New types of partnerships can enable systemic changes to flourish. That thinking is behind the Origin Green Ambassadors programme, which brings education, leading global brands and entrepreneurial sustainability professionals together to collaborate and learn. Five years on, there’s strong evidence that the approach is driving best practice and industry-wide innovation.
Origin Green is a national sustainability plan for the entire Irish food, drink and horticulture sector, which is valued at almost 8 percent of our GDP. It is also a key delivery of the Irish government’s strategy for Food Wise 2025, a vision for growth for the Irish agricultural economy for the next 10 years.
Initiated and launched by Bord Bia (the Irish Food Board) in 2012, Origin Green unites government, the private sector and food producers behind setting and achieving measurable sustainability targets. These are aimed at reducing environmental impact, serving local communities more effectively and protecting the rich natural resources that Ireland enjoys.
Ireland remains the only country in the world to adopt a sustainability programme for food, drink and horticulture. Learning and collaboration are essential if we are to respond collectively to the challenges of climate change, the risks to natural capital and an increasing global demand for raw materials, which strain natural resources. It is a key influencer to our approach in many ways.
When we set up the Origin Green Ambassadors programme in 2013 with the UCD Michael Smurfit Graduate Business School, it was designed to open up important conversations among the global food industry about sustainability and the role of Irish initiatives in export markets. The programme has at its heart two interlinked pillars: one focused on education and the other on partnership with major international food companies, so that it would enable entrepreneurially minded professionals to support the development of coherent, strategic and effective approaches to sustainability.
So, what conversations, innovations and initiatives are taking place as a result?
In 2013, the first cohort of ten Ambassadors set off on their 23-month programme. With at least five years of prior work experience behind them - and equipped with an academic drive that is essential to participate in an MCs in Business Sustainability - it was our hope that they would bring to life the vision of Origin Green and enable our best practices to come to the fore.
What’s emerged over the course of two graduations (2013-2015 and now, 2015-2017) is a greater level of collaboration than we anticipated, where the principles and practices of Origin Green are helping to shape strategies inside many partner brands. In turn, these are driving forward knowledge-share, improving sustainability practices and delivering competitive advantages.
Take Musgrave, the leading food retail and wholesale group, which is the largest private-sector employer in Ireland. The company began exporting last December after securing a partnership with Alibaba to supply up to 40 own-brand ambient products, including breakfast cereals, coffee, jam, biscuits and healthy snacks, and a range of other goods.
“Our Origin Green Ambassador was a great addition to the Musgrave team and played a fundamental role in the successful launch of our export business in China,” says David O’Flynn, Head of Strategy & Business Development at Musgrave. “She displayed a rare and valuable talent by successfully combining her knowledge of Ireland’s leadership role in sustainability with the commercial imperative to deliver a compelling consumer offer.”
Buoyed by Chinese consumers seeking out Western foods from trusted sources and purchasing online, Musgrave is continuing to work closely with Bord Bia and Irish Origin Green suppliers who have a reputation for authenticity and quality.
Origin Green Ambassadors have partnered with organisations in Europe, North America and Asia, including the likes of Abbott Nutrition, Ahold, Asda, Coca-Cola, EPIC (Subway), Fair Oaks Farms, Mars, M&S, McDonald’s, Nestlé, PepsiCo, Starbucks, Tesco, Unilever, Walmart, The World Bank and WWF.
Mars has been involved since 2015. David Pendlington, Senior Sustainable Sourcing Manager at Mars Chocolate, says: “Our Bord Bia Ambassadors have been a great asset to our sustainable sourcing team and commercial buying teams. We used the Ambassadors’ agricultural and sustainability backgrounds to upskill our commercial team in the realities facing farmers on the ground and what could be feasible in terms of sustainable sourcing strategies. They were truly a part of the team and left a fantastic legacy in terms of the training programme they helped build for the commercial team.”
Having successfully fostered dialogue on sustainability between Ireland and the rest of the world, Origin Green Ambassadors are helping Irish businesses meet the social, economic and environmental challenges of sustainability. The latest graduates are poised to put their skills to the test. Their skill sets position them not only as hugely valuable to the Irish food and drink industry, but to the global sector. And we are confident that among the cohort are individuals who could be central to the implementation of strategic action plans, which will yield dividends far into the future.