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Biggest names in consumer sector face up to shifting environmental rules

Irish firms including Kerry Group, Musgraves and Glanbia will discuss ESG and business with the likes of Unilever and Alibaba


Glanbia is among the companies who contributed to the report

Glanbia is among the companies who contributed to the report

Glanbia is among the companies who contributed to the report

Getting in front of consumer and regulatory concerns regarding the environmental sustainability of products is set to be a significant focus as the heads of some of the world’s biggest consumer businesses meet in Dublin this week.

CEOs from companies including Alibaba, Coca-Cola,  Kerry Group, Kirin Holdings; Musgrave, Procter & Gamble and Unilever will attend and address the conference, one of the biggest of its kind to be held here since Covid.

The implications of ‘net zero’ and ongoing issues with global supply chains feature heavily in the programme which also includes tours of Irish retailers. 

Research prepared ahead of the event by global executive search giant Spencer Stuart highlighted a need for companies to develop new skills to collaborate externally if they are to succeed in hitting environmental targets such as the UN’s sustainability goals. 

Spencer Stuart’s research draws on responses from senior leadership in more than a dozen global consumer goods companies.

Those executives emphasised the benefits of cross-industry partnerships and working with competitors to drive innovation in the sector.

“Leaders must be able to influence and collaborate with people and organisations and stakeholders that you might even be competing with,” Spencer Stuart’s Dublin-based managing partner Ruth Curran, one of the report authors, told the Irish Independent.

“Collaboration is pretty foundational to tackle enterprise-wide issues and societal issues,” she said.

That view was supported by Glanbia’s head of ESG (environmental, social and governance) and corporate affairs Michael Patten, one of the contributors to the report.

“Organisations can move faster together,” he said.

“You’re influencing the regulatory system, the adoption of technologies and the setting of standards.

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“Collaboration and cooperation on a pre-competitive basis are really important.”

Glanbia is a member of the US Dairy Net Zero Initiative which was introduced in 2020 and includes farmers, processors and corporations like Nestle and Starbucks.

The initiative sees dairy processors work together to find “economically available solutions to drive down emissions”, Mr Patten said.

Staying abreast of changing reporting requirements across different geographies in order to track and deliver against targets, and understanding the imperatives of governments and non governmental organisations is also growing in importance, the report found.

“[Leaders] need to understand the language of regulation and how it impacts their organisation,” Ms Curran says.

The dynamic regulatory environment puts organisations that engage in external discussions around policy at a relative advantage.

The research shows organisations are also hiring more dedicated resources in order to meet environmental standards.

However, researchers warned that dedicated ESG committees or chief sustainability officers need to impact the organisation as a whole – not act in internal isolation.

“If it’s about one person or one team, it’s not going to be a sustainable strategy. What we need to do is to engineer a shift in focus right across the entire business model,” Mr Patten said.

Glanbia has introduced incentive schemes based on the achievement of ESG goals, as well as traditional financial metrics.

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