Sustainability: ‘Balance and equality are the starting points’

Sustainability: ‘Balance and equality are the starting points’
Ann Waters, general manager of the Hook Lighthouse.

Ann Waters in conversation with Rita de Brún.

I started seriously caring about the environment a long time ago. My hubby and I were always socially conscious. I love to joke with him that we’re becoming hippies.

Sustainability is central and zero waste generation our goal. We’re becoming increasingly minimalist. We got rid of our TV. I’m always reminding people not to cut ditches for wildlife’s sake.

I’ve three daughters, and four grandchildren aged 7,6, 5 and 2. They built a bug hotel. Some are river swimmers. Two of my daughters are vegan, as are all the grandkids. Animal kindness drives that. I’ve been vegan for five years now and we’re fully vegan at home. Initially, it was difficult eating out. But not anymore, as there are so many options.

Friends’ attitudes have also changed. We used to be the subject of ‘plants have feelings too, you know’ jokes. But that’s gone now and people are increasingly telling us they’re meat-free for part of the week.

I used to be known as a terrible cook, but now I cook vegan, there’s no chance I’ll kill anyone with salmonella. Seriously, though, I’m delighted with the vegan diet. Some of my grandkids are nearly raw vegan and they’re as healthy as hell.

Vegan food’s cheap and a lot easier than most imagine. Before I cook or bake, I Google search: What’s an easy vegan recipe for …? It’s that easy. I feel connected to the earth. How could I be otherwise? I’m from the Hook Peninsula, born and bred.

I feel connected to the sea and beaches. No matter where we go, we never go far from those, even when the plan was to go up the mountains. I’ve been working at Hook Lighthouse for 18 years now. I’m pushing the sustainability drive there. A few years ago, I got a chef who grew up locally to help push those goals.

We changed our products to compostable and glass and applied for a BIM flag. We’ve great vegan food in our restaurant, and other options, too. For the planet’s sake, we buy as locally as possible and a seasonal menu is planned.

I think along community terms, because I was raised in, and lived in, one all my life. There’s high unemployment and rising social deprivation in our area. Hook Lighthouse benefits the community. Our Save our Seas endeavour teaches people via science bites, about the clouds, the sea, and the water cycle. It finishes with a suggestion to reduce, reuse, and recycle.

Blindboy is one who has helped drive positive change. His podcasts inspire me, as he’s so socially aware.. He’s a hero of mine. Change is needed. We need to ensure our goals are social goals. I’d like the idea of success to change, too. It can’t be all about big jobs and long hours.

Life’s not a practice run. Surely, success should mean we get to continue living on this beautiful blue planet?

We do what we can for the planet. Quitting fossil fuels is a tough one. Our house is old, with an open coal fire. Being a typical Irish house, damp and condensation are seasonal battles. I’ve a cousin who shoots and fishes. The way I look at it, he isn’t hoovering the ocean with a trawler and he’s not force-feeding chickens for slaughter.

For me, any sustainability drive starts with sustaining the self with fresh air, good food, and exercise, or at least making an effort to do that. How we sustain the world matters all the way through. Our sustainability goals should feed into community sustainability goals, which, in turn, should feed into planetary sustainability and, hopefully, getting that back on track.

Balance is important in every part of life. Balance and equality are the starting points. This is where sustainability comes from. To bring back balance, we need to get women having half the say on the planet. Men tend to be strivers, women nurturers. The planet needs nurturing. I’m in favour of political quotas and social justice, but not privatisation. Social goals must come first. We should be measuring by social, not economic, goals.

We can’t have continuous goals on a finite planet. We need more power to the people and balance in all things. I say to men: One day, you will pick up the planet and hand it back to us and say: ‘Can you fix this please?’ as if it were an old shirt button.

Until then, we will keep striving to help the planet.For me, with the kids gone, my husband and I plan on downsizing over the next 3-5 years or so. We’re looking at a combination of tiny house, van life, and sun-chasing. Total hippies both.

Guided tours at Hook Lighthouse are on offer 7 days a week, sharing with visitors one of the greatest stories on Ireland’s Ancient East, every half hour from 10am to 7pm. For further details or to book a tour call 051 397055 or see

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