Article appeared in issue 2, 2022
10 years of
Marking 10 years of Origin Green, we reflect on the progress made by Bord Bia’s (the Irish Food Board)national food and drink sustainability programme
Origin Green has achieved a unique status as the only initiative of its kind in the world to work across the supply chain, enabling the Irish food and drink industry to develop internationally recognised sustainability credentials. Furthermore, it has helped to elevate awareness of Ireland and its high quality, sustainably produced food and drink offerings around the globe.
“Origin Green has had a positive affect since it first started,” says Deirdre Ryan, Director of Sustainability and Quality Assurance, Origin Green. “Irish food and drink are now considered some of the most sustainably produced in the world and much of this is the result of the work it has carried out.”
The programme now collaborates with 55,000 farms and over 300 leading Irish food and drink companies. In addition, a total of 90% of Ireland’s food and drink exports come from Origin Green members and 75% of its domestic retailers participate in the programme.
Providing independently monitored and verified programmes for farmers, manufacturers and retailers, the programme is unique in that it covers all types of food: pig, poultry, beef, lamb, dairy and horticulture, across every spectrum of the supply chain, from the farm to the retailer. Whilst other programmes in European countries tend to focus on a specific sustainability issue or are species-focused, Origin Green takes a holistic perspective. It covers a broad range of sustainability topics, both environmental and social, from farm to fork.
“We conduct between 650 and 700 farm visits every week, across beef, dairy, eggs, pig, poultry producers and more,” explains Deirdre. “We are constantly working to make it easy for both farmers and companies to implement sustainability practices.”
At farm level, for example, Bord Bia’s Quality Assurance schemes are continuously being updated to include more sustainability metrics. Beef and dairy farms are being carbon-footprinted and farmers receive a feedback report on how to improve their sustainability performance. All of this is independently verified. Origin Green is also developing a hub which will provide e-learnings for farmers to keep them updated on sustainable practices.
At company level, over 300 verified members have developed ambitious three- to five-year sustainability plans with targets in a range of sustainability areas most relevant to their businesses. Bord Bia provides the companies with Origin Green sustainability mentors to support them before they are independently verified by a third-party company. Guidance documents and training, which help to simplify sustainability topics and target setting, are also provided for companies, along with tools such a carbon calculator. In addition, the programme is currently delivering a five-part series about how companies can set science-based targets.
All of this work is paying off. “The current initiatives are working well, and we also have ambitious plans for the future to meet the growing environmental challenge and market demands,” says Deirdre. “In the findings of a report Bord Bia commissioned by Ernst and Young last year, 90% of companies said that the Origin Green programme gave them a framework around sustainability manage it.
A further 71% said it gives them a competitive advantage in the marketplace.” The results can be seen, too, in the figures from the 2021 Origin Green Progress Update Report. The Origin Green programme has recorded significant improvements among farmer members since 2019, such as a 6.3% average reduction in Co2 per unit of beef from Sustainable Beef and Lamb Assurance Scheme (SBLAS) members, and a 6% average reduction in Co2 per unit of milk from Sustainable Dairy Assurance Scheme (SDAS) members. In particular, a subset of 400 SDAS members have decreased their carbon footprint over three consecutive cycles of audits and reduced their average footprint by 18% – demonstrating a phenomenal improvement in carbon efficiency per unit of output. Manufacturing members of the programme have set a total of 2,779 sustainability targets and established 13,600 sustainability initiatives. In retail and foodservice, Origin Green’s 10 verified members represent approximately 75% of the Irish retail market and have set a total of 165 sustainability targets across the areas of sustainable sourcing, operations, health and nutrition, and social sustainability.
“The scale and scope of the Origin Green programme continues to produce important results, with 300,000 carbon footprints calculated to date at farm level and over 53,000 farm audits carried out remotely during Covid-19,” adds Deirdre. “In addition, approximately 21,000 farmer feedback reports are distributed annually to SBLAS and SDAS members to inform them of their farm’s specific carbon footprint and provide targeted and practical guidance on how to manage their inputs in a more environmentally efficient way.”
Deirdre acknowledges the part played by the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (UNSDGs). “Origin Green has incorporated the UNSDGs and the corresponding targets in its objectives and uses them as guidance in the ongoing development of the programme,” she says.
She points out that in 2016, Bord Bia demonstrated the alignment of the Origin Green charter with nine of the 17 UN SDGs. The charter guides the development of a three-to-five-year plan committing to specific sustainability improvements, across three key target areas: raw material sourcing, manufacturing/operational processes, and social sustainability. “Subsequently, we have used the UNSDGs as a guide to add new target areas to the Origin Green charter, such as packaging, under raw material sourcing, and diversity and inclusion, under social sustainability. The Origin Green Charter now aligns with 15 of the 17 UNSDGs,” she says. Of course, these days there is a growing awareness around climate change and sustainability, and this has helped to promote Origin Green amongst the industry and customers. “People just get it now,” says Deirdre.
“Sustainability is on everyone’s mind.” This was confirmed by the results of a global survey carried out by Bord Bia in 2021 around consumer and trade buyer perspectives in relation to sustainability. A total of 75% of global customers said it’s essential that suppliers have sustainability credentials. What’s more, 60% of trade buyers globally said that Ireland is a source of sustainably produced food and drink. From the consumer perspective, 61% of grocery shoppers globally said it will become more important to them to buy more sustainably produced products in the next three years. Animal welfare standards and grass fed are some of the most important sustainability attributes, globally.
There’s a strong awareness amongst international trade customers and stakeholders. “The Origin Green programme is a B2B programme that provides Ireland’s global customers with assurance that their Irish suppliers have strong sustainability credentials,” says Deirdre.
One initiative which has helped in the success of Origin Green over the last 10 years is the introduction of a new level of membership called Gold Membership. Last year, 51 Origin Green companies were awarded Gold Membership status for industry-leading sustainability achievements, in areas such as packaging, energy, biodiversity, and community engagement. “This marked a 100% increase on last year, reflecting raised ambition in the programme, and sustainability, from industry members,” says Deirdre.
“To achieve Gold Membership, firms must have excelled in their sustainability performance in a particular year. And this is assessed by external auditors,” she adds. “Bord Bia aims to make Gold Membership equitable, proportionate, accountable and transparent.”
“Ultimately with Gold Membership for companies, Bord Bia’s goal is to recognise the best of the best sustainability practices, regardless of the size of the business,” says Deirdre. “The increase in Gold Members reflects the value companies are setting on this higher accreditation to differentiate themselves from the competition in
the marketplace; and the meaningful focus companies are now giving to their sustainability efforts in response to the urgency of climate change and the need for sustainable development.”
The Irish government has set out an ambitious target to more than halve carbon emissions over the course of the decade and the Origin Green programme will play a part in this. “In conjunction with partners, we will help to drive innovation and improvements to reduce emissions and build on Ireland’s green reputation for producing high-quality and sustainable produce, ensuring that the long-term outlook for the industry remains positive and resilient,” says Deirdre. “The programme is placing a greater emphasis on science-based targets, nature-based solutions and integrating circular approaches.” Such initiatives contribute to Ireland’s reputation as the leading practitioner within the food and drink industry, not just in the EU, but on an international level. But, says Deirdre, none of this would be possible without the co-operation of Irish farming families. “We help farms to transition sustainably for future generations,” she says. “We do this by driving innovation and improvements in land management to reduce emissions, and building on Ireland’s reputation for producing high-quality and sustainable produce.”
On an EU level, ground-breaking policy developments have emerged as the EU Green Deal sets out an ambitious and wide-ranging sustainability agenda to transform the EU economy. Against this backdrop, the key policy initiatives for the Irish agri-food industry are the Farm to Fork strategy, the Biodiversity 2030 strategy and the Circular Economy Action Plan which, together, will result in over 120 legislative and non-legislative initiatives over the next four years.
In line with international sustainability practices, the Irish government enacted landmark legislation in 2020 to legally enforce reductions in carbon emissions. The Climate Action and Low Carbon Development Bill commits Ireland to a target of carbon neutrality by 2050. Furthermore, Food Vision 2030, the new 10-year strategy for the Irish agri-food sector, has set out the ambition for Ireland to become ‘a world leader in sustainable food systems’.
“The commitments in this strategy are substantial, and Origin Green will play a key role in driving that change and demonstrating progress and evidence to our customers globally,” says Deirdre. “At the same time, we can’t take our foot off the pedal when it comes to sustainability,” she adds. “It’s such an essential initiative and one that we are 100% committed to.”