Future in Food – focus on sustainability


Sustainability is becoming increasingly important in the Food and Agri. industry, a sector which in Ireland accounts for 33% of annual GHG emissions. Future in Food is an annual conference exploring the latest developments in the Irish food and drink industry and featuring presentations on best practice from Irish food producers of all types and sizes. In 2016 the conference theme was sustainability.

The event opened with an address by Michael Creed, Minister for Agriculture, Food and Marine. The Minister began by stating that sustainability has never been more important. He suggested that it is now clear that energy efficiency and environmental management is linked to profitability.

He praised Bord Bia’s Origin Green marketing initiative, observing that it “offers sustainability branding for the industry; marks us 0ut as a country that takes this seriously”. He has noticed when attending trade fairs in Asia that marketers are interested in the sustainability of the food system. The Minister stressed the value of sharing information and pooling experiences, and noted that Origin Green recognises that companies are on “different stages of their sustainability journey”.

He also spoke of Brexit, citing it as the single biggest challenge for the agri business sector in Ireland and highlighting the volume of our exports to the UK.


 Minister Michael Creed speaks at Future in Food

The rest of the day consisted of a number of short presentations from individuals in the industry and a brief summary of each talk follows.

9.30am – Richard Alexander – Industrial Manager – Calor Ireland

Richard explained how Calor is bringing Biopropane bioLPG fuel – a byproduct of biodiesel manufacturing – into Ireland in partnership with Swiss company Neste. He noted that use of biofuel can result in up to 80% GHG emission reductions.

09.55am – Nigel McGuire – Director of Development – McDonalds Restaurants

After an outline of McDonald’s approach to sustainability, Nigel focused on meat production, and outlined some striking facts on Irish beef. Ireland is the largest producer of beef in the Northern hemisphere, and McDonalds is the largest single purchaser of that beef. 1 of every 5 burgers sold by McDonalds in Europe is from Ireland.

He also spoke of the targets the company has set under the Origin Green program, such as 100% of fleet by 2017 to be fueled by biodiesel from waste oil from its restaurants. He suggested that companies should not have a sustainability department, there should instead be a “culture of sustainability”.

Nigel then presented a video in which a farmer supported by McDonalds noted that the company encourages the ‘3 Es’ – food produced in an ethical, environmentally friendly and economically viable manner.

10.20am – John Durkan – Sustainability Manager – ABP Food Grp

John’s brief was what comes next after “doing more with less”. The sustainability program at ABP, Europe’s largest red meat processor, started off as a resource efficiency programme, but the company is now aiming to go beyond this to reduce total waste and food losses.

John also presented some  useful statistics on water use in agriculture, noting that it takes 16,000 litres of water to produce a kilo of beef, that 92% of all the world’s water is used in agriculture, and that 40% of the world’s population are water stressed. This is an area of big focus for ABP and the company has received the Gold standard from the European water stewardship programme.

John presented ABP’s 2020 targets (see below) and noted that the company has already achieved zero waste to landfill target. He explained that they have made their facilities carbon neutral through using biodiesel as fuel.


John Durkan of ABP Food Group

The company is also working with farms on a number of interesting initiatives, such as working with Genus to develop different breeds and strains of animals with better conversion ratios to beef.

In reponse to a question from the audience he suggested that we can meet the EU emissions targets through efficiency and significant investment in new technology. Measuring and monitoring was his mantra and he cited Origin Green as helpful in that regard.

11.15am – Eleanor Meade – Operations Manager – Meade Potato Company

Eleanor described how the Meade Potato Company used Bord Bia’s Origin Green program to engage with sustainability, suggesting that the progam has allowed them to formalise what they’re doing and helps them to set objectives. She observed that “Origin Green reformalises the process of what we do, challenges us to do more and helps us focus in on the key areas”.

She stressed that sustainability involves the whole supply chain, noting that lot of fruit product has to be imported so they are always thinking about carbon footprint. Eleanor cautioned that decisions sometimes “boil back to money – how much does this cost and is there a benefit for everyone involved?” However, she clarified that “if we spend a bit more initially we know we’ll get it back in the long term”.

She also discussed the importance of using the whole crop, and the issue of “visually impaired potatoes”. These are processed into chips, used as stock feed and donated through CrossCare (http://www.crosscarefoodbank.ie/). Eleanor highlighted the “Feeding the 5k” event in 2012 in which Meade Potatoes participanted, where 5,000 people in Dublin and Cork were given dinner made with visually impaired food (http://www.feeding5kdublin.org/). She also noted that retailers are now making an effort to market wonky fruit and veg, citing Woolworth’s (Australia) “Odd bunch” initiative (https://www.woolworths.com.au/Shop/Discover/our-brands/the-odd-bunch)

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“Wonky fruit and veg are gaining popularity” – the Odd Bunch

11.40am – Majella Kelleher – Energy Demand Manager – SEAI

Majella outlined SEAI business supports, with a particular focus on their EXEED certification programme for buildings. This helps organisations to build in energy efficiency at any point in the building process but particularly at the design stage when, she explained, it is most important.

12.00am – Keith Bonner – Sustainability Director – Irish Fish Canners

Irish Fish Canners packs Irish mackeral and herring for international markets. Keith began with the story of how they recently changed the size of their cans, helping them to reduce energy use and emissions. It is interesting to note that it took two and a half years to change the can size, illustrating the complexity of making product changes for sustainability. This helped them to reduce their carbon footprint by 20%. On the company’s Origin Green certification he commented that “at the start [of Origin Green] you think its a mountain to climb but once you start it makes you better”. This was echoed by a number of the SMEs presenting during the day.

12.20pm – Una Fitzgibbon – Director of Marketing Services – Origin Green

Úna took us through the development of the Origin Green program and Bord Bia’s plans for the future. She began by arguing that “the future of food is sustainability” and “embracing sustainability has assisted the growth of the industry”. She outlined her reasons to engage with sustainability in the slide below:


Una Fitzgibbon of Bord Bia outlines why business should engage with sustainability

Úna also explained that trade customers in the industry see sustainability as important to their busines, and Origin Green allows Ireland to work with these organisations. She suggested that the programme can be implemented in Ireland because the whole industry will work together in a small country.

Úna described Origin Green as a  “platform for communicating the sustainability credentials of the industry”. She said that these credentials are “currency, in demand from our trade customers. And in the future as millenials come down the line [sustainability] will be more in demand”. Bord Bia has evidence of trade customers extending contracts due to Origin Green and surveys at international trade fairs have estimated 30% awareness of Origin Green.

The program is currently being piloted out through services e.g. supermarkets and restaurants, and will soon move on to distribution. She noted that health and wellness is important to Origin Green and will be an emphasis going forward.

The long-term goal of Origin Green is to “build a sustainable food demonstration in Ireland”. Úna stated that “nation branding” is uniquely important to a small country like Ireland. Origin Green is “the opportunity to brand the country for its green credentials, not just its green image, through the delivery of real, green, evidence based data“.

1.45pm – John Curran – Head of Sustainability – Musgrave Group

Retail group Musgraves is the largest private sector employer in Ireland, employing over 35,000 people. John Curran explained how the company’s existing values as a family business align with sustainability e.g. taking a long-term view. The purpose of the business is to maintain it for future generations, which echoes the Brundtland definition of SD. He explained that for Musgraves, sustainable development requires that we see the world as a system; “things that happen in one time in one area have an impact on another time and another area”.

It was good to see a business engaging with the real issues of sustainability, as illustrated by this slide John presented.


John Curran, Musgrave Group

When revising their sustainability strategy in 2015 Musgraves looked to the SDGs and decided to focus on 9 goals, as illustrated in the figure below.Image result for musgrave sustainability

Musgrave Group’s strategy aligned to UN Sustainable Development Goals

2.10pm – Richard Keagan – FIEI Manager – Enterprise Ireland

Dr Keegan talked about lean management, which he dubbed “Operation Transformation for business”. He took us through Enterprise Ireland’s lean business offers (https://www.enterprise-ireland.com/en/productivity/lean-business-offer/).

2.30am – Mark Haughey – Sustainability Manager – Coca Cola (HBC)

Mark explained Coke’s sustainability policy and highlighted what the company has done in the areas of water, carbon and waste. With the help of the slide below he illustrated how the company has achieved zero waste in its Lisburn plant.


Mark Haughey from Coca-Cola

3.25pm – James Cherry – Grp. Environmental Manager – Greencore

James discussed energy management at Greencore, which he explained was catalysed by the UK ESOS initiative, which requires organisations to perform an energy audit but, oddly not to act on any of the issues identified. Starting from scratch the business has focused first on short term energy efficiency measures and will look at more long term renewable energy projects in the future.

3.45pm – Patrick Rooney – Managing Director – Derrycamma Farm

Derrycamma farm is a tillage farm producing rape seed oil. Patrick had some interesting insight into joining Origin Green as a small company. He noted that the key was tailoring the programme to fit the business. He also benefited from the help of LEAF in the UK, which helped Derrycamma focus on soil protection.

4.10pm – Birgitta Hedin-Curtin – Founder – Burren Smokehouse

The Burren Smokehouse is now a food tourism business as well as a food producer, attracting 45,000 visitors every year to its visitors centre. Birgitta noted that when they first heard of Origin Green they thought “do we need this, are we not sustainable already? But then we realised that this was an opportunity”. They also found the Burren Code of Practice helpful when applying for Origin Green certification. She suggested that when people are on holidays is the best time to get a sustainability message across to them.

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The Burren


Sustainability Gathering 2016

On Tuesday Sustainable Nation Ireland (http://sustainablenation.ie/) held the Sustainability Gathering, a one-day event in Dublin Castle bringing together industry and policy-makers and consisting of back-to-back panel discussions on business, investment and policy for sustainability. The event blurb stated that it was aimed to “discuss and showcase the many ways that Irish businesses can grab a share of the estimated €85 trillion which will be invested in global sustainability and resource efficiency by 2030″.

Four panels were held, bookended by an introduction and wrap-up. Stephen Nolan, CEO of Sustainable Nation Ireland, introduced the Gathering, observing that he hoped the day would provide some insight on how corporate Ireland can work with government to “show government the opportunities in this space”. He opened with some examples of Irish corporate engagement with sustainability:



He also highlighted the findings below from a recent KPMG survey that illustrates that 74% of Irish companies “recognise sustainability as important to business strategy”.


The next introductory speakers were Pat Cox, Chairman of the Sustainability Gathering and former President of the European Parliament, and John Mullins, Chairman of Sustainable Nation Ireland, who briefly discussed sustainability at a policy level. Pat Cox suggested that the Irish government must set GHG emissions targets in every sector, and develop actionable sector-specific plans. He noted that emissions in all sectors are going up and that we need to be mindful of the EU’s increasingly ambitious targets. His recommendation was “policy innovation” and he suggested that the government needs to open conversations with a range of actors, for example, talk to taxi drivers about switching to electric vehicles. We need “dialogue focused on deliverables, not diagnosis”.

They also considered the impact of the political situation in the US post-Trump. Pat Cox noted that not all industries in the US are committed to sustainability e.g. the motor industry, while John Mullins warned that corporate America will continue to lobby in its own interests.

This discussion was followed by four panels, all chaired by David Murphy of RTE. A brief summary of each panel follows below.

Panel 1: Providing a supportive policy framework, an insight

• Eamonn Confrey, Principal Officer Decarbonisation Unit, D/Communications,
Climate Action & the Environment
• Des O’Leary, Principal Officer Climate Finance, D/Finance
• Dr. John O’Neill, Principal Officer Climate Policy, D/Communications,
Climate Action & the Environment
• Declan Hughes, Assistant Secretary General Action Plan for Jobs,
D/Jobs, Enterprise & Innovation

This discussion featured four policymakers from three different governmental departments, and offered a fascinating insight into the government view on private and public sector collaboration.

Eamonn Confrey discussed electric vehicles, and suggested that the public sector can be an early adopter. He also noted the importance of giving certainty to investors, a theme that was picked up by a number of speakers during the morning.

Des O’Leary suggested that the private sector was a crucial driver of renewable energy, and John O’Neill agreed that government would like to engage more with the private sector. John drew our attention to the national climate change mitigation plan, which will be published for consultation in next few weeks. He suggested that climate policy is currently top-down, and that more engagement is needed at a regional level. He also suggested that innovation is required on adaptation as well as mitigation, noting that a new national adaptation plan will be published mid-2017.

Declan Hughes spoke of productivity, sustainability and resilience in agriculture and highlighted the role of ag. tech and ag. machinery. He noted that the industry is aiming for an increase in output with a decrease in input. He also stressed that the delivery of policies requires “ownership at a local level”, referring to the case of the proposed Apple data centre in Athenry (latest news here).

When it came to the audience Q&A environmental campaigner Duncan Stewart (of RTE’s Eco-Eye) said he was disappointed with the level of the discussion and suggested that there was no leadership coming from government, just “lack of action and lack of joined-up thinking”. He called for the establishement of a “high price on fossil fuels”. The panel responded that this would result in competitiveness issues for Ireland, and burden sharing in terms of tax. John O’Neill suggested that taxation is only one small element of policies that need to be changed and promised a range of issues in the forthcoming mitigation plan.

Panel 2: Mobilising Finance for a Sustainable, Low Carbon Economy

• Colin Hunt, Managing Director Wholesale & Institutional Banking, AIB
• Peter Cripps, Editor-in-Chief, Environmental Finance
• Helena Anderson, Head of Capital Investment, UK Department of
Trade & Investment
• Manus O’Donnell, CIO NTR Plc

The second panel focused on investment for sustainability, with insight on both lending to businesses and large-scale insitutional investment.

Peter Cripps suggested that investors are now relatively confident when it comes to solar and wind energy, and emphasised that it is “crucial to get institutional investors on board”. He has observed an increase in demand for more data from investors such as carbon footprinting for companies, and also a push back on carbon footprinting not being enough. Peter discussed the upcoming FSB guidance on climate-related risk (due on 14th December from the TCFD) and suggested that investors are concerned about the risk of overvaluation of fossil fuel-related assets, a point Manus O’Donnell also echoed. Peter Cripp also noted that new legislation in France on ESG reporting will come into effect next year (see here for info). He also drew our attention to the work of the Grantham Research Institute on carbon budgets (http://www.lse.ac.uk/GranthamInstitute/publications/).

Peter identified a number of trends related to sustainability and green investment:

  • Shareholder action becoming more common, as in the case of a number of mining companies
  • Green bond market – this is still tiny but has seen an explosion of interest. He highlighted Irish company Gaelectric as one to watch in this area.
  • Companies now reporting carbon emissions. Here he referred to the recent Carbon Disclosure Project report on Irish companies.

Later in the discussion, he proposed a couple of policy directions for Ireland. The first was the PACE housing scheme in the US, where energy efficiency upgrades are made to homes but the debt is attached to the home rather than the owner. Second was a Green Investment Bank as in the UK, which he suggests can help to make investors more comfortable with the riskiest stages of investment.

Helena Anderson gave us the UK perspective, arguing that Brexit will not effect the UK government’s investment in green finance. She suggested that institutional investors such as pension funds and insurance companies are becoming more comfortable with risk, and cautioned that “huge amounts of public funding crowd out the private sector”.

Colin Hunt of AIB noted that there is a capital gap in the early, more risky part of funding. He suggested that “financial innovation” is required. From his perspective it is government, not business that needs to be convinced to invest in sustainability, and he urged government to provide the regulatory framework. He highlighted this open letter from US companies to Donald Trump. He closed with the point that talk of a “Green IFSC (Irish Financial Services Centre) lacks credibility when Ireland is failing to meet its EU climate targets. In his view “we have a mountain to climb”.

Panel 3: Enterprise led, Solutions driven


• Jim Fitzharris, Group Secretary, Smurfit Kappa Group
• Tom Mitchell, Head of Ireland-U.K. (EU’s largest climate tech platform)
• Ronan Furlong, CEO Alpha Innovation, DCU

• Tom Mitchell, Director UK and Ireland, Climate-KIC

• Christine Boyle, CEO, Senergy Innovations

• Seemab Sheikh – Deputy Head of Mission, Embassy of Denmark in Ireland

Jim Fitzharris gave us an introduction to sustainability reporting at Smurfit Kappa, observing that the only way you know what you’re doing is to manage and report on it. He also said that he would like to corporate Ireland “upset the applecart” and really push renewable energy.

Seemab Sheik gave a fascinating insight into Danish economic and environmental policy. She said that their approach to sustainability began during the 1970s oil crisis, when they realised they could not be dependent on imported fuel. Denmark is now branded as “State of Green” and she explained that this branding allows them to bring all actors together. When asked later in the Q&A how government reacts if industry responds to new policies with “no, that’s too expensive”, she indicated that they simply explain to industry that they will lose out if they don’t adjust.

Image result for state of green denmark

Denmarks’ State of Green branding image

Tom Mitchell discussed the various initiatives Climate-KIC plans to bring to Ireland, including a green entrepreneurship education platform. He suggested that more regulation increases innovation, citing the EU emissions trading scheme as an example

Christine Boyle told the story of her company Senergy, which aims to provide low cost solar energy, giving an insight into the challenges of starting and growing a renewable energy business. Support is available from sources like DCU’s Alpha Innovation, which, as Ronan Furlong explained, has helped organisations such as Exergen get valuable EU funding. Ronan also observed that he is now seeing innovation at business process level as well as a technological level.

A brief interlude after the panel was the presentation of the Sustainable Business Leadership Award 2016 to Sean O’Driscoll, President of Glen Dimplex. In his short speech he suggested that energy efficiency and renewable energy must be developed in tandem. He called for the electricification of heat and transport and clear policies and strong regulations to make this happen. He indicated the the primary energy factor for electricity must be revised, as it is currently at a disadvantage compared to fossil fuels.

Panel 4: Positioned to Lead, Ireland’s opportunity

• Sean O’Driscoll, President Glen Dimplex
• Diarmaid Ferriter, Professor of Modern History UCD
• Sean Kidney, CEO Climate Bonds Initiative
• Fergal Leamy, CEO Coillte

In the final panel Diarmuid Ferriter spoke of the new political challenges presented by 2016. He observed that politics now faces many new and modern challenges such as climate change. He suggested that Ireland must champion a green agenda and push it to the best of our ability internationally, in a variety of different international fora. He also argued that climate change education should be compulsory in schools and that society must “get our heads around” the idea of climate-related taxes. Asked about the US situation, he commented that in Ireland we get an “east coast, liberal view” on the US; we don’t hear much about the “spectacular inequality” in the country (see the Guardian’s Anywhere but Washington series for some indication).

Continuing the US theme, Sean O’Driscoll suggested that the US will ignore the Paris climate change agreement and that “China will use it to get one up on the US”. He referred to the problem of “trapped assets in developed countries that industries will want to protect”, not such an issue in developing countries. On Brexit, he drew our attention to this ESRI report on the sector and product-specific impacts on Ireland.

Fergal Leamy discussed renewable energy, suggesting that it can be one of Ireland’s competitive advantages. However he also called for clearer policy, telling us that Coillte hesitated on investing in wind farms because of the lack of a planned policy framework.

The last word of the panel was left to Sean Kidney, from the NGO Climate Bonds Initiative. He began by outlining the reality of climate change, stating that “our future is currently unbelievably grim. 2degrees warming is the ambition. We are currently at 4degrees”. His advice was that “we need to bridge the gap between capital and deals”, suggesting that this is where financiers come in, and this is also where Ireland comes in with innovation. He also advised that the shift must be signaled from the top, at Prime Minister level.

The last speaker of the day was Jim Gannon, CEO of the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland (SEAI), who had some homework for the audience. He urged us to respond to public consultations on climate change action and to get our views across to policy makers:

“We need to lead by example. We all need to act and engage”.



Inspirefest 2016 Day 1

Today was the first day of Inspirefest, a two day conference in Dublin which describes itself as an “international festival of technology, science, design and the arts” (http://inspirefest.com/). The format is similar to a TEDx but more interactive: one stage hosts keynotes throughout the day and there are also panels and Q&A sessions. Then at 6pm everyone bundles into buses to the Inspirefest Fringe in Merrion Square for music, theatre and the interactive expo tent.

The official theme of the conference is STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Maths) with a focus on innovation and diversity. Most of the entrepreneurs, academics and executives speaking over the two days are women. Inspirefest is the brainchild of Ann O’Dea, founder of tech news website Silicon Republic (https://www.siliconrepublic.com/), who has championed women in technology, and the inagural festival was held last year. In opening the conference, she stressed the diversity of speakers – 70% are women and many are from very different backgrounds. She noted the richness and depth of conversation that diversity can bring, and encouraged attendees to look at the diversity on stage and think: “wouldn’t it be a good idea if that was the same in my organisation”.

Disclaimer: there were so many amazing speakers on the day and unfortunately I haven’t got the chance to mention them all, but hopefully the below gives an idea of what went on!


“The world needs curiosity, it needs understanding, it needs knowledge” – Enda Kenny opens Inspirefest

Taoiseach Enda Kenny gave the opening address, speaking of the importance of diversity and of supporting women in STEM. He stressed the role of the STEM careers program in secondary schools and noted that “the gendering of certain careers continues – STEM subjects are still seen by many girls as being for boys only”.


Education and diversity, and diversity in education, were the focus of much of the day, with speakers and panels on STEM and STEAM. In a panel discussion on “Building an Inclusive Education System in STEM”, Mark Ferguson, Director General of Science Foundation Ireland, raised the issue of quotas to increase the number of women applying for research funding. He and Chair Ann O’Dea agreed that without a level of positive discrimination, talented women will remain “hidden” in the system.  Good news came from Christine Loscher, Research Director at Dublin City University, who announced that DCU is renaming all of its buildings, and 50% will be named after women. She also highlighted that female students at third level need to see that other women hold key decision-making positions in the University, to know that “it’s possible”.

STEM career stereotypes also came up, with Mark Ferguson pointing to a survey which revealed that the number one factor for secondary school students when deciding what job they want is that they will “fit in”. Equally, parents want the same thing for their children. He suggested that we need to challenge the stereotype of a scientist as a man in a white coat with “slightly mad hair”, or, as Ann O’Dea pointed out, the idea many girls and young women have that they are “hopeless” at maths.


How do we get away from the “mad scientist” stereotype?

One woman who challenges those stereotypes is Zoe Philpott, who took the stage to talk about education in STEAM, and particularly her projects to link technology and the arts. Despite being told by a University tutor that she shouldn’t do coding because she was the “artistic type” and “a girl”, she immediately set up a dotcom on graduation. Since then she has worked in various creative ways to foster science education through technology and art, via projects including robots, crowd games and a collaborative event with the charity Girl Effect, which recreated for users the experience of a young women growing up living with poverty in Ethiopia. Her performance piece Ada.Ada.Ada., which takes its inspiration from Ada Lovelace, inventor of coding, will take place as part of the Inspirefest Fringe on the evening of Friday 1st July.

Adalovelace    Girl-Effect-Live-Walk-with-me

Ada.Ada.Ada. (left) and an installation from “Girl Effect live” (right)

Zoe also took part in a panel discussion on “STEAM: The Convergence of Tech and Arts”, along with Noel Murphy of Intel and Nora O’Murchu of the Interactive Design Centre in University of Limerick.  The panel considered the “productive convergence of Science, Technology and the Arts”, or what Ada Lovelace called “poetic science”. As Zoe Philpott explained, with the “triptych of arts, science and mathematics, you can come up with visions greater than what we see before us”. She also used the “stone soup” story (http://www.michaelppowers.com/prosperity/stonesoup.html) to illustrate that when working on interdisciplinary projects people can cut through discipline-specific jargon by concentrating on the task itself.

The panel also noted that, in Art-Industry collaborations, the artist must maintain authenticity within the corporate context. Nora O’Murchu gave a fascinating example of this in the form of the “Empathy Machine” created by artist Joanna Hopkins – http://www.joannahopkins.com/#!the-empathy-machine/c14u3. The artist created a pop-up booth with a virtual avatar that, in the style of a therapist, would ask anyone who entered how they were feeling. However, to illustrate that “technology is not the answer”, the Empathy Machine was deliberately flawed, the message being that what is most important is the well-being of society and the humane way we must look at the world. See more about Joanna Hopkins’ work here:


Throughout the day we heard from a number of social entrepreneurs and activists who are working to promote equality and diversity. Alexandra Bernadotte is the founder of Beyond 12 (http://www.beyond12.org/), an organisation which aims to increase the percentage of lower income students graduating from college in the US by supporting students at the intersection between school and college. She highlighted that in the US, only 8% of individuals from the lowest income quartile can expect to earn a Bachelor’s degree by their mid-twenties, compared to 82% in highest income quartile. Based on her experience of growing up in Haiti and ultimately graduating from Dartmouth and Stanford, she observed a considerable gap in the standard required at school and at University; schools were producing students that were “college eligible, but not college-ready”. Beyond 12 works at three levels, Track, Connect and Coach (see below). Alexandra stressed the role of technology in supporting a social enterprise; it allows Beyond 12 to “amplify” the work it is doing.


Beyond 12’s approch to bridging the gap between school and University for low-income students

Mid-morning featured several fascinating keynotes on “Change Through the Power of Social Media”. Lian Bell of Waking the Feminists (http://www.wakingthefeminists.org/) shared how she used social media to gain support for her campaign for equality and economic parity for all people working in theatre. Sinéad Burke, blogger and PhD student, (http://minniemelange.com/) explained how social media enabled her to bypass people judgement of her physical appearance. Frustrated with the media’s tendency to define women according to what they wear or who their partner is, she began to interview inspirational women on her blog. Sinéad has secured interviews with many famous women by promising that “I won’t ask you about your husband, your children, how you achieve a work-life balance and what you wear to work”.

How women are portrayed in the media was a thread taken up by Judith Williams, Global Head of Diversity at Dropbox. She drew our attention to unconscious bias; when we see someone who is “like us”, for example when reviewing a job application, we immediately get a good feeling and are more likely to hire them. Judith pointed out that, as recently as 2013, 83% of Google doodles featured men, who were chosen as significant contributors to science. Now that they have broadened the criteria to include people who contribute to society, the ratio is 50:50. Furthermore, as Alexandra Bernadotte also pointed out, diversity is not just about women. Judith Williams illustrated this point using the example of Louboutin “nude shoes”, which were recently made in a variety of colours after an employee pointed out that her legs were not beige.Google-Doodle

A diverse Google doodle


Nude, not beige, Louboutin shoes

Diversity at work was one of the afternoon’s unofficial themes. In a panel discussion on “Workplace Diversity and Inclusion”, Ellyn Schook of Accenture implored delegates to not only use our own voices to create change in our organisation, but also to listen to other people’s voices. She outlined how an Accenture employee was the catalyst for the company’s new policy of allowing parents – both mothers and fathers – to work from home for a year after birth or adoption. Judith Williams urged that we need to “be allies to people who are different from us”

In a panel discussion on Board Participation and Executive Leadership, Lauren States, Harvard Leadership Fellow, stressed that diversity, in bringing different perspectives to a problem, boosts innovation and competitiveness. Raju Narisetti, a Senior VP at NewsCorp, stressed that female representation at Executive level is a significant issue: more companies in the S&P 1500 have CEOs called John than CEOs who are women. Diversity has also been a focus for Enterprise Ireland, and CEO Julie Sinnamon explained that through their work, 22% of start-ups are now founded by women, compared to 7% before this work began. The panel agreed that there are not enough women at middle and top management level.

The focus on business continued with Katherine von Jan of Salesforce, who spoke of how people can maximise their potential at work. She suggested that “retention tactics” e.g. yoga at lunchtime, foosball tables,  which have become popular, particularly in tech companies, and are often much lauded, actually “create a mousetrap that holds you in the job you’ve outgrown, to keep things more efficient for the organisation”. These retention tactics, she argued, limit the potential of employees. Monica Parker, founder of HATCH, also spoke of job satisfaction, using her company’s research to illustrate that “we have created a culture that worships at the altar of overwork”. She also highlighted that a sense of community with the people we work with is essential for job satisfaction.

Inspirefest Fringe

Turning to the evening program, the Fringe festival in Merrion Square kicked off with ResearchFest, supported by the Irish Research Council and Science Foundation Ireland, where eight PhD students were given the opportunity/terrifying task of explaining their research in simple terms in three minutes, with (the caveat that strikes fear into the heart of every academic) NO SLIDES. All of the presentations were brilliant and the winner was Shauna Flynn of DCU, who used the analogy of lego blocks to explain how she is working on maximising the amount of transistors on a computer chip. Quite an achievement considering the actual title of her PhD is: “Plasma based surface nano-patterning of semiconductor materials using block copolymer lithography”.


The ResearchFest presenters – eventual winner Shauna Flynn fourth from right

This was followed by a performance by Echo Brown of her stunning play Black Virgins are not for Hispters (http://www.helloechobrown.com/). The play is far broader than the title suggests; it is a compelling story of race, gender, self-worth, inequality, and urban poverty, and received a standing ovation from the crowd. Finally, we were played out by  all-female Bray trio Wyvern Lingo. Come back tomorrow for Friday’s report, featuring Tech, Finance and more Fringe!


Wyvern Lingo on the Inspirefest Fringe stage


The bucolic surroundings of Dublin’s Merrion Square

Food Cloud and technology for good

Here’s some good news about how technology can be a force for social good, in the form of some case studies on apps “solving local problems”. It features an app that reunites refugees with their family, one that supports farmers in Botswana, and, amazingly, an app invented by 12-13 year old (yes!) schoolgirls in India that notifies neighbours when it’s their turn to collect water, thus avoiding time-consuming queues and allowing them to focus on their education


The article also features Irish social enterprise FoodCloud, which connects businesses with extra food to charities that need it. FoodCloud is currently competing in Virgin’s VOOM contest to win funding to grow its business; vote for it to win here:


Energy Show 2016

A few weeks ago the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland (SEAI) hosted the Energy Show, a two day renewable energy showcase incorporating seminars on topics such as energy efficiency for business, Ireland’s energy targets and SEAI’s energy research projects, along with a workshop on community energy. The show also gave energy providers and innovators a chance to show off their products, with some, such as electric cars and bicycles, available for attendees to try out.

The SEAI led several seminars which typically featured some of their own research, followed by a number of industry speakers. The first of these was a fascinating session on electric vehicles. The Irish government has set a target that 10% of all vehicles on the road by 2020 will be electric. To support this, an enhanced charging infrastructure will have to be put in place e.g. petrol stations would need 12 chargers, 11 standard and one “fast”. A proposed fee of €4.50 per slow charge and €9 per fast charge was mentioned. For more on electric cars, the following are good sources:

Energy show attendees could test drive both electric cars (smooth and quiet) and electric bikes (great for the wind and hills). Bikes were provided by Greenaer (http://www.greenaer.ie/)


Electric bicycles at the Energy Show


Car of the future – Tesla Model S with over 400km range

Another great SEAI presentation was on Ireland’s energy use, which covered energy sources, uses, trends and targets. Among the statistics quoted were that Ireland currently imports 85% of its energy, and that transport is the largest emittor of energy-related CO2. The SEAI has an excellent report, Energy in Ireland 1994 – 2014, available here:

Click to access Energy-in-Ireland-1990-2014.pdf

…and has also produced this nice infographic:


On Day 2 of the Energy Show, Friends of the Earth Ireland hosted a very well-attended workshop on community energy. This began with a presentation on EPISCOPE, a fascinating study of energy efficiency in northside Dublin housing stock (http://episcope.eu/monitoring/case-studies/ie-ireland/). It was noted that a deep retrofit of 75% of Ireland’s residential housing stock will be required to meet our 2050 energy efficiency targets.

Also presenting were the Tipperary Energy Agency (http://tippenergy.ie/) and the Energy Communities Tipperary Co-operative (https://energycommunities.wordpress.com/), who gave participants the benefit of their experience in setting up community energy projects. They suggested that co-ownership is key: it is better, for example, to have a small share in a large turbine than to have your own turbine. It was also noted that the difficult part is preparing projects for financing, rather than obtaining financing. Some useful resources for communities looking to set up their own energy projects were mentioned:

A different focus was provided later in the day by a session on energy efficiency for large businesses. We heard about the work of Jansen in partnership with the Cork Lower Harbour Energy Group (http://www.clheg.ie/), and Kingspan ESB, who are helping companies to use their office or factory roof as a “solar farm” (https://kingspanesb.com/about/). The latter’s representative stressed that there must be a “business case” for such initiatives: “everybody likes to be seen to be green, but the figures have to add up at the same time”.

Finally, SEAI gave a fascinating presentation on Irish consumer behaviour around energy use. Their extensive survey revealed four categories of consumer, as shown in the infographic below:

SEAI suggested that regulation will be needed to change the behaviour of the final group, the “disengaged”. In the meantime, lets hope that the thousands of visitors to the Energy Show came away inspired. SEAI also have a very interesting report on attitudes to energy use in business; read the PDF here:

Click to access Survey-of-Consumer-Behaviour-in-the-Commercial-Sector-in-the-Republic-of-Ireland.pdf

Oxfam “Behind the Brands”

(Source: Oxfam Behind the Brands report 2016)

Yesterday Oxfam launched the third of its annual “Behind the Brands” reports, which analyses supply chain practices in the world’s ten largest food and beverage companies. Unilever comes out on top with a score of 52/70, although the report suggests that the company could do more on women’s rights in its supply chain. Danone and Associated British Foods are joint bottom of the heap (25/70). Here’s the full report:

Click to access bp-journey-to-sustainable-food-btb-190416-en_1.pdf

And an article in GreenBiz about the report which looks at how the Oxfam campaign has influenced companies to change their supply chain practices:


UL Green Campus – Environ 2016

This year ENVIRON, the annual conference of the Environmental Science Association of Ireland (http://www.esaiweb.org/), is being hosted by the University of Limerick. On yesterday’s opening day, ULs Dr Colin Fitzpatrick facilitated a workshop on the University’s “Green Campus” journey. I’ve written about the background to Green Campus here before and this workshop was a fascinating chance to see how it can be implemented in practice.

UL was awarded the Green Flag in 2015, with three focus areas: Energy, Transport and Biodiversity. Dr Fitzpatrick observed that the University now uses its Green Flag status as a metric to attract students.

Student engagement has been key to Green Campus at UL, with many student-centred projects completed and links established with student societies and new and existing modules.

Some of the UL Green Campus initiatives have included:

  • Interdisciplinary module on Sustainable Development
  • Annual river clean-up facilitated by the UL Kayak Club
  • “Power-off” weekends overseen by the Energy Manager
  • Reserved car pooling spaces on campus (two staff parking permits must be displayed in the car)
  • UL Habitats Map
  • UL Trails App
  • Fauna and Flora Guide
  • Fleet bikes for staff
  • Annual Limerick cycle tour
  • Free “bike doctor” on campus every Tuesday
  • Pocket guide to cycle routes

Dr Fitzpatrick followed his talk with a tour of some of the Green Campus “sites” around UL, including the community garden, electric car charge points (see pics below), the apiary and the secure bike storage areas which encourage cycling. Lots of ideas not just for Universities but for businesses.

The session concluded with a talk from Maura Lyons of Leave no Trace Ireland, an “outdoor ethics” education organisation (http://www.leavenotraceireland.org/). Its seven principles look like a good fit with Green Campus and could be an extremely useful tool for student engagement.

UL Green Campus has a great, regularly updated blog at http://ulgreencampus.com/


UL community roof garden


Electric car charge point in UL

The New Bottom Line

The Guardian’s excellent Sustainable Business site recently started a new series which it’s calling the “New Bottom Line”, with the tag line “the business case for investing in social and environmental change”.

Most of the articles are the usual positive business case rhetoric, but there’s also this interesting piece on Best Buy’s recycling scheme, which shows that the business case isn’t always straightforward. The company started encouraging customers to recycle their old electronic goods with them – for free – in 2009, but has found that the project is not financially sustainable in the long-term. So now it is charging customers $25 for each TV and computer monitor they bring in, with all other goods remaining free. The mechanics of the story and how the company dealt with the problems it encountered are detailed in the article here:


Image 04



Green Campus

Green Campus is an initiative which aims to “enhance sustainability” in third level education institutions in Ireland. Run by An Taisce, a largely government-funded NGO equivalent to the UK’s National Trust, the program is an extension of the Green Schools environmental education program, in turn an offshoot of the global Eco-Schools program run by the Foundation for Environmental Education (http://www.fee.global/).

Like schools, third level institutions can now apply for Green Campus accreditation marked by a “Green Flag”. To achieve accreditation, institutions must complete a seven-step process, which includes setting up a Green Campus committee and integrating sustainability into courses and modules. Green Flag institutions in Ireland included Dublin City University (http://www.dcu.ie/ocoo/sustainability/sustainable-campus.shtml), University of Limerick (http://ulgreencampus.com/) and Cork University Hospital.

Yesterday Green Campus held its annual network meeting in Dublin, where particpants from third level institutions around Ireland gathered to hear seminars on existing projects and participate in workshops to discuss new ideas for sustainability initiatives on campuses.

Speakers presented on topics as diverse as energy management, biodiversity, green healthcare and sustainable marine management. Particularly interesting from a business perspective was the presentation by Edward Murphy, Sustainable Environment Officer at Cork University Hospital, who provided a fascinating insight into the process of applying sustainability at an organisational level. He stressed the importance of top management engagement, observing that “we need to be able to influence the people who make the decisions and the people who hold the purse strings”. Some of the initiatives at CUH that help to keep the organisation focused on sustainability are “green advocates” in each department, benchmarks, rewards and frequently introducing new ideas. More information on sustainability in healthcare is available at greenhealthcare.ie and hse.ie/sustainability.

Later in the morning, Dr Yvonne Ryan and Prof. Richard Moles of the Centre for Environmental Research in the University of Limerick (http://www3.ul.ie/~cer/) outlined their plans for a comprehensive two-year study on “the role of a sustainable third level campus in communities”, which has received funding from the Environmental Protection Agency. Prof. Moles outlined their ambition to make UL an exporter of energy and an organic farm, and highlighted the opportunity to bring about “significant behaviour change” in students. Dr Ryan then outlined some of the common challenges of applying sustainability to universities, such as an “action/awareness gap”, technological solutions, systemic integration and the diversity of actors required.

Further information on Green Campus is available below, with a report on and videos from the network meeting to be posted shortly:



Corporate guff awards 2015

Here’s a fun piece by Lucy Kellaway that appeared in the Financial Times and the Irish Times this week, where she highlights her favourite management nonsense-speak of 2015. For example, we have the (unnamed) big oil company that announced its plans to ventilate, rather than fire, some of its staff. My favourite, though is probably the job title given by McKinsey to some of its consultants, namely its “Master Experts”. As Kellaway puts it “the tautology no doubt a ploy to soften up the client as a prelude to charging twice the normal rate”.