Carr Communications & the Irish Environmental Protection Agency

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The Organisation

Carr Communications are one of Ireland’s leading communications companies, dealing in an array of communication needs such as the media, public relations, and business and management training.

In terms of public relations, Carr Communications develop public affairs and public awareness campaigns to bring about positive change in Ireland, for example reducing road deaths and various environmental campaigns. They have developed highly specific expertise in influencing population attitude and behaviour change. 

The Challenge

Carr Communications' client, the Irish Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) had to deal with 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. Given the majority of drinking water in Ireland comes from surface water, protecting this resource from pollution is essential for public health, especially as most rural communities source their water from private wells. A nationwide registration scheme was created, requiring every household with a septic system to register, so that septic systems can start to be inspected over the coming years. The process has been regarded a great success, with a compliancy rate of around 90%. Therefore, understanding the compliance rate and motivations behind this compliance became important for future campaigns in this area that need to comply with the European Union’s Water Framework Directive.

In order to understand these behaviours, the EPA wanted to investigate further. “We were delighted when Carr Communications, through their connection with Lancaster University’s Environment Centre (LEC), proposed to us that a graduate student might examine some of the dynamics driving current behaviour,” explained Gerard O’Leary, Director, Office of Environmental Enforcement at the EPA.

Skills Sought

  • Market research
  • Data analysis and interpretation
  • Report writing 

The Solution

Michael Dennison, a student from LEC studying Environmental Management and Consultancy, student completed the research. Business development managers from Lancaster Environment Centre (LEC) and University College Dublin, introduced Michael to Carr Communications. The business development managers helped develop the initial scope of the project and supported Michael during his collaboration with Carr Communications, along with academic supervisor Dr Nigel Watson.

Using the initial connections provided by Carr Communications and the EPA, Michael conducted the field work for this study in County Kerry, carrying out interviews and focus groups with members of the public in that region.  

Michael explained, “My research was carried out within County Kerry, which had the highest compliancy rate when compared with any other county. The research 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.”


This transnational student placement 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.


Michael’s research reported results regarding awareness and ability to comply with this legislation, gaining insights into users’ perceptions of the importance of the registration procedure.

Michael also made suggestions and recommendations for how evidence from this campaign could be used in the future for other EU Water Framework Directive initiatives involving compliance measures.


To the Company

  • Better understanding of the user motivations for compliance
  • Recommendations for future campaign successes

To the Students

  • Gained an insight into a commercial business
  • Networking with stakeholders
  • Development of skills in a business environment
  • Experience of the real world application of market research
  • Report which formed the basis of an undergraduate degree dissertation

Company Feedback

“The results of Michael’s study 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.” Gerard O’Leary, Director, Office of Environmental Enforcement at the EPA.

Donal Cronin, Director of Carr Communications concluded, “We hope that this is the start of many future collaborations.”

Student Feedback

"This has been a very interesting and enlightening process. I feel the research reflects 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."