Celebrating sustainable businesses

Awards highlight importance of business leaders in tackling climate change

Daniel McConnell, Business Post; presenting to Mick Kelly, DHL Supply Chain, which won Sustainable Transport Project; and Fiona Gaskin, PwC. Pictures Naoise Culhane

Individual change will never be enough to adequately combat the global climate emergency, Dr Cara Augustenborg told the Annual PwC Business Post Sustainable Business Awards.

In her keynote address at the gala event, she also said that polluting activities must be made harder to do, and more expensive to do, if real change is to materialise.

Dr Augustenborg said that demanding political and systemic change has to be the way to address the rapid rise in global temperatures.

She said she is often asked by individuals as to what they can do to make a difference. “They expect me to tell them to give up flying or become

vegan, but instead, I tell them they need to ask their elected representatives or election candidates about climate policy because individual change will never be enough,” she told delegates.

“We urgently need the big system changes that make those individual changes obvious, cheaper and easier. And conversely, we have to get real and make polluting activities harder and more expensive,” she added.

She said her call to action for businesses is similar to what she says to individuals. “Sustainability leadership in every sector has to include engaging with our political system. Businesses need to help our elected representatives to understand that, unlike many areas of regulation, businesses need more certainty from government regarding plans to transition to a sustainable society,” she said.

Nearly 90 per cent of all oil and gas reserves are owned directly by governments, which accounts for two-thirds of global fossil fuel production. EU countries alone spend over €50 billion a year subsidising the continued use of fossil fuels, and Ireland provides the second-highest fossil fuel subsidies in the EU.

“In that sense, we still have such a long way to go to transition to a low-carbon society,” Dr Augustenborg added.

She said sustainability is now embedded in corporate social responsibility strategies within every sector, and our current government has nearly 300 environmental commitments they’ve promised to achieve during their tenure, many of which have already begun to bear fruit.

The wind energy sector alone now employs over 5,000 people but it has to grow to 50,000 in order to achieve our climate targets.

“Now, rather than avoiding questions from young people about careers in sustainability, I’m begging them to fill the enormous demand in this area,” she added.

“Between wind turbines, solar panels, heat pumps, metro lines, EV chargers and cycle paths, there are endless projects in need of completion to achieve Ireland’s climate targets, and I’ve only just scratched the surface in those examples.”

In his address to the 370 invited guests at Dublin’s Intercontinental Hotel, Business Post Editor Daniel McConnell said backing the principles of ESG involves investment – it requires businesses to commit resources to both delivering and monitoring progress.

Paying tribute to all the companies who entered the awards and those who were shortlisted, McConnell said committing to the ESG agenda continues to involve considerable courage and leadership. “There was evidence in the entries, for example, of the huge costs involved and considerable risks being taken. And it is this bravery and willingness to lead that we are recognising this evening,” he said.