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‘We want to help Dublin become one of the world’s best sustainable cities’

Dublin Chamber president Catherine Moroney has set sustainability as the over-arching theme for her year in office

Dublin Chamber president Catherine Moroney: “Sustainability is now just as important as a business’s product or service offering.” Photograph: Conor McCabe Photography

Dublin Chamber president Catherine Moroney: “Sustainability is now just as important as a business’s product or service offering.” Photograph: Conor McCabe Photography

 

The national and European target of carbon neutrality by 2050 will play a key role in Dublin Chamber activity this year and beyond. But that long-term horizon should be set in the context of the current Covid-19 crisis, according to Chamber president Catherine Moroney.

“If we have learned anything from the Covid-19 pandemic it is how interconnected we all are globally,” she points out. “The first priority at present is to deal with the health crisis and learn from it. After that, we should take that energy we have put into working together and use it to deal with the environmental crisis. We have to learn from it and use that to become more sustainable as people and businesses in terms of the quality and quantity of what we do and the impact it has.”

A graduate of UCD School of Business, Moroney is currently head of Business Banking Markets at AIB Bank. She is also a board member of the bank and is chairman and non-executive director of AIB Corporate Finance.

“I’ve worked in variety of roles with the bank since doing my BComm in Banking and Finance,” she says. “My early career was spent in customer-facing roles, mainly in business banking. I’ve done everything from looking after the smallest of SMEs to financing large infrastructure deals. I spent 15 years in corporate banking, financing everything from bridges to aircraft and food production facilities. I’ve been involved in the full spectrum of business activity. I also spent quite a number of years doing product development.”

Her involvement in the Chamber goes back seven years. “I was looking after business banking in Dublin at the time and I realised that a very important part of business is connectivity,” she recalls. “You need to interact and engage with businesses which aren’t like your own. That gives you different perspectives and insights. I wanted the opportunity to influence and be influenced. I knew my own day job very well, but it was all about AIB customers and it was AIB-centred.”

Her first impressions were very positive. “It was excellent, and I got more involved. Then I ran for council and, thankfully, got elected by the members.”

We will commence this year to engage with businesses on how they can contribute to making Dublin a sustainable city and how they can become sustainable businesses

Her election to council saw her join the Chamber’s budgetary task force. “The task force works with Government to influence budgetary policy,” Moroney explains. “Dublin Chamber does a survey each year where members are asked what they need from Government. We speak to them about all businesses in Dublin and what they need to thrive. It’s not just about Dublin as the capital city affects the wider economy. Businesses in Dublin employ people from outside the city and purchase from suppliers in sectors like agriculture around the country.”

‘Quality of life in the city’

The responses from the survey are quite interesting, she says. “Our members don’t just say they want lower taxes, although the whole capital gains tax issue does have to be dealt with. The things that concern them tend to be quality of life in the city, healthcare, the availability of housing for their employees, and the conditions required to allow them keep employing people in the city.”

Her involvement grew and that led to the presidency. “I felt I could contribute as president and was pleased and delighted when that opportunity arose,” she says. “The most impressive thing about Dublin Chamber is that you are working with a group of like-minded people who see beyond their own businesses and look at the contribution they can make to the economy and society as a whole. It is a virtuous circle – successful business in Dublin is good for everyone. By working together, the members amplify their individual impact.”

That impact will now extend into sustainability. “With the support of the board and council we have decided to start on a journey that will continue as a core part of the Chamber offering into the future,” she says. “This will not last for just one year. It will be a new strategic pillar for the Chamber. We want to help Dublin become one of the world’s best sustainable cities. We will commence this year to engage with businesses on how they can contribute to making Dublin a sustainable city and how they can become sustainable businesses. Sustainability is now just as important as a business’s product or service offering.”

Central to that initiative is the AIB-sponsored Dublin Chamber Sustainability Academy. “The academy will provide businesses with the help, knowledge and advice needed to become more sustainable,” Moroney explains. “It is designed to ensure there is relevant support for businesses at different stages of the sustainability journey.”

I know of cases where savings on refrigeration, lighting and heating costs have had the same impact on the bottom line as an increase in turnover of between €100,000 and €500,000

The Sustainability Academy will offer participating businesses a comprehensive range of supports, including: training workshops; access to a dedicated series of sustainability events; green public procurement training; access to the Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP Ireland); support materials; and peer-to-peer idea-sharing opportunities.

Training and workshops will also be provided on carbon-footprint calculation, corporate sustainability and on the circular economy. Other core offerings will include helping participating companies, big and small, on the road toward carbon disclosure and green procurement processes.

“Everything we do will have sustainability at its core,” she adds. “The first thing the academy is doing is the Sustainable Dublin 2050 series of talks from experts to help business to get on the journey to meet the objectives under the European Green Deal, which commits Europe to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050. First of these talks dealt with energy and the next will look at green finance.”

There will also be specific training to support businesses in tender processes. “The ability to put your green credentials in a tender is becoming more important and we will help with that. The academy will also help develop awareness on specific elements of the UN Sustainable Development Goals. There is a requirement for business to understand their carbon footprint and how the circular economy works.”

Greening the supply chain

Practical advice on greening the supply chain will be another aspect of the academy’s offering.

Access to the Carbon Disclosure Project will be of key importance. “Higher standards of environmental reporting are coming down the tracks,” she explains. “That will help business as well. If they know what their carbon footprint is, they can see how to make a difference.”

The Sustainability Academy was established following extensive research among Chamber members, carried out by Amárach Research. “We conducted a number of focus groups as part of the research and we had businesses of all sizes at the table,” says Moroney. “While all are aware of what is coming, not too many were aware of the necessity and the pace of it. As we started to talk about it, we saw that they were doing some of it already. That started conversations about the things they were doing, and one member said they would have paid for the consultancy value they got out of participating in the focus group.”

For Moroney, the most important thing is to demonstrate the benefits of sustainability. “It’s not just something you must do, it has to be something you want to do. When you get into it deeper, it’s a win-win. Take energy, there are lots of examples to look at where sustainable practices have business benefits.”

She points to the case of an average-sized supermarket and its energy usage. “I know of cases where savings on refrigeration, lighting and heating costs have had the same impact on the bottom line as an increase in turnover of between €100,000 and €500,000,” she says. “Why wouldn’t every business want that?”

There is another dimension beyond the numbers. “Millennials and generation Z want to be seen to buy from brands which are committed to carbon neutrality,” she points out. “Just as everything else evolves over time, we are going to move to a place where businesses are not just judged on how they use their profits in terms of corporate social responsibility activities and so on but on how they earn them as well.”

Business is going to have to speak about a higher purpose in future, she concludes. “We have to ask ourselves if we are contributing to the quality of life in our town, city, or country. The world has become a much smaller place, as we have learned from the Covid-19 pandemic. The quality of what we do and how it impacts on others will matter much more. It’s not just what’s in it for me. And that will have a profound impact on capitalism in future.”