The Origin Green programme was launched in 2012 and it is still the only sustainability programme globally to measure and monitor sustainability across an entire national food supply chain. Maev Martin talks to Bord Bia’s Deirdre Ryan, director of Origin Green and Sustainable Assurance, about the programme’s new gold members, sustainability ambassadors, and supporting climate literacy.
Origin Green’s cross-sectoral approach is a big selling point for the programme internationally and, by extension, for the sustainability credentials of Irish food and drink.
“The programme is all about verification and proof, and its purpose is very clear,” says Deirdre.
“We are looking to constantly improve sustainability in the food and drink industry, and we must constantly prove to the industry that those improvements have been achieved. We have a dual role of supporting and auditing the industry, and building brand Ireland as a quality food and drink nation.
“For example, our auditors test the sustainability credentials of Irish farming on a regular basis, with assessments happening every 18 months. We are increasingly working with partners, and with our sister agency in Teagasc, to provide more tools, supports, and feedback to farmers.”
While acknowledging that farmers have a big task ahead of them to reduce emissions by 25% by 2030, with the ultimate aim of achieving carbon neutrality by 2050, Deirdre believes that Ireland’s grass-fed systems mean that farmers are well placed to deliver on this target.
“However, we also need to meet national targets for the EU and for Ireland, and that is mapped out in the Food Vision 2030 strategy, and our role is to support the industry to make reductions, either through standards or through an action planning tool for farmers, which we are currently developing in conjunction with Teagasc and the Irish Cattle Breeders Association (ICBF). We are also collaborating with other agencies around the development of farmer supports and tools.”
On the food and drink company side, Bord Bia recently made emissions reductions a mandatory part of the Origin Green programme for companies that generate over €50 million in turnover.
“We are strengthening the emissions reductions component of the programme, and for smaller companies, we are providing additional tools and supports,” she says.
“If a company is to carry out a full assessment of its carbon footprint, it has to assess its Scope 1, 2 and 3 emissions. However, we wouldn’t ask a small company to do that because they wouldn’t have the capacity.
What they need to do is calculate their usage in areas such as waste, energy and water, to reduce their emissions – in other words, Scope 1 and Scope 2 emissions – whereas we require those bigger companies to calculate all their emissions across their entire supply chain.”
According to Deirdre, Origin Green companies are developing five-year, forward-looking sustainability plans around the social and environmental aspects of sustainability, such as packaging, water stewardship, and energy management, and they are developing initiatives and plans around how they will achieve their targets.
“At Bord Bia, we provide mentorship to the companies to develop their plans and we have independent auditors who assess those plans every year to see if those companies can remain on the programme,” she says.
Origin Green’s Gold Membership programme was developed three years ago to further drive competition among member companies and incentivise them to reach their goals.
“It also allows us to ascertain which companies are really leading the way on sustainability, those who have gone above and beyond to reach their targets,” she says.
“In addition, people want recognition for being top of class and it is important that we recognise those companies that have achieved a very high standard.”
This year, Bord Bia awarded Gold Membership to 58 food and drink companies.
This acknowledges the exceptional annual performance that those companies have achieved on their sustainability targets in areas such as raw material sourcing; water and energy efficiency; waste reduction; packaging; and social sustainability, based on the assessment of Origin Green’s independent verification authority, Mabbett.
The 58 companies come from 18 counties and represent sectors such as seafood and aquaculture, dairy, meat, confectionery, beverages, and horticulture.
Since its inception in 2012, Origin Green has grown to collaborate with 55,000 farms and over 300 leading Irish food and drink companies to prove, and improve, their sustainability practices.
This year, to mark the programme’s tenth year, Bord Bia has been highlighting some of the achievements of the 300 Origin Green companies who, collectively, have set 2,800 targets and introduced 13,600 initiatives over the past decade.
Since the establishment of the Gold Membership awards in 2020, over 130 Irish food and drink companies have been awarded Gold Membership. This year, three companies are being recognised for their third consecutive year of Origin Green Gold Membership - Butler's Chocolates in Dublin, Norfish in Co Donegal, and Slaney Foods in Wexford.
Butlers Chocolates is Ireland’s largest family-owned chocolate producer and has been crafting chocolates in Dublin since 1932.
The company has won numerous Great Taste Awards, Irish Food Awards and Quality Irish Food Awards.
It is also known for its eponymous retail concept - Butlers Chocolate Café – which operates in over 30 locations worldwide, including South Asia and Dubai.
Butlers Chocolates is committed to the ethical sourcing of ingredients and is a member of Cocoa Horizons, a programme that seeks to improve the livelihoods of cocoa farmers and their communities.
The coffee used in Butlers Chocolate Cafés is also ethically sourced.
The company set out to source 80% of its cocoa from Cocoa Horizon by the year 2022.
Demonstrating exemplary performance in this area, Butlers has achieved this target ahead of the milestone, sourcing 98.4% of its cocoa from Cocoa Horizons in 2021, an outstanding achievement which showcases the company’s firm and ongoing commitment to robust sustainable procurement practices.
Located in the fishing port of Killybegs, Co. Donegal, Norfish Ltd. was founded in 1974. Initially focused on the production of salted whole and filleted herring, Norfish Ltd. now operates a pelagic production facility and smokehouse, employing a total of 20 people from the local area.
It also offers a diverse product range which includes herring, mackerel, smoked coley, haddock, cod, horse mackerel, sprat, blue whiting and salmon.
As a member of Origin Green since 2016, Norfish initially set a target to have 60% of its suppliers Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) certified by 2021.
MSC is a certification and labelling programme that meets best practice guidelines set by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (UNFAO).
All eight of Norfish’s suppliers were MSC certified in 2021 against the 60% milestone, over-achieving this target by 40%.
Slaney Foods International
Situated in Bunclody, Co.Wexford, Slaney Foods International has been part of Ireland’s beef story for over 50 years and employs approximately 500 people in the heart of the Slaney Valley - one of Ireland’s prime farming regions.
Slaney Foods is dedicated to working in partnership with farmers to produce top-class grass-fed beef, and the company ensures that livestock is sourced from farms that uphold the highest animal welfare and environmental standards.
Throughout 2021, Slaney Foods demonstrated an exemplary performance in the target areas of raw materials certification, water, waste, product health and nutrition, employee wellbeing, and community engagement.
Within the raw materials certification target area, over 99% of Slaney Foods’ supply was certified to Bord Bia’s Sustainable Beef and Lamb Assurance Scheme (SBLAS). The company supplemented this target by running a programme for suppliers in the Wexford, Wicklow and Carlow regions that promotes the importance of grassland management for good animal performance.
Climate Literacy For Leaders
Origin Green’s new three-year strategy – Powered by Partnership – is a commitment to strengthen and empower the Origin Green programme over the period 2022-2025 by developing and building on new and existing relationships with other state agencies, leading academic institutions, and international stakeholders, platforms and customers.
“One of the key initiatives in this three-year strategy is a new Executive Programme in partnership with Smurfit Business School, University College Dublin (UCD) to accelerate sustainability capability at board and c-suite level in Irish food, drink and horticulture businesses,” says Deirdre.
The Leaders Sustainability Acceleration Programme was unveiled at an event marking ten years of progress under Origin Green and came as Bord Bia reported that 80% of its client companies would like to receive more training for senior leadership teams to better understand and embed sustainability across their businesses.
“The new programme will develop skills at board level, and among senior management, to build capability around sustainability and climate literacy, while also helping them to establish sustainability as a key value proposition driver for their business,” says Deirdre.
Ambassador Programme Alumni
Apart from supporting its 300 member companies to set and achieve sustainability targets, the Bord Bia programme also operates a sustainability talent programme, under its Talent Academy.
Over the course of two years, ten individuals complete a masters in business sustainability through UCD Smurfit as part of the Origin Green Ambassador programme. So far, 40 Origin sector manager dairy, and sustainable partnership and development manager have all completed the programme.
On 6 October, Origin Green launched a new guidance document for members to support Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) strategy development and reporting in advance of the upcoming EU mandated Corporate Sustainability Reporting Directive (CSRD) legislation.
“The Corporate Sustainability Reporting Directive (CSRD) legislation will require large companies to report annually on information about their sustainability strategy, their ESG targets, the role of the board and management in driving sustainability performance, and the principal adverse impacts connected to the company and its value chain, intangibles, and how they have identified the information they report,” says Deirdre.
“Sustainability and ESG performance is now high on the agenda for Origin Green members. This has come to the fore as companies’ customers, regulators and financial partners are seeking credible annual ESG disclosure, which will inform their long term engagement and investment with a company.
"However, for many companies, CSRD reporting, along with other mandatory ESG reporting, is a complex topic to integrate within business strategies. The launch of the Pathway to Enabling ESG Strategy Development and Reporting guidance document is aimed at supporting Origin Green member companies to further integrate ESG reporting within their companies in advance of the incoming Corporate Sustainability Reporting Directive legislation," she concludes.