Introducing Sustainability: Ossian Smyth, TD and PwC Portugal's Cláudia Coelho

Tackling Sustainability from the ground up

On March 17, the 2022 IPBN St. Patrick’s Day Sustainability Conference took place at the CCIP in Lisbon and was well attended by IPBN members, industry experts, and special guests from the sector. In a video message to conference attendees, Ossian Smyth TD, Minister of State with responsibility for Public Procurement and eGovernment sent a pre-recorded message direct from Lisbon’s Irish Embassy in which he bade all a happy St. Patrick’s Day, and introduced the UN Council’s Sustainability goals as an important and achievable set of standards to target through these talks and future actions making use of teamwork, shared strategies, and transparency in innovation between leaders and key players throughout all sectors. “All of this is happening with an unfortunate backdrop of…a war in Ukraine. Of Russia’s outrageous and unprovoked campaign of Ukraine and of the suffering that that is bringing.” 

The minister cited a recent meeting in Versailles of European leaders discussing what should be done in solidarity with Ukraine while managing the effects of the war on soaring gas and oil prices on the continent, and how best to move away from the current pipeline dependency. Ossian Smyth, a member of the Green Party cited Ireland’s recent Climate and Action Plan campaign, which includes an ambitious retrofit upgrade program for homes in Ireland to be more sustainable and energy-efficient, in order to reduce Ireland’s emissions by 51% in ten years. Additionally, there is a campaign to bring fiber-optic broadband to all homes, and directly connect Ireland and Portugal with sub-sea cable, one of the first of many steps the countries are taking together in alignment with sustainable practices that can best benefit our edge countries.

In an interview with IPBN Chair of the Board Aoife Healy, Ossian Smyth, TD cited his background in Computer Science and his work with Microsoft leading him to gain interest in the wider problems in both the city and the environment, at which point he turned his life’s work over to politics. In terms of taking idealism and turning it into policy, the minister says, “In the past green politics might have been seen as something unusual…now it’s become a lot more mainstream.” In essence, it’s not about whether we go green anymore, it’s how we go green. To that end, Aoife asked about the decentralization of business due to remote working brought on by the pandemic, and the minister was generally positive about the implications on family life and the environment, and the expectations of business owners on filling large office campuses to capacity during a 40-hour workweek. This brings on implications for improvement in terms of rural regeneration and suburban development, while simultaneously putting city centers at risk. “We need more people living in the city centers with offices more spread out. That’s what’s coming for cities, but it is broadly positive.”

Ossian Smith, TD went on to field questions about the circular economy and marrying reuse and recycling with a push for the new, saying “The government can give certainty to businesses about what the policy landscape is going to look like over the next 10 years.” In this sense, businesses will know how to invest, and employees will know how to train for new opportunities. Making sure taxes and incentives are aligned to encourage people to build better habits and business practices in circularity is key, according to the minister, second only to general education and regulation. Governments as a whole will need to work together to ensure change can benefit the businesses and the people they govern. 

Cláudia Coelho, Partner at PwC Portugal gave an introductory presentation entitled “Take on Tomorrow: Companies’ Responsibility in Carbon Change and Green Energy Transition” beginning with a call to action regarding greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions’ direct impact on the planet's rising temperatures. This trend will continue if organizations and governments, along with the private sector, do not take an active role in reducing emissions. Cláudia noted that €1,017 billion is the estimated value for Portugal to achieve carbon neutrality in 2050 through initiatives in line with the national and EU commission frameworks, as well as international commitments. She cited the PwC study, “Net Zero Economy Index,” which concluded that the economy’s decarbonization rate in 2020 was 2.5% globally and 11.3% in Portugal, noting that these values that are not enough to meet the Paris Agreement goals, which would require these numbers to be multiplied by five. Cláudia went on to mention that Portugal, in order to meet its aggressive carbon neutrality by 2050 goals, would have to reduce its GHG emissions by around 85-90%. She then laid out the top ten conclusions made at COP26, citing fossil fuels, internal combustion engines and methane gas, the misappropriation of finance, the Race to Zero campaign, and more. For more information, and to see what PwC can do to help support clients in formulating Net Zero strategies, please consider watching the full presentation here. 

Stay tuned for more articles about the conference and our keynote speakers over the next few days.