Businesses can tap State assistance to meet 'green' sustainability goals

In times of crises, Irish businesses big and small are understandably focusing on survival and wondering if they will be able to keep the days open by the end of the summer, writes Áine Kenny
Businesses can tap State assistance to meet 'green' sustainability goals
Cork Chamber of Commerce chief executive, Conor Healy: ""We need new ways of doing things; cycling, walking, public transport including buses and a light rail system in the future. It could lead to radical and comprehensive change."

In times of crises, Irish businesses big and small are understandably focusing on survival and wondering if they will be able to keep the days open by the end of the summer, writes Áine Kenny

But long term challenges of meeting sustainability goals will not go away and many firms will have to continue to grapple with the issues which will lead to long term competitiveness and profits.

As global governments promise to take climate action seriously in the next decade, many are looking to become more environmentally conscious.

Others want to become more innovative, inclusive and diverse, with grants on offer to achieve both of these goals.

Kathleen O'Regan, who is a senior environmental advisor at Enterprise Ireland, says its GreenStart and GreenPlus grants aim to help companies incorporate sustainable practices into the day-to-day running of the business.

"Better environmental performance leads to improved resource efficiency and direct cost savings. It can also increase access to customers, who are demanding more environmentally friendly products and services," she says.

The GreenStart grant aims to improve a company's environmental performance by achieving improved efficiencies in using resources, while GreenPlus is a business process improvement grant for larger-scale projects.

She says that the GreenStart and GreenPlus grants are open to SMEs and large companies that are Enterprise Ireland clients.

Companies from a wide range of sectors, including food, construction, engineering, life sciences and digital technologies have been supported by the Green programme.

Ms O'Regan says the Green projects have changed over time.

From 2012 to 2016, most projects undertaken under the Green programme focused on environmental management.

From 2017 to 2019 there was a shift towards energy management projects.

She says "more and more" companies are now taking responsibility for the impact of their processes and products,  rather than only dealing with issues inside their factory gates.

"It is envisaged that the Green programme will continue to be used to support companies in environmental and energy management, but also increasingly in the areas of carbon management, water stewardship, life cycle assessment and circular economy thinking," she says.

Kathleen O'Regan of Enterprise Ireland
Kathleen O'Regan of Enterprise Ireland

Ms O'Regan cites fruit producer Keelings and the Great Northern Distillery as companies which have tapped its grants.

She says Keelings used the Green Offer to help implement a more structured approach to sustainability into the daily operation of the company.

Its initiatives included waste, energy and carbon emissions, transport, energy and emissions, packaging, and biodiversity.

Based in Co Louth, the Great Northern Distillery operates two distillery pot stills and columns that produce a diverse range of Irish whiskey spirits, including grain, triple malt, double malt, peated malt and pot still whiskey.

"A number of energy saving opportunities were identified and solutions implemented as a result, with annual energy savings being measured and verified," Ms O'Regan says of the distillery.

However, taking climate action is just one way businesses can become more sustainable.

Cork Chamber of Commerce chief executive, Conor Healy says there is more to it than just being eco-friendly.

There needs to be a much wider agenda.

"People might have a narrow focus, or think that sustainability is a purely green or environmental agenda," he says

The United Nations has 17 sustainable development goals, which include equality, the environment, the economy, and quality of life.

And Cork Chamber is focusing on a number of the goals.

"We feel these are most relevant to our businesses and organisation members, and we try to ensure everything we do and the areas we focus on are aligned with these five goals," Mr Healy says.

Its goals include gender equality, decent work and economic growth, industry, innovation, and infrastructure, as well as sustainable cities and communities and climate action.

Mr Healy says one area of sustainability that is particularly applicable to Cork is transport.

"Transport is an area where there is great opportunity, especially for the new government. They can change the agenda surrounding transport," he says.

"In Cork, we have the Cork Metropolitan Area Transport Strategy. This gives Cork the opportunity to be a leading location, not just in Ireland but in Europe, when it comes to innovating transport," he adds.

"We need new ways of doing things; cycling, walking, public transport including buses and a light rail system in the future. It could lead to radical and comprehensive change."

Diversity and inclusion is another area Cork businesses are keen to focus on.

In the past, many businesses might not have viewed this as part of the wider sustainability agenda. Now businesses are trying to ensure that diversity and inclusion are a part of all their activities.

Climate action continues to be hugely important, as business and industry play a huge role in the climate.

And Mr Healy says in the past despite the opportunities for businesses, often the focus is on the economic challenges, rather than economic opportunities, for climate action.

The Sustainable Cork Fund is a funding stream aimed at helping Cork achieve the sustainable development goals.

The €200,000 fund was launched in February as an endeavour involving the Social Innovation Fund Ireland and Cork Chamber of Commerce.

"It was put in place in 2019, the concept was to link in with the Chamber's 200th anniversary, with a focus on the sustainability agenda. The fund aims to support social enterprise organisations," Mr Healy says.

Applications opened in February, and there have been over 600 proposals for projects.

A selection process is underway to narrow the application to up to five beneficiaries.

Mr Healy says the aim of the fund is to make Cork a sustainable and good place to live, with almost all applicants identifying that social inclusion as their key focus and 60% of the projects targeting more than three sustainable development goals.

Mr Healy says the fund has become even more relevant during the Covid-19 economic crisis, as it will provide assistance to projects at a time when they need it most.

"It will be a big contribution from the business community in Cork," he says.

Mr Healy also believes that the recovery from the Covid-19 crisis should not be used as an excuse for not being sustainable.

"The recovery that we need to go through will be more successful if we make it sustainable," he says.

He believes sustainability and resilience after the Covid 19 crisis are hugely important, as the chamber talks to its members across the sectors "to see what we can do in Cork to help with this".

"We need innovation and new infrastructure, to position Cork a bit differently post-Covid, and to ensure our business sector and society are in an even stronger position," he adds.

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