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Takeaways from The Business Show’s Sustainability Summit 2021 Morning Sessions

By Business & Finance
23 September 2021

The Business Show Sustainability Summit debuted yesterday, Wednesday 22nd September, to an attentive international audience. Across two stages, some of the world’s most influential environmental speakers debated the severity of climate change, from extreme weather events and trends to the latest warning issued by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and how this will have catastrophic impacts on businesses, society and individuals.

Host Sarah Freeman, Managing Editor for Business & Finance Media Group, started off proceedings by welcoming the audience to the Sustainability Summit, part of The Business Show content series. She described how The Business Show was launched in 2020 with the aim of supporting industries through the unknown landscape that lay ahead. 

“We began by providing expert advice on the best strategies for surviving — and thriving — through  economic uncertainty and today, we’re coming together uniting companies and industries, to focus on  sustainable business and Action the Change together. This is our opportunity to explore and share solutions so that we can all make a positive impact on our future and enable the path to net zero carbon.”

She welcomed the event Founding Partner, An Post, who she described as leading the change in Ireland and creating a healthy environment in which communities can thrive for generations. She also thanked partners Deloitte Ireland, Ibec, Schneider Electric, Bord Gais Energy, Energia, DPD Ireland, HP Inc., OneTrust, Skillnet Ireland, Emovis, IMR, Vyra, Native Events, Common Purpose, Sustainable Business Magazine, Ecomogul Magazine and Business & Finance Magazine.

The Summit is available to view on demand here. Below are takeaways from the morning sessions.


The Sustainability Summit began on the Reshape Stage with Eamon Ryan, Minister for Environment, Climate and Communications & Minister for Transport speaking with Jennifer Duggan, Editor, Time in a fireside entitled, ‘The Path to Net Zero, what industry needs to know from a Regulatory standpoint’. They discussed the Lowering of carbon emissions and the activity across the EU that will ultimately come into effect in Ireland. They also looked at regulations coming down the line that industry needs to be aware of in order to adapt.

Minister Ryan said: “We often think in the big planetary and global context, but we also need to bring it back home and I think COVID all brought it back home in a way” 

He was asked whether Ireland’s Climate Action Bill, which commits to Ireland becoming carbon neutral by 2050 , is sufficient. He responded:

“We can and could go quicker. I think the wording is always, ‘at the latest,’ ‘at least’. We don’t look to set a limit on ambition. The timing was done on the back of recommendations and science contained within the Paris Climate Agreement,” adding, “It’s no small challenge. It’s never been done before. It’s a huge challenge ahead of us but it’s one that will create a better economy, will give us better security, that will help the biodiversity and pollution crisis that we also have to address.”

Minister Ryan said that the country’s targets are right but that the focus now needs to be on action.

“If I was to focus on one thing now it would be the implementation and the urgency of making the halving of emissions in this decade and then we’ll be in a better position to see if we can ramp up further.”

He also touched on the role business will play, saying: “Business has a critical role in delivering and in being part of the iterative learning process. A lot of business communities are already aware of this and I’d say ahead of the game in some ways.

“If you can see the world changing and you can see the climate related weather disasters, they know their customers are going to be demanding this in the coming years.” He concluded, “All sectors will have responsibility, no sector will be exempt.”

Next, Sir David King, Emeritus Professor of Chemistry, University of Cambridge, & Founder and Chair, Centre for Climate Repair, spoke with Pernilla Strid, journalist with Aktuell Hållbarhet in a fireside on the theme of ‘The Need For Climate Repair’. 

Sir David King discussed the required global response to the recent report of the IPCC as set out in the most recent report of the Climate Crisis Advisory Group which demonstrated the need to shift focus beyond net zero Carbon emissions. This group, which he chairs, is composed of 14 leading climate experts from around the world. The response, to take us on a pathway to a manageable future, is: (i) deep and rapid emissions reduction; (ii) removal of excess greenhouse gases already in the atmosphere; and (iii) repairing those parts of the climate system that are already close to or past their tipping points. 

He said:

“At the current level of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, we are already on an unsustainable pathway for our human civilization going forward” and noted that humanity had already gone past the point ‘where tipping points are being passed.’

When asked whether certain initiatives might reduce the impetus for change, he responded, “I still feel the initial focus needs to remain on reducing emissions….we need to reduce them much faster than any country is currently doing.”

Kate Williams, CEO of @1% of the Planet, gave a discussed Environmental Philanthropy as a Business Strategy.

She took a novel approach to getting the audience engaged. 

“Close your eyes and think about the time you gave the perfect gift. How did that feel? What was it that made it the perfect gift? How did that feel? I’m guessing pretty good…giving often feels better than receiving.”

She then asked the audience to think about their own businesses and what gift they could bestow on the recipient, planet earth. 

She spoke about the very low contributions made to environmental philanthropy in the US, saying, “Only 3% of total philanthropy goes to the environment. So whether you care about oceans, whether you feel the impending environmental crisis, 3% is just not enough. We can all agree, I think, on that. The planet sustains all life.”

Then, Mary Robinson, Adjunct Professor for Climate Justice Trinity College Dublin & Chair, The Elders & Former President of Ireland (1990-1997) spoke with moderator Sunita Narain, Director General, Centre for Science and Environment on the theme, ‘Moving Towards A Net-Zero Society.’

Mary said: “Collective behaviour is going to have to change dramatically if we are going to have a safe world. Consumerism, the buying and throwing away, that has to change!” 

Sunita asked Mary about the idea that climate change is how the atmosphere is shared equally with rich and poor. Mary responded: “I’ve identified about 5 layers of injustice, namely that Climate change has disproportionately affected poorer people and nations, within that there’s the gender injustice, then intergenerational injustice.”

She said the fourth injustice was the different pathways to development whereby industrial countries built their economies on fossil fuel but developing countries need to bring their people out of poverty whereby training, skills, funding and IP is needed. The fifth injustice is ‘to nature herself, the extinction of species, the destruction of biodiversity.’

She spoke about the extreme weather events currently taking place in the northern hemisphere. 

“Now, the rich world is being hit but it’s taken that for people to understand how urgent the problem is.”

She spoke about how awareness of climate injustice has grown exponentially in a short space of time. “I was president of Ireland from 1990 to 1997. I never made one single speech on climate change. It wasn’t something that was affecting our country.”

She said it wasn’t until she went to African countries to do human rights work that she saw the injustice of the impacts of climate change, concluding, “That was my lens.”

Next up, a panel of experts spoke with moderator Megan Best from Native Events on the theme, ‘Forging a Pathway to a More Sustainable Future’.

Dr. Craig Bullock from Optimize noted the amount spent on biodiversity per annum and said it was important to look at the impact and effectiveness of that spend.  

Alison Tickell from Julies Bicycle said that stakeholders needed to be working together within a comprehensive policy framework that includes all relevant aspects e.g. supply chains. 

Paul Murphy from Climeaction noted that climate action is a complex space, with few companies able to bring a full solution to businesses who want to take climate action. He said, “We’re bringing together all of the individual consultancies who are working to form a large team to take on the full challenges of climate action.” 

Norman Crowley, CEO of Cool Planet Group & Studio AVA spoke with Dara Connolly, CEO, Common Purpose about Embedding A Culture Of Climate Change. 

Norman said, “It’s classic carrot and stick. The stick is regulation. The price of carbon in Europe is rising all the time. Legislation is tightening in every European country and around the world. Where you have big corporations in those countries they need to abide by regulation so that forces change. The stick is starting to work. 

“The carrot is money, cost reduction. If you go green, you can reduce cost. You need a combination of both carrot and stick. Now for the first time we’re starting to see that. 

Next up was Nabil Ahmed, Founder INTERPRTand Dorothy Grace Guerrero, Head of Policy and Advocacy Global Justice Nowspeaking with moderator Joan Mulvihill, Digitalisation Lead, Siemens about Climate Discussions and Decision Making Processes. 

Dorothy described climate change as a development and economic issue and asked what she described as a key question, namely how corporations can be more responsible instead of more powerful. 

Nabil spoke about Grasberg, a mine in Indonesia that produces what he described as the world’s cheapest copper. He said that the indigenous people had consistently suffered at the hands of the mining company and the Indonesian state and noted”

“Around the very important issue of sustainability, for many people out there, those questions can’t be addressed without the questions of reparation, justice, accountability and so on.”

Bill Weihl, Executive Director at ClimateVoice spoke to Audrey Maatchi, Founder & CEO, Audgreen about Companies Using Their Influence To Accelerate Implementation Of Strong Climate Policies.

He said, “If you’re not buying clean energy…or moving rapidly towards net zero then you’re definitely lagging, not leading. That should be the bare minimum for companies.”

Bill noted that the majority of young people want their companies to be part of the solution, not part of the problem and said:

“There’s been a call for companies to step up as advocates and the dominant business voice on energy, to date,  has been the fossil industry and they err on the side of delay etc. We need other pro-climate companies.”

He emphasised the importance for companies to step up: “The near term issue for companies is one of recruiting and retention. It’s about their workforce, their talent goal. If they speak up, they will gain a competitive advantage over the companies that continue to stay silent.”


Meanwhile, on the ACT STAGE,the event began with Brendan Vidal Edgerton, Director Circular Economy, World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD), Adam AG Mitchell-Heggs, Co-Founder & Circular Venture Builder, Net Postive Labs, and Angela Francis, Chief Advisor, Economics & Economic Development, WWF-UKy, who discussed ‘How Green And Circular Business Models Can Provide Practical Solutions To The Transition To Net Zero, Regenerative And Purposeful Value Chains.’ 

The session was moderated by Aoife Connaughton, Director of Risk Advisory and Sustainability Leader at Deloitte.

Ms Francis discussed how the “circular economy is making us rethink how we manage our resources.” She advocated for a just transition in relation to farming, oil and gas industries, saying it’s less about changing industry and more “about preparing industry for change.”

Mr Vidal Edgerton said we should aim to “make more sustainable companies more successful.” Regarding the circular economy, he said: “Since the industrial revolution, our model has been developing things as quickly as possible […] we didn’t take into account the effect on the environment [such as] increasing greenhouse gases, health impacts on humans.

“This has manifested in climate change […] In nature there is no waste, so why should there be waste in our economy? […] We can’t fool ourselves into thinking we can burn things in perpetuity.”

He noted that the circular economy means different things to different companies, and said: “To achieve circular economy, companies have to work within value chain and key stakeholders”

Mr Mitchell-Heggs encouraged organisations to “reflect and look at their models internally, and look externally at their ecosystem … and thinking, as a player or stakeholder, ‘what can I do?’”

Regarding the internal process, he said companies should look at “Different resources they collect, different products they create … How can one improve this model?”

“We want to help companies explore collaboration … Why aren’t you sharing infrastructure for design instead of [engaging in cost wars]?”

The Act Stage then turned to a discussion between Jamie Crummie, co-founder of the app Too Good To Go, and David Monaghan, Deputy Editor of the Business & Finance Media Group, about solutions to food waste.

Mr Crummie noted that “Our food system is broken, and food waste embodies this.” He said that food waste accounts for 8-10% of all greenhouse gas emissions, and that “if food waste was a country, it would be the third-largest greenhouse gas emitter after the US and China.”

He continued:

“51 tonnes of food is wasted every single second […] one-third of all food is wasted […] Reversing food waste is the number one solution to fighting climate change.”

Too Good To Go is an app that allows food stores to bundle and sell food that would otherwise go to waste into a sort of “magic bag” that can be collected. 

Crummie calls this “A great opportunity to discover new foods and new flavours. It’s a win for the earth.”

Audrey Choi, Chief Sustainability Officer at Morgan Stanley, then joined Marc Aboud, Director, Risk Advisory, Deloitte, to talk about ‘Sustainability as a Business Imperative.’

Ms Choi’s first career was at the Wall Street Journal. She later worked in government during the Clinton administration, where she saw a panopticon of how public policy interacted with business. She said:

“If you could harness business to align business […] with public policy goals, it would be one of the greatest forces [to combat climate change].”

Ms Choi then spoke about how Morgan Stanley is doing sustainable finance: “Not as philanthropy, or marketing, but how do you create a business model that can protect the environment … If you do it properly, good business with great impact.”

She noted that, having seen fires in Australia and floods in Europe, that climate change is a clear and present danger, and said that climate justice and poverty are intertwined: “Look at the US, when you look at the areas in the US that had been denied equitable housing … Those areas are 5 degrees higher than wealthier areas – fewer sidewalks, plants – residents more susceptible to respiratory disease.”

She finished her talk by noting that Morgan Stanley first US bank to commit to Net Zero.

Ms Choi’s conversation was followed by a panel discussion on ‘How ESG is Impacting Venture Capital’ with Colin Hanna, Partner, Balderton, Hannah Leach, Partner, Houghton Street Ventures, and Denise Xifara, Co-Founder and Investor, GMG Ventures. The session was moderated by Jan Fitzell, Partner at Deloitte.

Ms Xifara, when discussing venture capital and ESG, said: “The appetite and interest in ESG has increased, even accelerated […] If I were to think of drivers, there’s a lot of interest from investors […] There’s a lot of awareness around ESG, it’s important for consumers much more than before. Individual people are more passionate about it. There’s that human element and it has all come together.

When looking at companies to invest in, she said: “It’s a topic we very often engage on. ESG is very much woven into everything a VC does anyway. ESG is part of how a company operates.”

Mr Hanna said:

“People are realising that venture capital is gaining a larger role in our society. [We should be] marrying the requirements of ESG with early stage venture, and shaping companies at their core.”

He continued by saying that at the early stage of investment, you can assess a company’s commitment to ESG “by sitting across the table from an individual … gauging how seriously they take these topics. Are these topics coming up on the agenda?”

Ms Leech said that, when looking at companies to invest in: “I think the two areas where we’ve made the most progress is DEI. How companies hire diverse product teams. There’s communities being built around that.”

An Post’s journey to zero carbon

Later, An Post’s Chief Transformation Officer, Nicola Woods, discussed An Post’s sustainability strategy, with a commitment to achieving net zero carbon emissions by 2030 with Sarah Freeman, Managing Editor of Business & Finance Media Group.

Ms Woods said: “People still associate An Post with the delivery of letters, bills, birthday cards … We’re now a particularly large organisation … We’re not only keeping Ireland trading and transacting, we’re now supporting business with a large surge in ecommerce each year.

“We’ve one of the largest employers in Ireland, and one of the largest fleets … We have a presence in every Irish community … We have to ensure we’re leaving a better island for better generations … Act in the common good … We really think sustainability has to be embedded in everything we do … Looking at our long-term strategy.”

Ms Woods noted that when sustainability is discussed, a lot of people associate it with climate action. She continued: “It’s really about being human. What does it mean in terms of quality of life? Reducing carbon emissions means having a healthy island.”

Regarding An Post’s sustainability goals, among those listed by Ms Woods are decent work, sustainably cities and communities, climate action, responsible consumption, which will help them achieve their ambitions to be net zero by 2030

Electric vehicles are part of An Post’s strategy, and as such they have the largest electric fleet in Ireland, with 500 tonnes of carbon saved. They are also the first company in Ireland to test a fleet running on HVO – hydrotreated vegetable oil.

After that, a brilliant panel discussion took place on the theme, ‘How Tech is helping make us Climate Ready’ featuring James Atkinson, Sustainability Programme Manager, DPD Ireland, Cormac Mannion, Head of Energy Services, Energia, Tracey Donnery, Executive Director, Policy and Communications, Skillnet Ireland and moderated by Ian Talbot, CEO, Chambers Ireland. 

Ian opened by asking how technology can make us climate ready. 

James Atkinson said it means different things for different sectors: “So somebody living in an island nation is going to have a very different definition of climate ready when it comes to flood and storm resilience than myself in the logistics sector in Ireland. For DPD Ireland, it means 0, so we’re in a unique position that we have the potential to bring everything down to 0.”

He noted, “With our vans we can go 0 emissions last mile, with our trucks we have options now like cmg, ultimately hydrogen and electric, and with our buildings, onsite renewable regeneration. So it’s all about bringing everything down to 0 and adding actually nothing to the environment.”

Tracey Donnery noted that all businesses will ultimately be impacted in some way. She said:

Often the challenge for many, we think is, understanding how it’s going to impact their business and even when you said there about the different terminology or how it’s impacting different areas, so for Skillnet Ireland, what climate ready means is ensuring that business leaders and their teams across all sectors are equipped with skills and talent and knowledge to know how to address either the environmental or digital transformation changes that they’re facing and particularly where they converge.

She emphasised: “What we are looking to do is make sure that businesses are equipped on how to capitalise on any business opportunities that present themselves but also develop sustainable businesses that can help Ireland meet the SDG  goals and targets.”

Cormac Mannion talked about it from an energy company’s point of view. He said: “A key part of a business is generating green electricity which we can provide to our customers. As a supply business, Energia has a challenge insofar as we have energy efficient targets imposed on us by the government. So we help our customers carry out energy efficiency projects and that’s right through from the largest industrial customer right through to a domestic setting, getting a customers home insulated or in the case of large customers, carrying out lighting projects or compressors or any other efficiency measures. So it’s quite a broad remit that we have. Very much a diversified role that we’re playing in the whole climate change piece.”

Chris Collins, Country President of Schneider Electric Ireland, discussed Accelerating Sustainability & Schneider Electric’s Journey to Becoming the World’s Most Sustainable Company.’

Mr Collins began by saying he leads a team of 400 individuals, and by noting that COVID-19 has changed a lot of things, making us realise how vulnerable we are and how resilient we can be. COVID has also taught us, he said, that we can easily move to a digital environment.

Mr Collins said that Schneider Electric was the first company to issue a report on their sustainability barometer, set targets and assess progress. “Sustainability is in every facet of what we do, who we are, and how we behave,” he said. “We deliver sustainability to the world.”

Every employee’s bonus at Schneider Electric is tied to their sustainability goals, and Mr Collins notes that they aim to decarbonise all global operations by 2030

70% of all revenue at Schneider Electric goes towards sustainability.