• Aoife Cannon
  • 3 min read

Aoife Cannon, Schools Programme Manager at SEAI shares her experience of being a judge at the Young Environmentalists Awards

It was almost 4pm when they filed into the judges’ room, all six of them decked out in their TY (Transition Year) Class of ’24 hoodies.   

While chatting quietly among themselves they attached a memory stick to the laptop and up popped their presentation.   

These students from Pobal Scoil Neasain or PSN for short, were the last team of the day to present at the Eco Den semi-finals of the Young Environmentalists Awards (YEA). 

The YEA is an all-Ireland environmental awards programme that recognises and rewards young people who raise environmental awareness and improve the environment.   

The YEA is affiliated with ECO-UNESCO, Ireland’s Environmental Education and Youth Organisation that works to conserve the environment and empower young people, which is an initiative from UNESCO, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, whose aim is to promote knowledge sharing worldwide. 

Elaine and her colleagues who organise the YEA asked SEAI to judge at the Eco Dens – a perk of being a sponsor of the Energy Category at the Awards.  And so, myself and the other Awards judges on the panel heard what sustainability and environmental endeavours Pobal Scoil Neasain had undertaken over the past few months. 

“We realised our waste management system needed improving, big time. So we did a map of the whole school, the number of bins, where they were, what was in them” starts one of the pupils, called Dahlia. 

PSN Pupils mapping out their school's waste management system for the YEAs

Another pupil, Hannah Mae, adds “we’re planning a clothes swap – tackling the fast fashion issue in our school while also raising money for new recycling bins”.

Now it’s Archie’s turn and he tells us about their Pocket Forest, a mini native forest about the size of two car parking spaces.  A montage of photos and creative artwork helped us to picture this small plot of biodiverse heaven in a suburban school yard on the northside of Dublin city. 

Their teacher waited patiently outside the judging room.  All the judges commended the students for their project and hard work, but their teacher, Ms Kathy Banks, who teaches Geography and CSPE (Civil, Social and Political Education), deserves it in equal measure, if not more.  It was clear these young people had her unwavering support throughout their YEA journey, from the start of this academic year. 

I wasn’t surprised to see Pobal Scoil Neasain involved in an environmental project.  This school has long been committed to sustainability and improving the environmental credentials of the whole school community.  And, as often is the case, it’s down to a few passionate teachers who mentor and encourage students, attend SEAI training courses and report their energy use annually.   

All of which led to Pobal Scoil Neasain receiving a significant energy upgrade from SEAI and the Department of Education in 2019.  

PSN Pupils presenting at the YEAs

Back in the judging room it’s quiet now that the students are all homeward bound. We sit back and reflect on a day that lifted our spirits and gave us hope for the future. 

The students who presented at the Eco Den are just one example of the young people who are taking the climate and biodiversity crisis seriously and who are imagining new ideas to help transcend the systemic problems and barriers we are facing with taking climate action.