Irish business leaders highlight sustainability in new initiative

The CEOs of a host of Irish companies officially launched ‘The Leaders’ Group on Sustainability’ last Friday (May 18).

The group is a business coalition “dedicated to addressing the most pressing sustainability priorities – as well as future opportunities for Ireland”, organisers claim.

Business in the Community Ireland (BITCI), the national network for sustainability, has convened 26 companies, representing a workforce of over 90,000 people in Ireland, to work collaboratively to address social, environmental and economic priorities.

One of the first actions announced by the group is the ‘Low Carbon Pledge’ – this is a dedicated public commitment, generated by Irish business, to take the lead on the transition to a low-carbon economy and reduce scope 1 and 2 carbon emissions intensity by 50% by 2030.

CEOs from companies including: Dawn Meats; Bank of Ireland; EirGrid; ESB; Fujitsu; Janssen; M&S; Musgrave; PwC; and Vodafone are calling on business leaders to make sustainability a central priority of their leadership.

They are also called on to promote a low-carbon vision across all operations, products and services to help Ireland achieve its international commitments under the Paris Climate Agreement.

The companies involved with the Leaders’ Group on Sustainability have all achieved BITCI’s Business Working Responsibly Mark, the NSAI-audited standard for CSR and sustainability.

Tomas Sercovich, CEO of Business in the Community Ireland, said: “The global Business and Sustainable Development Commission has identified $12 trillion (€10.2 trillion) in economic opportunity for the low-carbon and inclusive economy and this needs to be embraced by Irish businesses.

“We must adopt a long-term view of our business models to achieve this,” he said.

In addition to addressing the transformation to a low-carbon economy, the ‘Leaders’ Group on Sustainability’ is also working together to remove barriers to social inclusion in Ireland by examining how Irish businesses can improve their processes and cultures to train, attract and retain marginalised and vulnerable people.

The group has also identified the need for businesses to adapt to emerging work practices that will transform Irish industry – such as the gig economy, contract work and automation – to ensure changes benefit employee, employer and society as a whole.

Aidan Skelly, interim CEO, EirGrid and lead for the Low Carbon sub-group said: “The Low Carbon Pledge is an important step for the group.

As business leaders, we must rise to the climate challenge and be accountable for our actions.

“We believe we will have a greater impact on sustainability through sharing best practice, pooling resources and exchanging data.”

Sinead Patton, chief finance and commercial officer at Veolia and lead for the Social Cohesion sub-group, said: “We will seek to make employability equal for all, helping individuals affected by social inequality, and providing the leadership required to encourage other companies to follow suit.

Our approach reflects a belief that a good working society is beneficial both for social cohesion and for business.

Alastair Blair, country managing director at Accenture in Ireland and lead for the Worker of the Future sub-group, said: “The nature of work is changing and there is a growing emphasis on more flexible and agile work practices, as well as collaboration between humans and machines.

“We will examine ways of ensuring the workforce in a new economy will have balanced benefits for business, society and the individual.”

The Leaders’ Group on Sustainability meets regularly to discuss best practice and to review progress on its stated aims.

UCD is the knowledge partner for the group and will provide ongoing research support to help develop and refine the sustainability goals.