Our Year of Hope Vol. 4 - Understory

Mar 11, 2024

We are delighted to present the fourth volume in our "Year of Hope" 2024 blog series.

At FSG, we have decided to focus our energy and efforts into spotlighting small, community driven sustainability projects from anywhere in the world that are operating on a grass roots level.

The world of sustainability itself can often be perceived as a minefield. From the enormity of the climate crisis, CSRD regulations and measuring carbon emissions, the efforts being made on the field by individuals or groups can often get overshadowed.

However, we always say at FSG, that small actions do count, especially when being carried out by many. This blog series will endeavor to highlight those people or communities who are driving REAL action.

We hope their stories inspire you, and more importantly that they spark hope.

Our fourth Story of Hope - is shining a spotlight on Understory - an environmental education and zero-waste organisation founded by Alex Konieczka.

"Understory was founded to provide you with a solution to one of the biggest global problems that is biodiversity loss, as a result of the make and waste model. Understory uses reclaimed materials to create sustainable zero waste products, designed to strengthen your connection to nature and help biodiversity. There is no such thing as waste in nature."

For the FSG team, Alex's story inspires as well as motivates you to push forward with new ideas and when you see there is an urgent need amongst society for something - stick to your ethics and go for it! Read her story for yourself below...



💡 Give us a brief description of yourself, who you are, what makes you tick? 

My name is Alex Konieczka, I'm the founder of Understory, as well as an ecologist, educator, youth worker, zero-waste artist and project manager. I have many years' experience of making an impact in charities, youth organisations, third level institutions, businesses and communities. I now work in community development and environmental education and dabble in zero-waste art and craft. 

My heritage and lifelong passion for ecology and experience in sustainability makes me super driven to respond to the current need for education, upskilling and capacity building in the area of climate resilience and biodiversity action. People in Ireland and all over the world are increasingly impacted and anxious about climate change however there are so many solutions and actions we can all take. I love connecting with people and helping them become confident stewards of the environment.


💡 Tell us what your project is.

Understory  is an environmental education and zero-waste organisation founded in 2020. It operates as a not-for-profit social and circular enterprise, working with thousands of people of all ages and backgrounds, to foster positive attitudes towards sustainability, to strengthen nature connections and empower all, to become climate and biodiversity action leaders in their communities.

We love offering high quality, tailored and interactive workshops, courses, community development initiatives, consultancy and project management. Understory is proud to operate using a zero-waste and circular model, meaning that only waste and sustainable materials are used in workshops and making of products.


💡 What motivated you to start this project?

It started as a rebellion against the make and waste model through the making of products out of waste that benefit biodiversity. Understory seeks to meet the pressing demand for environmental education and support, prompted by escalating concerns about climate change. Recent surveys indicate that a significant majority of adults and young people in Ireland express deep concern regarding the implications of climate change. Recognising the urgent need to address these concerns, Understory is committed to educating and empowering communities to become more resilient in the face of climate change and Just Transition and fostering a stronger connection to nature, particularly within marginalised groups such as asylum seekers, refugees, early school leavers and residents of disadvantaged areas.



💡 What results have you achieved to date?

Understory has a rich history of effectively engaging children as young as 4 and adults as young as 80+, across a spectrum of environments, including schools, youth centers, festivals, exhibitions, libraries and community centers. At Understory, creative engagement, hands-on and experiential learning lies at the heart of our approach. Our methodologies encompass a spectrum of activities, including circular crafts workshops, theater and drama endeavors, outdoor explorations, gardening initiatives, citizen science projects, and gamification.

Our collaborative efforts with esteemed partners have yielded impactful experiences that resonate deeply with participants. Through our partnership with Youth Theatre Ireland, we delivered educational activities and upskilling using theater, drama, research and gamification to over 120 young people, from youth theaters nationwide. The Catching Raindrops project saw the installation of rainwater retention planters and water butts in a flood-prone area and the Joy of Bats Project trained citizens in bat ecology and bat surveying in our ever changing landscape. These endeavors underscored our dedication to reaching diverse audiences and fostering environmental stewardship. As we also use waste to make products that benefit biodiversity, our customers contribute to biodiversity conservation by installing nest boxes for solitary bees and bats, providing safe habitats for wildlife and adapting zero-waste and sustainable practices. 

Understory has already played a vital role in promoting environmental protection, sustainable development, and improving the quality of life of individuals and communities by increasing water access, reducing flooding, improving biodiversity, reducing waste, minimising carbon footprints, creating a community group and support network, carrying out litter picking, reducing exclusion to participation and improving wellbeing through nature connection.


💡 What have been the benefits and challenges of the project?

The main challenge is that there isn't enough time in to do everything I'd like to do!  Although the team is just me doing what I can, I wouldn't be able to continue without the incredible partnerships, participants, customers and social media community who engage with Understory. I'd love to be able to grow the team more in the future. The upside of having your own business is that you learn so many varied skills, from teaching, developing courses and workshops, creating the website, marketing to managing projects and providing consultancy services. It's never boring! 


💡 What would your main piece of advice be for other people looking to start projects to protect people or the planet?

Check in with your values and what matters most to you. Choose something that gets you excited and is personal to you to make sure you stay committed. There will be times when climate anxiety might creep in, so it's important to look after yourself first too.


💡 What gives you hope?

The millions of people who continue to share kindness, selflessness and vulnerability with those around them. The global community to do good things is strong and we need to support each other to make the world a better place.

You can find out more about Understory on www.understory.ie and @understory_ie on social media.


If you want to follow Our Year of Hope series sign up to our blog HERE

And if you want to learn more about sustainability for your personal life or for your workplace/ career please book a discovery call with one of our experts HERE 

Thank you for reading today.

The FSG Team. 💚


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