Rebooting Ireland sustainably

Jun 19, 2020

Before COVID-19, sustainability policies were nice-to-have. Now, Johnny Meehan argues, they are essential to rebooting Ireland’s economy.

Last year, Ireland declared climate and biodiversity emergencies in response to an urgent crisis. Before COVID-19, the way we worked and lived was unsustainable. The old normal was an economy where GDP went up but so did carbon emissions, social inequality, the destruction of nature, plastic pollution, food waste, time wasted in the daily commute and stress from quality of life issues.

This crisis is an acid-test of preparedness for how we handle large systemic challenges. Some individuals and businesses have excelled in protecting their employees, customers, and communities. They are continuing to deliver their products and services, altering their supply chains, and going beyond what is expected for good social outcomes. At both an individual and organisational level, the following questions came into sharper focus:

  • What is my purpose?
  • Why does this business exist?
  • How can my work make the world a better place?

We must take this unique opportunity to reinvent what we do and how we do it.

What do you stand for?

This realignment process starts by establishing what you stand for, the purpose of your organisation, and who you serve. A dialogue with stakeholders will help you to define your purpose statement, which should be about more than earning profits and delighting customers. Keep it real, and make it connect with a social and environmental cause.

Make it meaningful

Next, write more detailed policies for sustainable business. Be ambitious, set meaningful goals with principles and ethical guidelines for how you do business. This is part of good governance. In times of crisis, what structures will improve decision-making next time round? (e.g. more diverse board, more inclusive stakeholder process, etc).  

Connect finance and sustainability

A plethora of finance-related developments are challenging companies to make clearer connections between financial performance and sustainable outcomes. For example, the EU classification system for sustainable activities (the EU taxonomy) encourages a step towards facilitating sustainable investment.

Be a sustainability practitioner

Sustainability is not a standalone area or policy; it should be synonymous with everything the business does. Sustainability is about taking action and implementing policies through a range of sustainable business practices across all organisational functions and measuring performance using new indicators of success. Everybody is a sustainability practitioner, especially accountants who have the right skills to measure impacts and disclose results. Change your assumptions about risk and the future.

We responded to COVID-19 as a true emergency, as if our houses were on fire. The climate and biodiversity emergencies and problems in society demand a sustained call to action. We must reboot the economy but in a fair, inclusive and low-carbon way.

Johnny Meehan is an Advisor at Business in the Community Ireland.