Sustainability: Esther Dobbin, Tourism Manager, Giant’s Causeway and Carrick-a-Rede

Provide a brief background on your organisation

Founded in 1895, the National Trust is Europe’s largest conservation charity and I am Responsible Tourism Manager for two of Northern Ireland’s premier must visit attractions, the Giant’s Causeway and Carrick-a-Rede.

Outline the reasons your company are working towards improving sustainability credentials

As a conservation charity we are dedicated to protecting special places for future generations. We recognize the Giant’s Causeway and Carrick-a-Rede are popular tourist attractions and as dedicated custodians, we need to make sure we are looking after them in a way that both people and nature can thrive.

List five things that your business had to adapt to become more sustainable.

1) Climate Change – tackling climate change is the most urgent threat to the special places we look after. We have committed that by 2021 we’ll make 50% of our energy from our own clean, renewable sources, and reduce our total energy consumption by 15%. A few examples of site specific changes: We have moved to electric site vehicles; the Giant’s Causeway Visitor Centre car park contains almost 5km of underground pipes to capture ground source heat; and rainwater is collected from its grass roof to flush the toilets within the centre.

2) Community – we want these sites to be visited and loved by local people. We have developed a Local Community Pass, which gives local communities free use of all facilities year round. We also support a number of community projects and open up the spaces out of hours for events that support local communities. In 2019 we undertook a major sustainability study and community engagement was at the heart of looking at how we move forward with operations at these 2 sites.

3) Reduced capacity – we manage the number of visitors on the sites at any one time in the areas we can, thus improving the Visitor Experience for all and limiting the impact on nature.

4) Collaboration – we want to really share the benefits of tourism in a way that celebrates the local knowledge that exists within the rural communities surrounding these special places. We have developed a range of Signature Experiences, all of which are collaborations with local businesses which allow visitors to engage on a deeper level with the places and the people who make them so special.

5) Retail/Food and beverage offer- we began building the local suppliers in our shop and we are very proud that now over 80 percent of the craft sold in our Visitor Centre is Made in Northern Ireland. We work with local suppliers to help ensure that the international visitors coming to these iconic sites are seeing a showcase of authentic local work and local produce. We want to celebrate the very best of what Northern Ireland has to offer and we see ourselves as having a responsibility to be a platform for smaller, local businesses.

Have you received an international recognised accreditation or are you working towards this and how do you think this will benefit the organisation in the future?

The Giant’s Causeway Visitor Centre has been classified as Excellent by BREEAM, the world’s leading design and assessment method for sustainable buildings. We are also greening our day-to-day operations, we work to an externally-accredited green standard which means continually improving our management of energy, water and waste.

What is your advice to a business aiming to improve their sustainability performance and work towards accreditation?

Tackling climate change is one of the top priorities of most businesses now. We all need to help mitigate the degree of change by reducing our own impact on the climate, as well as adapting to the impacts of the changing climate.

I would encourage all businesses to take a step back and look at their operations to see how your business could work differently to be more sustainable. It can be small things such as turning off lights, and big things, like cutting air travel for business.

Covid-19 has provided some valuable lessons to us all, such as: dealing with uncertainty, living and working in different ways and realising that change is possible and in quick timeframes. We all have an opportunity now to embrace change in a meaningful way and make choices that will positively benefit our one planet.