Origin Green: Building on proof and progress to meet the future needs of an evolving world

15 September 2020

Many of Ireland’s food and drink producers and dedicated farmers are eight years into their Origin Green journey, and the events of the last 6 months have illustrated more than ever the importance of sustainability in our food and drink industry.   

 Deirdre and SDG blocks

Having recently reflected on the proof and progress through our own Origin Green report, this prestigious external acknowledgement underlines the significant success of the programme since its establishment in 2012 and signals the crucial role we will play in facing the challenges of the future by leveraging the scale and reach of Origin Green to work together to a greener future. 

I’m a few months into my journey as Director of Origin Green.  Throughout my career I’ve appreciated the important progress and results achieved by the programme and its members in driving sustainability improvements.

Origin Green is unique in that it measures, monitors and drives sustainability improvements across the entire supply chain to support claims that Irish food and drink is sustainably produced. The pioneering programme is still the world’s only national food and drink sustainability programme to do this on a co-ordinated basis across the full supply chain nationally.  Support for Origin Green is key to Ireland’s global leadership in sustainable food production now and will be into the future in an ever-evolving world.

The key benefits of the programme are more environmentally aware farms, an important focus on community and more sustainable food and drink production which ultimately contribute to sustainable livelihoods. This focus on sustainable supply chains and livelihoods has grown even more important, as our food and drink industry continues to respond to issues such as Covid-19 and Brexit.  

Since its inception, Origin Green has grown to collaborate with 53,000 farms and 330 leading Irish food and drink companies to prove and improve the sustainability of the products they produce to meet the evolving needs of global customers and consumers. Providing programmes for farmers, producers, manufacturers and retailers, the Origin Green programme is independently monitored and verified.  Verified Origin Green members account for 90% of our food and drink exports and 70% of our domestic retailers.

All of our members have achieved significant results in the last 5 years, and the programme’s critical focus on proof and progress provides strong foundations for facing the challenges of the future. Over 260,000 carbon assessments have taken place on beef and dairy farms over a five-year period. Origin Green’s Progress Update report highlights that farms that joined the Sustainable Beef and Lamb Assurance Scheme (SBLAS) in 2014 saw an average of 5% reduction in CO2 per unit of beef produced, and farms that joined Sustainable Dairy Assurance Scheme (SDAS) in 2014 saw an average of 9% reduction in CO2 per unit of milk produced. Food manufacturers reduced energy usage by 11% and water usage by 17% per kilo of output.  

In addition to the progress of the last eight years, Origin Green is making continuous changes to the programme that aim to accelerate how we support our members in driving further improvements in greener growing, production and manufacturing to ultimately drive down emissions from the sector.  The new Farmer Feedback Report supports farmers in their efforts to farm more sustainably.  As part of the Sustainable Assurance Schemes, Bord Bia auditors gather data during the audit process through the Sustainability Survey that enables Bord Bia to assess the environmental performance of quality assured farms via a carbon footprint calculation.

The data gathered is used to generate a Farmer Feedback Report which includes a summary of farm performance under the following headings: General Farm Performance, Carbon Footprint, Greenhouse Gases, Nutrient Management, Grassland Management and Farm Health and Safety. The purpose of report is to demonstrate to members how their farm inputs and activities contribute to GHG production. The report contains advice and feedback on how to mitigate against these emissions and improve production efficiencies. The advisory feedback is formulated in collaboration with Teagasc and will focus measures set out in the Teagasc MACC curve.

A new Origin Green Charter provides further support for food and drink manufacturers, retailers and foodservice companies. New membership tiers provide bespoke supports to members at different levels of their sustainability journey. A new sustainability credits scoring system, underpinned by the programme’s independent verification, was introduced to recognize those who exceed their targets.  Over the coming months, the programme will introduce a higher level of membership for companies excelling in their sustainability performance. Each year, Origin Green companies that have reached a predetermined higher threshold will be designated as Gold Members of the Origin Green programme and rewarded accordingly.

Recent development such as Covid-19 and the oncoming threat of Brexit have made us realise more than ever before the importance of a pioneering programme like Origin Green, which enables the industry to set and achieve measurable sustainability targets in a fully transparent way that respect the environment and serve local communities more effectively. Despite the significant challenges of recent months and the emerging issues the industry will face in the future, I’m confident that our members will continue to respond with the same innovation and resilience that has made Ireland’s food and drink produce the first choice globally – it is trusted as sustainably produced by people who care.