In our pre COVID-19 world you could say that Ireland was on an upward trajectory when it came to our sustainable efforts. Keep Cups were a part of our everyday, cycle lanes welcomed a way to reduce carbon emissions and shops around the country were in the midst of making loose fruit and vegetables the new normal. However it’s been a turbulent 2020. The unprecedented arrival of COVID-19 has seen a nation pace back in our strides. The necessity for disposable masks and plastic gloves has come at a price and they can now be seen discarded across the streets of our towns and cities. The ominous air of uncertainty has given us much to think about. Our personal responsibility has come to the fore and it has never been more apparent that one small action can make all the difference, and even spark national urgency. 

This uncertainty informed a new sense of self awareness. Our doorstep was now our hub for the foreseeable future and a revived appreciation for our local communities swept across the country. The nation played their part, and soon we looked forward to being able to see friends and family. Home grown produce was heroed, local parks became sanctuaries and far flung holidays were swapped for staycations.  

Never has the combined effort of both businesses and community been more crucial. For many, like Irish Distillers, it was the moral integrity of the brand that led the quick thinking and partnership that saw an exceptional effort being made to assist in the best way they knew how. In less than two weeks after the initial country wide lockdown, Irish Distillers together with the Cork-based Mervue Laboratories focused their resources on urgently needed sanitisers for the HSE.

Irish Distillers

Recent data from the Edelman Trust Barometer has found that today, 74% of consumers have an interest in a brand’s societal impact. This current of consciousnesses has proven to have an astounding impact and over the last few months we’ve learnt a valuable lesson, we are all change makers. A global pandemic has sounded the alarm on sustainability and consumers are voting with their wallets - value sales of Irish produced brands are were up 17% versus the same period last year.

However, this goes beyond the well intentions of supporting local, it extends to the 73% of Irish people who say sustainability is important to them in all their food and beverage purchases. (Mintel, 2020)

Our personal values have been shaken and stirred, but a renewed sense of responsibility can now fuel an allyship with Ireland for a greener future. Pre-recession, Ireland was celebrated in its actionable approach to climate change. Arguably, our showcase of innovation came to an abrupt pause in the recession of 2007 and as we enter what experts have confirmed will be our second recession of the past 20 years, the role of brand efforts in a greener future has never been more necessary.

The global ambition for climate action was highlighted in 2019. Greta Thunberg became an astonishing force who inspired a generation and David Attenborough used his respected platform to encourage action. Over 6 million people joined marches demanding a greener future. The impact and devastating effects of climate change were on our doorstep. Wildfires in Australia, flooding in Jakarta and Venice, and multiple severe storms in Ireland and beyond. But just as there was a sense of progress, COVID-19 spread across the globe. So where do brands and consumers find themselves?

Sustainability expert Ali Sheridan describes Ireland’s current situation as a “climate crossroads”.

Ali formerly held the roles of Country Sustainability Manager for IKEA Ireland, Sustainability Manager for Bord Bia and was part of the inaugural group of Origin Green Ambassadors, the Sustainable Agriculture Initiative (SAI) Platform. She has extensive involvement in all aspects of championing a greener Ireland with brands and businesses. “Businesses are a hugely powerful change agent when it comes to climate action. They can improve their own practices through resource efficiency or better product design, influence their suppliers through green procurement measures, support consumers through creating sustainable solutions, and support their employees through effective engagement and education.”

Ali believes the business case for sustainability and climate action to be stronger than ever and together with consumers, to have the potential to be the force behind significant change.  In fact, we have seen this first hand working with Deep RiverRock on their 100% Recycled Bottle. Consumers are voting with their feet and the result is an expected increase of 125% in the use of recycled packaging content in plastic food and drink bottles, much like 2018 and 2019.

“An increasing amount of regulation and litigation is helping to level the playing field and mechanisms such as internal carbon taxes are proving effective in nudging businesses to be more proactive around sustainability” which seems to be the exact support that businesses need to fully fulfil the expectation of their consumers - findings from the Edelman Trust Barometer findings which indicates that 80% of consumers believe that brands should be a part of solving society’s problems, both big and small.

The effect of COVID-19 and the future of our climate will be largely defined by our actions in 2020.

We have 10 short years to reach our 2030 Climate & Energy Framework targets.  If these figures are met, the Environmental Protection Agency have estimated that it would save 79 million tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 - enough to achieve Ireland’s next EU target.

Ali comments that this as an incredible opportunity for consumers and brands to be part of the change; “We have a big gap to close in our response to climate action and achieving our 2030 targets will not be easy. With a new ambitious programme for government, an incoming climate law, as well as our unique opportunities in areas like renewable energy, Ireland now has an amazing opportunity to shift gear, become a climate leader, and provide a strong example for other nations to follow in the achievement of their own climate objectives.”

The case is strong, action must be taken and it’s evident that a growing confidence is fostering change. Yet, sustainable practice can be an overwhelming area to dive into. Accessibility and information is crucial but where should the average person start? How should businesses advocate for change? Ali insists that every sustainable choice a consumer makes and every effort a business commits to matters. “Look into the impacts of the industries you may be supporting through your purchases. Use your voice to demand companies do more and provide the proof of their efforts and support companies that are truly committed to climate action”

What consumers and brands decide to do in 2020 will define all our futures for decades to come. Will consumers do their research and support brands instigating change? Will brands respond to a national outcry and reposition Ireland as a thought leader? The ambitious goals are set and once more Ireland has the opportunity to be a driving force in powering a greener future.

Brands have now, more than ever, a pivotal role in the future of Ireland.