Developing a Sustainable Food Industry in Ireland – University College Dublin

OriginGreenThe School of Business at the University College Dublin, Ireland has been building its portfolio of activities in the field of responsible management through research and teaching endeavours, and additionally, through an innovative partnership with Bord Bia, the Irish Food Board. The partnership with Bord Bia aims to promote and strengthen the food board’s Origin Green programme, a national sustainability initiative aimed at the food industry, through the joint development of an M.Sc. in Business Sustainability. I spoke with Dr. Colm Mclaughlin, the PRME Co-ordinator from UCD School of Business about this partnership.

1. What is Origin Green?

Developed by Bord Bia, the Irish Food Board, Origin Green is a national sustainability initiative that seeks to build a credible standard of sustainability for individual Irish food and drink manufacturers, and that enhances the reputation of Ireland as a sustainable food and drink producing nation. Underpinning Origin Green is a range of metrics and processes that have been developed around farming, production, supply chain management, water management, energy conservation, biodiversity, greenhouse gas emissions, health, and nutrition. In order to be part of the programme, participating firms are required to commit to the Origin Green Sustainability Charter. Participating companies must demonstrate a strong commitment at senior management level and throughout the organization to deliver continuous improvement in their performance over time. Companies are being asked to sign up to developing and implementing an action plan covering a period of up to five years, which can be renewed or updated as appropriate at the end of the period.

Bord Bia officially launched the Origin Green initiative in June 2012 and is currently working with Irish food and drink companies in building participation and commitment to the programme. Almost 300 food and drink manufacturers have registered their commitment to take part in the Origin Green Programme to date. Thirty-eight of these are fully verified members while a further 50 have submitted draft plans. It is estimated that verified members account for almost 60% of food and drink exports. The programme has set a target of having 75% of exports covered by verified members by the end of 2014 with an ambition to have all Irish food and drink manufacturers as members of the programme.

2. What is the business school’s partnership with Bord Bia and Origin Green?

Bord Bia approached the UCD Michael Smurfit Graduate School of Business seeking to develop a partnership in order to build management capabilities to support the Origin Green sustainability programme. Borne of this conversation, an MSc, partially funded by the Irish food and drinks sector, was recently launched. The aim of the programme is to assist in fast-tracking the promotion and development of market awareness of Origin Green and the participating companies.

The MSc in Business Sustainability offers a formal learning and development programme on sustainability that will serve to develop a strong cohort of individuals who can then positively build awareness of Origin Green and thereby grow Ireland’s international market share for food and drink. The programme is an intensive one – over two years full-time, and with places for 11 students in the programme. It involves time in the classroom environment, participation in industry and sustainability events, a six month internship with an international food company learning about their sustainability practices, and a 12 month placement in a Bord Bia international export market where students learn to apply market awareness strategies of the Origin Green strategy with B2B customers.

3. How is your partnership with Bord Bia?

A positive and strong relationship has existed with Bord Bia for some time. We already run a graduate fellowship programme with them that focuses on building international sales and marketing skills, and a Diploma in Strategic Growth, which aims to develop management capabilities in the food industry. The addition of the MSc in Business Sustainability ties in with a number of strategic aims of the school, including a commitment to sustainability education, and making a contribution to national economic recovery through education.

4. What have been some of the challenges? Successes?

A range of challenges present themselves when running a programme like this for the first time. For example, while a wide range of international food companies have expressed a strong desire to be involved with the programme, the placements are not general work placements. It has taken time and effort to ensure that the nature of the projects that students will be learning from, as well as the team they will be joining, are in line with the programme’s objectives, so that real learning in the area of sustainability occurs. A definite success of the programme has been the opportunity to bring in Faculty from a range of international institutions to deliver content. Our content and design from this perspective makes the programme unique globally. Overall, the programme is running very smoothly, and the feedback so far has been very positive from all stakeholders. It is too early to assess the success of the programme, beyond the fact that it attracted a high calibre intake of students, and that industry was prepared to fund the programme. The ultimate test of the success of the programme will be further down the track: do the students stay in the industry and are they able to influence the sustainability practices of their employers.

The programme is still in its first cycle so this long-term impact has yet to be seen. Students that graduate from the programme will be experts in food and drink sustainability. They will go into industry with that knowledge and skill set, which will enable them to build awareness of the Origin Green brand, and influence the strategic decisions of their prospective employers. In doing so, they will contribute to building Ireland’s reputation as a sustainable food and drink producing nation.

5. What advice would you have for other schools thinking of putting something similar into place.

It is important that you have a very good relationship with the sponsoring agency. We would not have been able to run this programme without the strong connection with Bord Bia and their support for the programme. Develop relationships with firms in the sector, particularly those engaged in sustainability initiatives, as a programme of this sort relies on strong connections with industry. Allow a good lead in time in order to attract the best talent into the programme. And lastly, supplement traditional approaches to attracting students with modern methods – we have been using online promotion, industry networks and other non-traditional methods for promoting the programme.

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