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How Coca-Cola Ireland’s Real Talk forum is advancing a sustainable future for all

Coca-Cola Real Talk forum fosters honest conversations with industry, NGOs and Government on achieving Ireland’s sustainability goals

The critical role partnership and collaboration will play in turning sustainability goals and targets into solid achievements was the theme of the Coca-Cola Real Talk event hosted in conjunction with the Institute for International and European Affairs (IIEA) in Dublin earlier this month. Part of a series of nine forums facilitated by Coca-Cola across Europe, Real Talk aims to foster honest discussions and to unite industry, NGOs, campaigners, and government behind common sustainability goals.

Introducing the event, Agnese Filippi, country manager for Coca-Cola Ireland, explained that environmental, social and governance (ESG) goals and actions are integrated into every aspect of the company’s operations in Ireland.

“Coca-Cola recognises that we have a responsibility to help make packaging waste a problem of the past,” she continued. “We believe that developing a circular economy is the most impactful way to address this challenge and in helping to meet the objectives of the Government’s Climate Action Plan. We’re prepared to play our part.”

Keynote speaker Minister of State for Trade Promotion, Digital and Company Regulation Dara Calleary TD said: “The transition to a low carbon economy presents Ireland with several opportunities to grow our economy sustainably and generate new, high-quality employment opportunities in all regions across the country. This Government is well aware we must lead and put in place the conditions to allow businesses and citizens make more sustainable decisions and investments, but Government alone cannot solve the multi-faceted challenge we face. We need and rely on the innovation, determination and shared values from our private sector.”


Partnerships will be the central delivery mechanism for achieving a more sustainable future, he added. “It is an ambitious path and there will be challenges, but it is the job of a responsible Government and responsible businesses, seeking sustainable growth over the long-term, to ensure that we successfully navigate this transition.”

In his remarks, Minister Calleary highlighted how sustainability is becoming an increasingly important pillar of business performance. The Corporate Sustainability Reporting Directive, which is due to come into force from 2024, will make businesses in Ireland more publically accountable by obliging them to regularly provide information on their impacts on environmental, social and governance matters.

The event featured a wide-ranging panel discussion moderated by award-winning journalist, author and broadcaster Dearbhail McDonald. Panellists included Louise Sullivan, head of packaging recovery at the Coca-Cola Hellenic Bottling Company; Caoimhe Donnelly, sustainability lead at CIÉ Group; Suzanne Delaney, development director of FoodCloud; and Fine Gael Spokesperson on Climate, Communications, Energy and Natural Resources Senator John McGahon.

Louise Sullivan welcomed the new deposit return scheme (DRS) and explained how it will help Coca-Cola meet its own ambitious sustainability targets. “We have set ourselves the ambitious commitment to collect and recycle one bottle or can for each one we sell by 2030. We are not too far from our 2026 target but there is a huge gap from there to get to 100 per cent by 2030. We were very happy to see the government take action on the DRS. We very much support it. Our experience of such schemes in other countries is that they provide a very reliable and effective way of achieving very high rates of collection. The DRS will help us get to our 100 per cent goal.”

Describing the scheme as a game changer, she pointed to other positive impacts beyond reducing pollution and increasing recycling rates. “At present, we don’t have any bottle-to-bottle recycling facilities in Ireland. We have to bring recycled PET in from outside Ireland at the moment. The DRS will provide a stream of high-quality feedstock for recycling and will incentivise investment in recycling facilities in this country.”

The scheme is also an excellent example of the collaboration required to meet sustainability targets. “Lots of partners will be involved in the DRS including retailers,” Sullivan noted. “They will be responsible for accepting packaging and giving back deposit.”

CIÉ is facing the challenge of reducing emissions by 50 per cent at the same time as expanding services to meet the needs of a growing population, according to Caoimhe Donnelly. “An integrated cross-sectoral approach will be a key enabler for the green transition of transport.,” she said. “Partnerships are at the core of CIÉ's sustainability strategy.”

Enhancing the circular economy is also at the heart of that strategy with CIÉ operating company, Bus Éireann, trialling the use of reverse vending machines at Busáras and Letterkenny bus stations, with plans to extend the trial to other stations around the country. It is hoped the introduction of reverse vending machines will assist CIÉ in achieving a 70 per cent recycling rate by 2030.

Senator McGahon also pointed to the opportunities for Ireland presented by the sustainability agenda. “We are all interconnected, and we need to take multi-faceted approach to reaching our targets,” he said. “Ireland will be the renewable energy powerhouse of western Europe by 2030 and will be exporting our offshore wind energy to landlocked European countries. This is happening. We can either get on the train now and become world and European leaders or be laggards and look back in 10 or 15 years and regret what we didn’t do when we had a chance.”

And industry is now definitely on board that train, according to Suzanne Delaney. “Sustainability is at the heart of everything we do. But we can’t do it alone. Partnerships are key to what we do. The first thing we did was partner with companies in the food industry, build their trust and bring them on the journey. We now have partnerships with the food industry, retailers, and funders. We have lots of important partners like Coca-Cola and Tesco who really understand the problems we are trying to solve. Five years ago, no one was talking about sustainability. Now every CEO is talking about it and is aligning their strategies with it.”

Louise Sullivan concluded by pointing to the wider net zero agenda and the need for large companies to play a role in helping others to achieve decarbonisation targets. “Coca-Cola’s target is to be net zero by 2040,” she said. “Our Scope 3 emissions will be critically important, and we will need to look at all our suppliers across the value chain. Some suppliers already have their own targets and are on the same journey. But a lot of them aren’t, particularly our smaller SME suppliers. For us to succeed we need them to success to be on the same pathway. We are trying to help them on the journey in every way we can.”

For more information on the recent Real Talk forum, click here.