The Irish Environmental Protection Agency seeks to recreate success

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The Organisation

Carr Communications

As one of Ireland’s longest-running communications companies, Carr Communications has become a household brand name for media, public relations, communications, and business/management training and development. In terms of public relations, Carr Communications develop public affairs and public awareness campaigns to bring about positive change in Ireland, for example by reducing road deaths and various environmental campaigns.

Environment Protection Agency

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is at the front line of environmental protection and regulatory enforcement. They ensure that Ireland's environment is protected, and they monitor changes in environmental trends to detect early warning signs of neglect or deterioration.

The Challenge

In 2012 the EPA had to deal with one very specific issue, domestic septic tank systems. Around a third of all Irish homes rely upon septic systems, which when not properly maintained, pose a threat to ground and surface water; from which the majority of drinking water in Ireland comes from.  As a result, a nationwide registration scheme was created requiring every household with a septic system to register. This was developed so that septic systems can start to be inspected over the coming years. Data revealed that national compliancy rates were around 90%, and the process was regarded as a great success for the country. In order to understand and assess these behaviours, and to influence attitudes towards water in the coming five years, the EPA wanted to investigate further.

Skills Sought

  • Experience in conducting interviews
  • Research proficiency

The Solution

Michael Dennison, an MA Environmental Management and Consultancy student, completed the research. Michael’s placement with Carr Communications Limited was set up by Lancaster Environment Centre’s enterprise team through the Knowledge Acceleration Responsible Innovation Meta Network (KARIM)’s international student exchange programme, and was supervised by LEC’s Dr Nigel Watson.

The KARIM project is developing a network of more than 500 innovation members from universities, innovation agencies and businesses to create a more competitive Europe through sharing expertise.

Michael explained, “My research was carried out within County Kerry, which had the highest compliancy rate when compared with any other county. The research involved a broadcast on Radio Kerry and interviews with a variety of local populations, and established that extensive forms of communication through media, support from the local council, low registration fees and the possibility of a fine for non-compliance, were the principal factors responsible for the high compliancy rates.”


The project was supported through KARIM.  KARIM, the Knowledge Acceleration and Responsible Innovation Meta-network, is a project funded by the European Union. The aim of this project was to build a network for SME’s, University partners and other 'innovation actors' across NW Europe and by so doing to help boost the competitiveness of innovative SME’s in this region.


The findings of Michael’s research are valuable for future communication on water issues as well as other communications more widely, through assessing what makes people compliant or non-compliant. Understanding people’s motivations allows for more targeted and effective communication in the future.

Benefits to the company

  • Helped them to understand why the previous registration scheme was so successful
  • Shaped their future communication on water issues to be more effective

Benefits to the university

  • The KARIM collaboration allowed the development of a partnership with the Irish EPA

Benefits to society

  • Increased public awareness and engagement with water issues

Company Feedback

“This research project examined an area of great interest – the reasons for people’s compliant and non-compliant behaviours on an issue of environmental importance.  The more we understand of people’s motivations – why they do and don’t engage on particular issues – the better we can target our communication on this and on other issues of public importance, whether environmental issues, health, road safety, or education. We hope that this is the start of many future collaborations,” Donal Cronin, Director of Carr Communications.

“The results of Michael’s study will undoubtedly increase the understanding of these behaviours and will be important for the wider communication work on water, which will be undertaken here in the coming years. We are very pleased with this collaboration and the opportunity to build a link with Lancaster University’s expertise and facilities through a post grad student project,” Gerard O’Leary, Director, Office of Environmental Enforcement at the EPA, Ireland.

Researcher Feedback

“This has been a very interesting and enlightening process, I feel the research reflects this and the aims of the study very well, and that there are constructive recommendations that can be used by Carr and the EPA, which has improved my professional development for the future. The process has also made me more critical and analytical of research. Overall I have gained new skills and learnt much more about environmental management than I could have done in a desk based study. I highly recommend students to conduct a research project with a company.”

“Working with Carr Communications and the EPA has been a great experience as it has allowed me to work on an important and current topic,” Michael Dennison, MA Environmental Management and Consultancy.