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'It makes you proud to see': The 10th year of the Global Greening takes place this week - here's how it started

The annual initiative will take place in more than 50 countries this year.

Victoria Falls, one of hundreds of locations that will take part in this year's Global Greening initiative
Victoria Falls, one of hundreds of locations that will take part in this year's Global Greening initiative
Image: Tourism Ireland

ON THE SURFACE, a leopard statue in Kenya, a DC-3 plane in Hong Kong, and a street-skating event in Paris don’t have all that much in common.

If the group wasn’t bizarre enough already, it also includes a competition Finland, in which entrepreneurs stand waist-deep in the freezing Baltic Sea while pitching ideas to potential investors, Dragons’ Den style.

But they’re not randomly connected: each is linked by this year’s Global Greening, an initiative that sees locations and events around the world lit up green during the St Patrick’s period.

Over the years, the initiative has seen the likes of the Sydney Opera House, the London Eye and Christ the Redeemer statue in Brazil daubed in green light to promote Ireland.

So how did it all come about?

“Like a lot of great things, it kind of happened in a couple of different places independently,” Niall Gibbons, CEO of Tourism Ireland – which co-ordinates the initiatve every year – tells TheJournal.ie.

“Rodney Walshe arranged for the Sky Tower in Auckland in New Zealand to be lit up green for St Patrick’s Day in 2009.

“Then the following year, a lady called Órla Saul who was in our Sydney office and a lady called Donna Campbell made a local approach to have the Sydney Opera House lit up.

“It was so terrific when we saw the pictures afterwards… and I started to show it at various meetings around Ireland, where it got a huge emotional impact.

“You could feel the sense of inspiration in the room. Year after year it started to grow and capture the imagination at home.”

INTERCONTINENTAL ABU DHABI JOINS TOURISM IRELAND’S GLOBAL GREE The Intercontinental Hotel in Abu Dhabi, which is taking part in this year's Global Greening initiative Source: Tourism Ireland

This year, 425 sites in 53 different countries are set to take part, in what’s expected to be the biggest year for the initiative to date.

Famous buildings and sites in the likes of London, Paris, Hong Kong, Abu Dhabi, and Rio di Janeiro are among those that will go green this year.

And as can be expected when such a wide range of locations take part, a huge effort is involved in getting some of them over the line.

“You can’t take it for granted when you have something happen one year that it’ll happen the following year, and that you can come back every time,” Gibbons explains.

“There’s a very Irish approach to it, in that we’re really relying on a number of people to help us.

“The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade came on board, and we would never have got places like the Great Wall of China over the line if it wasn’t for the ambassador there.

“It’s the same in places like Mexico or Argentina, where Tourism Ireland wouldn’t have a presence. It can take years in terms of asking diplomatically.”

OPTUS STADIUM IN PERTH (AUSTRALIA) JOINS TOURISM IRELAND’S GLO Optus Stadium in Perth, Australia is another location joining the Global Greening this year Source: Tourism Ireland

Sometimes, Irish history plays a part too.

“If you look at the statue of Christ the Redeemer in Brazil, for example, we had to run that by the Archbishop of Rio di Janeiro,” Gibbons says.

“The pitch that got that over the line was the work that Irish missionaries did in Brazil over 100 years ago. That was nothing to do with tourism at all, but it’s all part of it.”

The mammoth effort goes into the ‘greening’ of so many locations around the world every year has proven almost invaluable.

Gibbons illustrates the value of the initiative when describing how a 30-second NBC television segment on the station’s nightly news ran coast to coast a number of years ago.

“If I was to buy an ad for that long on NBC, it would have cost me $2.5 million, so it’s priceless in terms of its PR value.”

Ultimately though, the success of the initiative is a testament to how keeping things simple can often work best.

“People identify green with Ireland,” Gibbons jokes. “If you take the likes of France or the UK, where the flags are red, white and blue, you’ve got three colours.

“The practicality for us is great!”

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