Join us as we reveal what went down at the 2022 Real Talk forum, brought to you by Coca‑Cola Ireland and the Institute of International and European Affairs (IIEA).

December played host to the 2022 edition of Coca‑Cola Ireland’s Real Talk forum, which was co-organised by the Institute of International and European Affairs (IIEA) and took place at the Irish Emigration Museum. This year’s forum concentrated on Achieving a Sustainable Future for All, with an expert panel discussing how industry, NGOs, and policymakers can achieve climate targets through the power of partnerships.

The forum kicked off with a keynote address from Dara Calleary TD, Minister of State for Trade Promotion, Digital and Company Regulation, with introductions from David O'Sullivan, the IIEA Director General, and Agnese Filippi, Country Manager at Coca‑Cola Ireland. The panel discussion was moderated by journalist, author and broadcaster, Dearbhail McDonald, with speakers representing the public, private, and NGO sectors.

McDonald was joined onstage by Suzanne Delaney, Development Director, FoodCloud; Senator John McGahon, Fine Gael Spokesperson for Climate Action, Communications, Energy and Natural Resources; Caoimhe Donnelly, Chief Sustainability Officer, CIÉ Group, and Louise Sullivan, Head of Packaging Recovery, Coca‑Cola Hellenic Bottling Company.

David O'Sullivan introduced 2022’s topic to the audience, explaining how crucial it is that we look towards a more sustainable future.

“We talk about many challenges that we face,” O'Sullivan explained. “We still have the horrific Russian war in Ukraine, and there are many other events which demand our attention. But we cannot lose sight of this bigger picture of the existential threat to the planet, which climate change represents, and the behavioural change that we all must make in order to address that.

“It's going to require some of us to unlearn the habits of many years and change our way of doing things to meet this challenge. And so that's why this is such an important conversation to get through, with key stakeholders together with politicians, policymakers, business, NGOs, stakeholders, working to get ordinary people engaged in this conversation.”

How Coca‑Cola can play a part in the solution

Before the panel discussion began, Agnese Filippi gave a passionate speech that helped to explain Coca‑Cola Ireland’s role in a more sustainable future. “This is a great opportunity for us to be here together to reflect and try to understand how we can really protect our planet, achieve our circular economy strategy and, ultimately, how we can create a more sustainable future for our beloved Ireland.

“We are working relentlessly to realise our vision of a world without waste,” Filippi added. “By 2030, we want to collect and recycle the packaging for every Coca‑Cola can or bottle we sell. And to achieve that, there is a lot of work to be done. We need to innovate for every single step of the lifecycle of our packaging, from the moment we think about the design of the packaging, to the moment we consider how to collect and recycle. And, finally, we need to put a pause on the amount of packaging we use.

Filippi pointed out just how crucial collaboration is to achieve sustainability targets in the wake of COP 27, with the aim of reaching net-zero by 2040. “We can only achieve these targets by working together,” said Filippi. “No one company, no single industry, nobody is able to reach those kind of targets alone.”

The panel discussion kicked off with Coca‑Cola’s own Louise Sullivan, who spoke in more depth about the ways that Coca‑Cola can make a difference when it comes to sustainability. “Back in 2018, the target was set on a global level, with a very ambitious target to collect and recycle a bottle and can for every single one we produce.

“We set an interim target in the bottling arm of Coca‑Cola HBC, who I work for, to reach 75% by 2025. In terms of where we are in Ireland, we’re not doing too badly in relation to that interim target, currently achieving 73% collection in Ireland… But there's a huge gap to get us from 73% where we are now up to towards that 100%.”

Sullivan highlighted Deposit Return Schemes (DRS) as a great way to achieve such ambitious targets. “We have experience of DRS across Europe, and we consistently see that Deposit Return Schemes are a reliable way to deliver very high rates of collection. We believe such schemes will be a very key enabler to get us towards the 90% collection rate we need to meet as part of the single use plastics directive, but also it helps us from a corporate perspective because it gets us much closer to that 100% collection goal.”

We’re all in it together

It’s clear that different industries and sectors are facing different challenges, but all share one thing in common: the need to become more efficient and sustainable.

The CIÉ Group’s Caoimhe Donnelly was the next of the panellists to speak, discussing the ambitious targets that are facing the transport sector, with the need to reduce emissions by 50% by 2030. “Public transport will play a key role in us achieving that,” Donnelly explained. “We’re on a journey of expanding our services… The National Development Plan is changing considering vast reliable quality services. And that's very much a central part of our plan, but at the same time, we must reach our emission targets.”

Investment and electrification of railways across Europe will play a huge part in meeting those targets, along with a switch to alternative and cleaner fuels such as hydrogen, Donnelly added.

Food Cloud’s Suzanne Delaney was next to speak, highlighting issues and solutions that were a little closer to home for Coca‑Cola, with the need for collaboration key to meeting sustainability targets. “Sustainability has always been at the heart of everything we do at FoodCloud, but we can’t do it alone. Partnerships are key for us, and we need to look at food industry partners – where do we go with those, and how do we bring them on the journey?”

Senator John McGahon followed Delaney, responding to the question of whether targets set by industry are ambitious enough. McGahon started his speech by highlighting societal change, using his sister as an example. “My sister is 22 years of age. And Ruth will absolutely research the green credentials of every product she’s intending to buy before she buys it. When I was 22 that wasn’t even talked about. It’s amazing how much we’ve seen change over the past five years.

“There’s no point in setting crazy targets that we’re not able to meet. What governments are going to do is to set the framework and be in a place to guide people, along with providing proper grants and energy support. This will help to ensure that businesses are able to achieve sustainability targets, because everybody wants to get to where we must get to, and it’s about making that as easy as possible.

“It’s also about reframing the debate around climate action in this country. It’s not just a thing we need to do because the world is on fire. There is also a massive opportunity here for the economy, for green technology, for job creation, and if we reframe the debate a wee bit more, I think people will get very excited.”

Closing thoughts

The debate between the group continued for another hour, with all the participants highlighting insightful challenges and solutions to creating a more sustainable world. You can watch the full debate here, but in the meantime, we’ll leave you with some of our panellist’s closing thoughts “The more we know and understand, the more people and companies are going to get on board,” Delaney pointed out. “Of course, we need to be more ambitious, but we need more people to join us in amplifying the message if we’re going to meet targets and commitments.”

It was Senator McGahon who really hit home just how the government can help to instigate change, however, concluding: “I've been a member of the Senate for the past two years, which has been two of the craziest years in world history, and I have seen how legislation can come through within just 24 hours, with big, big decisions being made because of COVID. If we take the same urgency and determination and apply that to the climate crisis, I think that is a good example of how the government can make a big difference.”

We’ll leave the final words for Sullivan, however, who pointed out that looking to the future, she was most optimistic about the upcoming Deposit Return Scheme, concluding “DRS is not just about addressing packaging; it’s also going to actually change the approach of consumers, with the potential to help change mindsets around waste and our responsibility to help reduce that.”

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