Small firms are increasingly seeking to measure their sustainability performance and are feeding their findings into the climate action reports of the large corporations to whom they supply goods and services.
As part of Ireland's drive to meet the 2030 environmental targets in the Paris Agreement on climate action, the State is urging SMEs to avail of the new GreenStart and GreenPlus vouchers, hosted by Enterprise Ireland, IDA, SEAI, LEO and Údarás na Gaeltachta.
“There is a significant Government spend going into promoting sustainability among SMEs, all looking towards the 2030 climate action goals,” said Paul Murphy, who has recently joined Leading Edge Group to create Climeaction, a new sustainability consultancy.
Climeaction will help companies take action with measurable results. With headquarters in Cobh, Co Cork, Leading Edge Group offers consultancy, training and business performance improvement programmes to organisations in Ireland, UK, Canada and Australia.
“One big challenge facing small companies in the coming years will be the way the carbon budgets of large organisations will spill down into the SME sector,” said Paul Murphy. “I have worked with some of the biggest companies in Ireland, who are all measuring their carbon footprint.
“They are also looking to complete their reporting by looking at their supply chains. The big dairy companies are looking at emissions at farm level and hauliers. The big companies are pushing new requirements down to their suppliers.
“This is across sectors, from pharma to food. A lot of big companies have signed up to the UN's science-based carbon emission reduction targets. They're seeking to report on the full life cycle of their emissions.”
One of the most widely familiar models for this full life cycle emissions reporting is Bord Bia's Origin Green sustainability charter. Origin Green member companies have set carbon efficiency requirements to meet by May 2022. These are defined per size of company: Tier one (revenues over €250m); tier two (€50m to €250m); Tier three (€10m to €50m), tier four (€1m to €10) and tier five (€100,000 to €1m).
“The Origin Green 'Pathway to Net Zero' maps out exactly what is required by all member companies. All other sectors of industry will have to do likewise,” said Paul.
“With Climeaction, we're building a unique consultancy that is offering companies access to experts across a wide range of fields. For instance, we're working with a distillery, offering them experts in process engineering, people on the agronomy side, an expert in packaging etc.
“We bring experts in on an associate basis, depending on what is needed for the job. This is the way that Leading Edge Group and its member companies like ReganStein work. We offer the highest level of expertise required for each job.
“Climate action is an area that requires a very mixed skillset. To deliver a complete solution, you need a broad range of experts. It's an area where companies are becoming increasingly keen to engage with the challenges.
“Companies are aware that climate action is very important to their corporate image. Surveys show that 63% of all consumers consider sustainability when making their purchasing decisions. One area where we offer companies expertise is in marketing and communications, experts who help companies to develop their story as a socially responsible brand, telling their story in a way that will drive more sales.”
Paul has previously worked in lead roles with EM3, Ireland's largest industrial energy services company, where he led their global energy management and consultancy teams, reducing the energy usage, costs and carbon emissions of some of the world's largest manufacturing companies.
Paul has worked on four continents and in over 24 countries delivering climate action services. He has worked on a vast range of large factories, improving their environmental performance.
“The learnings and knowledge around sustainability and energy efficiency design in the industrial sector in Ireland are far beyond what you will see in the USA and Asia,” he said. “Many other sectors here, however, are far behind the industry sector in Ireland.”
One key gap for Ireland is in renewables. Ireland has a huge focus on alternative energy and wind turbines. Even if Ireland was to reach its goal of 70% of electricity coming from renewables by 2030, we would still have 83% of our overall energy needs coming from fossil fuels. Ireland does not yet have a viable alternative to industrial gas use.
A national commitment to supporting biomethane would, Paul says, go a long way to plugging this gap. Germany, UK, Italy, France and Spain all have supports to promote the production of biogas from farm waste. Ireland has no clear policy for anaerobic digestion.
“With the right national policy, a biomethane industry could develop relatively quickly,” Paul said. “It's a tried and tested solution. With the right financial and legal supports, this could be developed within two to three years.
“The most successful approach would be for each industry to have its own anaerobic digestion plant. The farmer would be both a plant owner and a supplier in a co-op arrangement.
“There's clearly a lack of understanding of this at Government level, both among ministers and their advisers. They're just not up to speed on this.”