanding.

Cygnum

Irish construction company Cygnum uses automated systems to build precise, computer-designed timber frame structures. This off-site construction reduces energy use on-site, but the material also makes a big difference.

While much of our world is built using concrete, its key ingredient – cement – is the source of about 8pc of global CO2 emissions. Timber, however, actually stores carbon, and so Cygnum’s structures act as a carbon sink.

In 2014, the Cork company was contracted to build the UK’s largest sustainable commercial building. More recently, a street of low-energy houses built using Cygnum’s highly insulated timber structures was awarded the coveted RIBA Stirling Prize.

Davra

The internet of things (IoT) means we can gather data from many sources, and that data can reveal opportunities for energy efficiency, emissions reduction and better management of resources.

Davra is a Dublin company helping organisations to leverage the power of IoT. Irish Water uses Davra’s technology to monitor pipes across the nation and prevent millions of litres being lost through leaks. Bus services in the US have used the technology to measure fuel efficiency. And, using European Space Agency satellite data, Davra also helps the mining industry monitor underground activity, which in turns helps to protect surrounding farmland and prevent pollution.

Ecocem

As already mentioned, the cement used widely in the construction industry has a massive carbon footprint. This is why Ecocem is focused on making a low-carbon alternative.

Ecocem manufactures ground granulated blast furnace slag (GGBS), which it claims produces 32kg of CO2 emissions per ton, compared to upwards of 800kg from regular cement. Also, GGBS is manufactured using leftover material from steel mills, saving it from landfill.

GGBS and cement are typically mixed together to make concrete blocks, though they tend to take longer to set. However, Ecocem has patented an accelerant that can speed up drying time.

GridBeyond

GridBeyond started life as Endeco Technologies, a company using IoT technology to help businesses reduce energy consumption. That mission has expanded as GridBeyond also aims to power the switch to 100pc renewable energy.

The Dublin-headquartered company applies AI and machine learning to help businesses optimise their energy use. Further to that, GridBeyond encourages businesses to store excess energy from renewables which they can then sell back to the grid using the company’s robotic trading technology.

GridBeyond’s vision is to build a shared energy economy and it is already working with large energy consumers such as data centres, hospitals and refineries.

Hanley Energy

Headquartered in Co Meath, Hanley Energy has been providing software to monitor energy use since 2009. It has particularly proven its expertise in critical power management for data centres.

Using Hanley Energy’s proprietary technology, businesses can track all energy usage, analyse trends and identify significant energy losses or overuse. Armed with this information, efficiency measures can be taken that not only cut energy costs but reduce the business’s carbon footprint.

By the end of this year, Hanley Energy itself aims to have a supply chain that is 100pc sustainably sourced, using only certified green suppliers and materials.

Keenan

Carlow company Keenan produces farm animal feeders that combine engineering and IoT technology to capture data on animal feed mixes in real time, in order to optimise the mix quality. The result is herd nutrition that is precise and tailored, which not only reduces waste but can also improve yields of milk and beef.

This contributes to an improved feed conversion efficiency in livestock, and the Carbon Trust has validated Keenan’s feeder as a more sustainable approach that can help to reduce on-farm emissions.

Established in 1978, Keenan was acquired by US animal feed company Alltech in 2016.

OceanEnergy

Part of Ireland’s ‘blue economy’, Cork company OceanEnergy captures and converts wave energy using its unique technology.

There’s more than a decade of R&D behind OceanEnergy’s groundbreaking device, which floats on the ocean’s surface, generating electrical energy. Each one can produce enough electricity to power 1,000 homes.

OceanEnergy is backed by the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland and also received $11.5m in funding from the US Department of Energy. It has partnered with the US Navy in a $25m project to launch a grid-connected device in Hawaii. This project will be used to test and optimise the device for future use.

Xocean

As OceanEnergy and other key players have noticed, the ocean economy presents an expansive opportunity. What businesses operating in this space will need for their operations is data.

Xocean is a Louth-based start-up that remotely operates unmanned surface vessels to gather ocean data for survey companies and other organisations. To date, the company has supplied data to more than 12 offshore windfarms across the EU, North and South America.

In a funding round that closed in November 2019, Xocean secured €7.9m from investors including Enterprise Ireland, the Marine Institute Ireland and the Creative Destruction Lab.

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Johnson & Johnson Ireland moves to 100pc renewable electricity

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The move comes following a power purchase agreement between Johnson & Johnson and Ørsted, which has windfarm sites in Clare and Kerry.

Johnson & Johnson has revealed plans to move to 100pc renewable electricity across its Irish operations.

The company has entered into an eight-year corporate power purchase agreement in Ireland with Danish company Ørsted. The agreement will help to ensure that the company’s entire Irish operations will be powered by electricity from 100pc renewable sources from now on.

Ørsted will supply the company with more than 1TWh of renewable energy during this period from two windfarms located in Kerry and Clare. The agreement will also help Ørsted as it invests in its strategy to construct more renewable generation in the future.

Taoiseach Micheál Martin, TD, praised the move in the context of Ireland’s climate action plans.

“Johnson & Johnson has embraced its environmental responsibilities globally, but also here in Ireland, and this agreement will help the company to achieve its wider climate goals. We are at a crucial point in the global fight against climate change and initiatives like this should become the benchmark for all companies to aspire to,” he said.

Towards net zero

Last year, Johnson & Johnson’s worldwide VP of environmental health, safety and sustainability, Paulette Frank, spoke at Silicon Republic’s Future Human event about the company’s “bold” climate goals. From her base in the US, Frank told attendees of the virtual event that her colleagues viewed the pandemic as “inspiration to propel” its climate action “further faster.”

Sourcing electricity from 100pc renewable sources is a goal the company set to achieve by 2025. By 2030, it wants to achieve carbon neutrality in its global operations.

John Lynch, plant leader at Johnson & Johnson Vision Care Ireland, said the company was proud to have met its targets in its Irish operations.

“Across our 10 sites and workforce of more than 5,000 here in Ireland, we are committed to supporting Johnson & Johnson’s climate action goals. In the last decade we have invested more than €60m in over 80 carbon footprint reduction projects.

“Today is a major landmark on our journey in Ireland to achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2030 and underlines our commitment to ensuring a better, healthier world.”

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‘At once intolerable and addictive’: five wellbeing courses and apps, road-tested | Health & wellbeing

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Australians are the world’s biggest consumers of health and wellness apps, punching well above our per capita weight in our quest for peak physical and mental condition, according to research from telecommunications company Uswitch. In recent years we have also been making them – with everyone from fitness influencers to mental health advocacy groups launching digital products.

I’m partial to a bit of mobile-based movement and mindfulness myself, but I have a complex relationship with wellness. While I love green juices, pilates and my “ness” being “well”, I can’t abide many contemporary uses of the word. In the diet, fitness, fashion and other industries, “wellness” can feel like a barely repackaged “weight loss”, while “healthy” has replaced “slim” as companies respond superficially to the body positivity movement without really changing their ways.

Despite wholesome beginnings in the 1950s, wellness is often framed as a goal for the financially and genetically privileged – and don’t get me started on the pseudoscience.

So I choose cautious cynicism when engaging with wellness and wellbeing products – but I’ve also been alone in my house for the greater part of two years, so I’ll try pretty much anything.

Sweat

Cost: $19.99 a month

Screen shot of the Sweat app from Kayla Itsines.

Sweat is a women’s health app co-founded by Australian fitness influencer Kayla Itsines, who boasts a worldwide social media following of more than 40 million. It offers over 30 programs for training at home or the gym, including high-intensity interval training (Hiit), low-intensity training, yoga and barre.

I did sessions from the PWR Zero Equipment program and it was all easy to follow and very doable. Audio and written instructions and onscreen demonstrations are clear, and self-accountability is super easy. It’s perfect for lockdown and for busy people cramming in exercise wherever and whenever they can. Plus, I can report that burpees are still the merciless work of Satan herself.

Itsines has created an app that exists in the wellness space with little of the self-congratulatory, quasi-spiritual hoopla other influencers lean so heavily into. Sweat isn’t pretending to be something it’s not. It’s a workout app, you do workouts on it. Yes, there are recipes and lifestyle tips but they aren’t offered as miracle pathways to a higher plane of being.

Is it my preferred mode of exercise? No. But it’s convenient and flexible and I can see myself using it when I travel. If that’s a thing that ever happens again.

Worry Time

Cost: Free

ReachOut’s WorryTime app
ReachOut’s WorryTime app. Photograph: Reach Out

ReachOut’s WorryTime is an anxiety management app from the online youth mental health service that uses cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) techniques to disrupt and manage repetitive thinking.

I am by no definition a youth, but I have mild anxiety and WorryTime’s methodology appealed to me. You nominate a daily time to do all your worrying and when you feel anxious, you note why in the app; every day at the designated time, you worry about what’s still plaguing you and delete what’s not. Easy!

I used WorryTime diligently for a while, noting my fears, my troubles and doubts and reassessing them every 24 hours. All was going well until I got busy with work, stressed about work and scared I’d stop getting work. Where the app had been a welcome task, it became a bugbear.

I was trying not to think about things that made me anxious and knowing the app contained a list of them created a classic avoidance paradigm. I skipped a day. And the next day. And the day after that. Soon the WorryTime alarm was causing me the very anxiety it was engaged to minimise. After a few weeks of this mental chicken-egg dance, I deleted the app. I may have been in the foetal position at the time.

I’m not advocating against WorryTime. It could be a great tool for others. There are no one-size-fits-all mental health salves. It would be nice if there were though.

Bibliotherapy with State Library Victoria

Cost: Free

Dr Susan McLaine, host of State Library Victoria’s Bibliotherapy podcast
Dr Susan McLaine, host of State Library Victoria’s Bibliotherapy podcast. Photograph: Supplied

My favourite discovery from this whole exercise is bibliotherapy or book therapy, an age-old practice that uses literature to support better mental health and wellbeing. Basically, you read or are read aloud a prescribed text, specifically chosen to raise questions, uncover truths and encourage healing. It’s also fun to say.

In response to the pandemic, a new podcast called Bibliotherapy with State Library Victoria was launched. Hosted by bibliotherapy practitioner Dr Susan McLaine, it offers to help people “stay calmer in this fragile time”. In each episode, McLaine reads a short story and a poem and poses questions for listeners. Texts range from emerging and obscure writers to Tolstoy, Donne and Kipling.

I love this podcast. There’s something so intimate and soothing about being read to, no doubt embedded in childhood nostalgia. McLaine’s voice takes some getting used to, though to be fair I find this with most podcast hosts, but her choice of texts is excellent and she reads everything slowly and deliberately, “savouring every word and offering space between words”. It’s the closest thing to a hug I’ve had in months.

The only bad thing about it is that there are only two short seasons. After a brief search for similarly soporific, story-based podcasts and apps, I found the excellent Dreamy podcast, a collection of beautiful sleep stories by First Nations storytellers like Jazz Money and Aurora Liddle-Christie. Bringing tens of thousands of years of oral tradition into the digital world, Dreamy is “helping people of all walks of life to quiet their minds, drift into dreams, and disconnect from their devices”.

I also found Sleep Stories on the Calm app ($14.99 a month). It’s full of grown-up tales and mindful nonsense to soothe or bore you into slumber. There are even equally terrible and amazing celebrity cameos: Matthew McConaughey, Cillian Murphy and the hot duke from Bridgerton will read to you like you’re a child. Last night Harry Styles read me the worst poem I’ve ever heard – for 40 minutes. Five stars. Would listen again.

The Resilience Project

Price: $4.49 one time fee

The Resilience Project Wellbeing App.
Photograph: Supplied

The Resilience Project app is a “daily wellbeing journal” for all ages from a Melbourne-based organisation of the same name, providing evidence-based mental health strategies and “sharing the benefits of gratitude, empathy and mindfulness” to schools, sports clubs and businesses.

Users are encouraged to log on every day, note how they feel, record who or what they’re grateful for, perform acts of kindness and do a short guided meditation. This nice daily ritual only takes a few minutes but proves a small antidote to the current news cycle.

I don’t see myself using it long-term, because of repetitiveness and the world’s shortest attention span, but during this lockdown I’ve appreciated the nightly reminder to acknowledge my blessings and privilege and to reach out to friends.

Though it can’t do the heavy lifting where mental health is concerned, I’ll put it in my arsenal of chronic depression coping mechanisms, and try to use it in bad times. It won’t soothe what only drugs and Great British Bake Off can, but it might provide a few minutes respite.

The Class

Cost: $40 a month

The Class Digital Studio is a mat-based exercise program, with elements of yoga, pilates, cardio, free-style dance, expansion, and release.
The Class Digital Studio is a mat-based exercise program, with elements of yoga, pilates, cardio, free-style dance, expansion, and release. Photograph: The Class Digital Studio

The Class is an American exercise methodology-slash-mindfulness practice with semi-cult vibes, taught by a host of ridiculously hot and relentlessly cool twentysomethings who can pull off white Lycra and blend in on a Girls set.

In fortuitous timing, founder Taryn Toomey launched online classes in late 2019, taking the Class into locked down homes around the world from 2020. Australians can access a wide selection of on-demand and live online classes, and there’s even an Australian teacher. Timezone differences narrow live options quite a bit, but most live classes become on-demand classes, so it doesn’t really matter.

Frequented by celebrities including Alicia Keys, Naomi Watts and Emma Stone, the Class is a mat-based, music-driven “cathartic workout experience” designed to “strengthen the body and balance the mind”. It’s yoga meets Les Mills meets clubbing. Movements are simple, repetition is key and loud exhales are encouraged. You may do squats for a whole song, free dance for another and star jumps for the next. In between, there’s stillness.

Teachers speak a kind of motivational psychobabble that is at once intolerable and addictive. It verges on the spiritual and flirts with cultural appropriation but remains just secular enough that I don’t turn it off. “Be in your power”; “You are enough”; “Softness is your birthright” and so on. Many teachers end their sessions with “I love you” which I somehow don’t hate.

At first, I struggled to put aside my prejudices against self-indulgent, pseudo-mystical wellness fads and find peace with beautiful women telling me to accept myself while making me do burpees. But the more I did it, the more I was able to just let go and roll with the theatre. Plus, it’s actually a very good workout.

I am now willingly paying for the Class. Let’s never speak of this again. I love you.

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NFTs not annoying enough? Now they come with wallet-emptying malware • The Register

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In brief Whether or not non-fungible tokens are a flash in the pan or forever, malware operators have been keen to weaponise the technology.

An investigation was triggered after a number of cryptowallets belonging to customers of the largest NFT exchange OpenSea got mysteriously emptied. Researchers at security shop Check Point found a nasty form of NFT was in circulation, one that came with its own malware package.

People were receiving free NFTs from an unknown benefactor, but when they accepted the gift the attackers got access to their wallet information in OpenSea’s storage systems. The code generated a pop-up, that if clicked, allowed wallets to be emptied.

After disclosing the issue Opensea had a fix sorted within an hour – we wish others took such prompt action – and the platform appears to be secured. But beware of “free” gifts, particularly where money is involved.

Crime doesn’t pay? really?

A US Treasury report has said that in the last three years ransomware operators using over 60 different variants have siphoned off $5.3bn in Bitcoin payments.

The Financial Crimes Enforcement Network report [PDF], first spotted by The Record, said that the ransoms taken in the the first six months of this year amounted to $590m, up from $416m for 2020, and the problem is getting worse, according to ten years of 2,184 Suspicious Activity Reports (SARs) analysed by the agency.

“If current trends continue, SARs filed in 2021 are projected to have a higher ransomware-related transaction value than SARs filed in the previous 10 years combined, which would represent a continuing trend of substantial increases in reported year-over-year ransomware activity,” the Treasury team warned.

Arming robots with sniper rifles, not worrying at all

US-based Ghost Robotics showed off an unusual new gadget this week at a meeting of the Association of the United States Army – a sniper rifle robot.

The robotics firm already has unarmed robot dogs acting as sentries at Tyndall Air Force Base but mounted a 6.5mm sniper rifle with a range of up to 1,200 meters (3937 feet) with both day and night vision cameras. The manufacturers were at pains to point out that this is not autonomous in any way and a human always controls the trigger, the robot just gets into position to keep its human operator safe.

The robot caused something of a storm, and Ghost Robotics CEO Jiren Parikh attributed this to the emotional connection robot dogs evoke and decades of movies about killer robots.

US warns critical water systems under attack

American online watchdogs at the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency has issued a security advisory following a spate of attacks against water and waste management facilities.

Since 2019 CISA said it had recorded five attacks against water systems, mostly ransomware but also aa former employee at Kansas-based water company who tried to tamper with drink water quality using credentials that should have been revoked when they left the biz.

For ransomware operators such businesses are tempting targets. Since water is such an essential service, it’s no-doubt thought that they’d be more likely to pay up rather than cause widespread disruption and panic.

Ukrainian cops cuff botnet suspect

The Security Service of Ukraine announced this week that they had arrested a man accused of running a massive botnet and charging for its use.

The man, a resident of Ivano-Frankivsk region in the west of the country, is said to have been running a botnet made up of over 100,000 infected systems. His opsec wasn’t great, he used telegram to tout for customers and, police say, made use of “electronic payment systems banned in Ukraine.”

A search of the suspect’s premises revealed computer equipment used to operate the botnet, and data stolen from botnet participants. Police say the suspect was also a representative of legitimate Russian payment service Webmoney, which is however under sanctions from the Ukrainian government.

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