Sustainable Business Development – an interview with an Industry Expert

Sustainable Business Development – an interview with an Industry Expert

by | 17 Jun 2021 | The Grey Matters Network Blog

A recent Podcast Interview with Tony Devine and a Sustainability Business Expert – Declan Ryan

Tony – Hi, my name is Tony Devine. I’m managing partner at The Grey Matters Network, where the business of providing people, professional people, such as the person I’m joined by today, Mr. Declan Ryan. Declan has been in the business of sustainability in business for very many years. Declan, would you like to introduce yourself? I’m calling you a sustainability strategic consultant. Can you explain your background to us please?

Declan: Thank you, Tony. My name is Declan Ryan, and I’ve spent the last 30 years of my life working in the areas of resource recovery, sustainable business development, and operation and risk mitigation in the downstream oil market. For 20 of those years, I’ve been managing director of a public subsidiary of a PLC, head a business for a semi stage, and a sustainable business consultant. I call myself an environmental capitalist. Hopefully that will become clear throughout the next 10 minutes. My interest in being sustainable stretches back to the late ’60s, when I never understood why things only had one use. This question has led me to where I am today.

I’m going to spend the next short while talking about sustainable businesses, why it makes sense, and what it can mean for businesses today and tomorrow? In 2015, the UN issued 17 sustainable goals to provide a blueprint to achieve a better and more sustainable future for all. Companies to date that have bought into these sustainable goals have selected four, these four being equality, clean energy, climate action, and responsible consumption and production. So what is a sustainable business? Well, a description I heard recently best describes it. A sustainable business is described as a three-legged stool, people, planet, profit.

A sustainable business is an organization that participates in environmentally friendly or green activities to ensure that all its processes and products and activities currently address current, not future, environmental concerns while growing profitability. But a sustainable business has a vested interest in its people, work-life balance, mindfulness, and health and wellbeing. People that work in companies with sustainable goals and targets are proud to be part of these companies, and statistics have shown that businesses who adopt these goals have significant less churn. A sustainable business assesses its suppliers and customers activities, its products and services, and looks at ways to align them with their sustainable business plan. It also looks at ways to reduce energy use, both direct and indirect, using of course green energy where available.

Tony; So Declan, I understand you spent many years working with the Irish Turf Board or Bord na Mona and they would be probably an exemplar of this whole sustainable business space. Do you want to talk to us a wee bit about what they’ve been doing?

Declan;Yeah. Bord na Mona as most people know were a peat supplier, and they had a significant amount of jobs in the Midlands. Over the last few years, they have downgraded their peat activities to the point now that they’re not producing peat anymore and the two peat burning power stations are closing down, alongside the horticulture business. But it’s reinventing themselves. It has a brown to green plan that has just launched. It is going to make them the model of sustainability with renewable energy, resource recovery, and carbon sinks as its reinvention, and this change will increase the possibility, provide sustainability, reduce environmental impact, and create sustainable employment back to the people, planet and profit again.

Tony;  And so you talked about a model of sustainability there. Are there any other global examples of models?

Declan; Pretty interesting question. Tesla stands out as being in top 100. The COVID-19 vaccine developer AstraZeneca are well up there, and Google’s parent company is carbon neutral called Alphabet. They are three examples of large corporations that have fully adopted these sustainable goals within their strategic business plan.

Tony; Declan could I ask you, these are very large companies so clearly they’re not doing it for philanthropic reasons, they’re doing it for other reasons. You’ve touched on value. Do you want to expand upon that?

Declan; You have to understand that sustainability development goals are not costing the consumer … sorry, are a profit center. They are not CSO, they are a profit center. What has encouraged these businesses to get involved in the sustainable business side of it is for a variety of reasons. Long-term value, its customers will do business with them longer term because they’re a sustainable business. They create value protection for the shareholders. The company will increase its profitability and productivity. The banks, finance houses, lending agencies are starting to take an active interest on the company’s sustainable goals and will base their lending criteria on those activities.

Taxation is only going one way, particularly in the carbon side. The carbon tax is not going down, it is only going up. So if you don’t look at reducing your energy or using green energy, you’re going to be forced out of business by paying significantly higher charges on taxes as your competitors do. And also on top of it is public opinion. And people again, businesses needs to understand a sustainable practice can and will be profit centers.

Tony; What’s interesting about what you’re explaining here Declan is that traditionally we probably tend to think … at least I tend to think about sustainable businesses as to do with the planet, but you’ve introduced the fact that actually there’s two other legs of the stool, there’s two other Ps, there’s the people and the profit.

Declan; Exactly. And they are so intertwined that their reliance on each other, one will not deliver without the other two and it’s a huge important that they are intertwined. It’s a word that I have continued to use, that they cannot be separated, and if you try to separate them you will fall short.

Tony; Well so if you’re addressing a company, a CEO or an MD today of a company who was thinking about making their business sustainable, or at least taking the first steps, what would your advice to them be?

Declan; There are many models setting out the approach for any company to becoming a sustainable business, but simply put, identify and select the relevant UN SDGs that will shape and deliver success to your integration strategy. Review those selected sustainable goals and put them at the forefront of measurement against where your business is going to go. So you marry these goals into your business plan. Develop goals, targets, and KPIs to align and measure the company’s strategy, and then integrate measured targeted improvements against KPIs and budgets. And then on an annual or half annual basis, review and improve. Review progress of how far down the path you are in each of the selected areas and adjust to make sure that you’re keeping in line, or you’re catching up, or you’re slowing down, depending on what the necessary element is. So just select, integrate, review, develop, and review.

Tony; Show you’re green and act you’re green. That’s a good place for us to start a rap, Declan. I mean, for me, what I’ve taken from our conversation today is that yeah, it’s the three Ps, the three legged stool, the people, the profit, and the planet. It’s not all about the planet, I think is maybe one of the big learnings for me about this, but it’s the value component and measuring and balancing that value for your present business, but also for your future business. And of course you’re explaining to people that if you’re going down this road, just decide to do it. Select your goals. You’ve got plenty of guidelines from the EU, the UN 17 objectives or goals that they’ve set. And you’ve obviously talked about marrying those with where you want to be in your business. This has been very useful. Is there anything else you want to add before we close?

Fantastic. Thank you, Declan Ryan, so as Declan says, if you want to talk about sustainability, if you want some help or advice on making your business sustainable, contact us at and you can get access to people like Declan Ryan for their areas of expertise, not just in this area, but in multiple other areas. Thank you for now.

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