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Interview with Brian O’Kennedy, Head of Goodbody Clearstream

Brian, tell us about the Goodbody Clearstream team.

We’ve been in business for over 15 years and our team is currently serving over 150 local and international clients including PLCs, leading private and semi-state companies across a range of sustainability and ESG related topics. We have built a strong reputation for providing practical expert sustainability advice and solutions, modestly describing ourselves as Ireland’s leading ESG advisory firm! The current team of 18 expert sustainability practitioners has grown rapidly over the past four years and we are continuing to add to that expert pool as we develop our service offering. Our solutions are focussed on four business verticals; Climate & Carbon Management, Responsible Business ESG Strategy & Reporting, Responsible Sourcing & Circular Economy, and Sustainability Learning & Development.

What does it the Goodbody acquisition mean for the business?

Our clients are increasingly interested in what investments and financial strategies they will need to deploy to drive sustainability in their businesses. With the backing of Goodbody, we will be well-placed to offer both a strategic and a financial perspective on the benefits and opportunities of sustainability investment. Capital will be required to drive the next wave of the climate transition. The combination of the expertise of Goodbody and Clearstream should provide an attractive proposition for our clients. It also gives us the support and resources of a leading Irish advisory firm as we continue to grow and accelerate our positive ESG impact.

What are some of the key ESG trends and challenges you see clients focussing on in the current market?

Our work over the past 4-5 years has largely been focussed on helping our customers to develop their ESG and decarbonisation strategies, setting climate and sustainability targets, such as Science-Based Targets (SBTi) and UN Sustainable Development Goals (UN SDGs). As we look to the future, it is clear that mandatory EU ESG reporting legislation has focussed the minds of many senior leadership teams. This has served to move the sustainability conversation from the back office to the boardroom. We know we’re making progress when the CEO, CFO and the Board are in the room asking about how they need to plan to integrate ESG into all aspects of their businesses, and budget for it too. ESG performance is a competitive space, and we see an increasing number of companies understand that their sustainability performance will help them compete for finance, people and new business.

How do you see the ESG landscape evolving in the future? What are some things businesses may not be aware are coming down the tracks?

While sustainability strategies, target setting and reporting have been the hot topics over the past few years, the big issues we see coming down the track are going to be more linked with action, impact, and transparency. Auditing of ESG data will require significant additional focus and rigour on the topic from the c-suite and board members. Directors will also be required to deliver and sign off on environmental and human rights due diligence in their value chains, something that most businesses to date have been able to largely ignore. And companies will have to provide details of their climate transition plans, including ambition, risk and costed decarbonisation strategies aligned with maintaining temperature rise below the 1.5 degrees Celsius global warming as outlined in the Paris Agreement. There will also be a wider focus on the impact business has on nature and biodiversity.

Can you tell us about a particularly rewarding project you’ve worked on?

The most rewarding part of our job is when we get to see the impact some of our sustainability and climate strategies being put into action and delivering more sustainable outcomes for our clients and the planet. Personally, I have a strong interest in the circular economy and responsible sourcing projects. I’m particularly proud of the food waste calculator we recently built for the charity Food Cloud.

Following on from COP28, and the launch of the Irish Government’s Climate Action Plan 2024, what do you see as the key priorities for the coming year?

We need to urgently move on from the setting of targets and long-term climate ambition statements, to the implementation of real practical actions. Ambition to get to Net Zero is all very well, but we need to see governments and financial markets mobilise to provide the incentives and motivation for business to deliver on these commitments. We need governments to reward organisations that decarbonise with more business, investment and supports, and at the same time, we need to send a clear message to the market that burning fossil fuels will be increasingly expensive and largely unacceptable in developed economies. And we need to accelerate our investment in renewables locally, and to fund a ‘just transition’ in the developing world.

Describe your team in three words?

Purpose-driven, Committed, Talented.

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