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Using Sustainability as a Competitive Advantage for Irish SME’s in Food Drink and Horticulture

Gary Osborne, Insight & Brand Planning Specialist

IMAGE by NASA on Unsplash.jpg

Image by: NASA on Unsplash

Sustainability is now widely considered a business-critical consideration and a must-have for staff, consumers and investors alike. Covid-19 derailed this temporarily but as we continue to emerge into a post-pandemic world the ‘Green Recovery’ movement has now started snowballing again. How can Irish SME’s in the food, drink and horticulture sectors take advantage of the opportunities this presents?

  1. Attracting and Retaining Talent

According to Cone Communications (2019) two thirds of millennials won’t accept a job offer from accompany lagging in CSR.  Increasingly potential employees are attracted to businesses where they feel they can make a difference and this can often be as or more important than salary or other terms of and conditions. SME’s would be wise to communicate their sustainability initiatives in ways that help encourage the best people to apply for potential employment.

Once employed, continued initiative focused on sustainability can remind employees that they’ve made the right choice to stay with a sustainability focused enterprise.  Gamification often drives engagement.  Several organisations have organized Green Rewards schemes for staff where thinks like tree planting are acknowledged using a points-based system

  1. Attracting Consumers

Given current challenging economic times consumers are reassessing their spending and consumption habits. Sustainability can be a real differentiating factor and win new business.  Coffee shops are now gradually moving back to refilling ‘keep cups’ rather than encouraging single use cups. Starbucks UK is reporting a 150% increase in reusable cups. (EDIE, 2021). The desire to be included and part of the solution can be very useful here.  Point of sale communicating ‘last week, 90% of our customers brought their own coffee cup to be refilled’ is likely to be very motivating.

  1. Attracting Investment

Potential investors will be very aware of changing legislation and the potential for reputational damage should for example an environmental incident occur and this will influence where they choose to invest their funds in addition to the usual return on investment considerations.  A recent Shroders survey of 650 investors found that green washing is still a potential challenge with many companies providing not enough data, poor quality data or data in a format that is very difficult to compare with industry peers.  This makes choosing them as a potential investment more difficult.  Many smaller Irish food, drink and horticulture companies who need investment to help them get to the next level should take note.

Origin Green remains the world’s only national food and drink sustainability programme helping industry in setting and achieving measurable sustainability targets and using these to their advantage in a competitive marketplace.  A recent commercial impact study of OG members revealed the following 3 main commercial benefits:

  1. Reputational benefits

The programme is externally verified so clients, suppliers, potential employees and investors can all be assured that information presented is truthful.


  1. Ability to meet societal and customer expectations

As mentioned above, society now expects companies to behave in more sustainable ways and will increasingly punish/ignore businesses that do not clearly make efforts in this area.


  1. Cost savings

48% of respondents noted cost savings as a result of Origin Green. This is of enormous importance given the upward pressure on so many cost of goods inputs in the industry.

For more information on Origin Green and the benefits of membership please see Origingreen.ie


Reference List

EDIE, Communications Handbook (2021)

Origin Green, Capturing the Commercial Impact of Sustainability Report Summary (2021)

Journal of Cleaner Production, Is sustainability a competitive advantage for small businesses? An empirical analysis of possible mediators in the sustainability-financial performance relationship, (2018)