What can we build on in 2021 for a brighter future?

MICHELLE O’SULLIVAN, Senior Public Affairs Executive and Sustainable Cork Programme Lead with Cork Chamber, shares some of the reasons for positivity for a greener, cleaner, more sustainable and healthier future for all
What can we build on in 2021 for a brighter future?

Conor Healy, CEO and Paula Cogan, President of Cork Chamber with Deirdre Mortell, CEO of Social Innovation Fund launching the Sustainable Cork Fund.

A new year signals new possibilities While there have been some positive notes, overall, it’s been a year like no other.

For businesses, activities have been reimagined where possible. Some have navigated the year without too much damage, some even with success stories, and while many struggle to keep their doors open, there are some who may not. The end of the year gives us the opportunity to pause and take a look back for the positive developments that we can collectively champion and build on in 2021.

In May, Cork Chamber initiated the Sustainable Cork Programme to look to the recovery over the short to medium term, though also with a longer term view as we navigated though and out of the pandemic. Unfortunately, and all too real, were the contextual challenges that pre-dated COVID.

Namely, Climate Change and the need for urgent and committed climate action, moving from words to deeds as the Nagle family motto says so well. Added to that, the challenges of an impending Brexit which was looking to be heading in the direction of a hard Brexit.

The Sustainable Cork Programme was started to design a vision for a more sustainable and resilient Cork, framed through the powerful lens of the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and energised with a thriving business community. 

There are 17 Sustainable Development Goals in total, adopted in 2015 by the United Nations General Assembly and developed as a blueprint for achieving a better and more sustainable future for all by 2030.

Senior Public Affairs Executive and Sustainable Cork Programme Lead with Cork Chamber, Michelle O'Sullivan.
Senior Public Affairs Executive and Sustainable Cork Programme Lead with Cork Chamber, Michelle O'Sullivan.

Cork Chamber, and the national Chamber network are championing five of the SDGs, and while there are crossovers between the goals, homing in on these five has been beneficial at the outset. A common enough mistake is that the SDGs are focused on the environment and climate solely.

Though these are critical areas within the goals, they are not the sole focus. Instead, the SDGs cover a range of areas from poverty eradication, reducing inequality, economic growth, access to education services to environmental protection. Though all SDGs are interlinked. For example, quality of life, environmental health, and business competitiveness are all connected and fundamentally woven together.

In starting the Sustainable Cork Programme at an incredibly challenging time for businesses, for everyone right across society, we wanted to explore how to build back better, to lay those foundations of resilience and sustainability for generations to come.

As part of this we organised ten virtual discussions across the Cork business community. We had over 100 representatives from a huge variety of businesses types and sizes join these discussions.

The focus was on exploring the challenges and the opportunities for a strong recovery, in parallel with a discussion on the vision for Cork.

Our Sustainable Cork Programme Report consulted almost 1,000 people and consistent themes emerged time and time again. Sustained support through the recovery post Covid-19. Climate action, Government policy certainty and support for climate innovation. Enhanced public and sustainable transport infrastructure. The delivery of Project Ireland 2040, government’s long-term strategy to make Ireland a better country for all. The quickened rollout of the National Broadband Plan. More people living in the heart of our city and towns. Flexible working. Support to transition business skills, activities, production models and materials to support climate ambitions and a thriving low carbon economy. Enhancement and protection of ecology, from the planting of trees to wildflower verges. Real equality for people of any gender, race or background. Childcare.

Competitiveness and talent attraction. Support for cluster and innovation hubs to support emerging businesses, skills and synergies in our culture and arts sector, and climate innovation.

The research paints a very clear picture of the Cork with business and community sharing common goals and ideals. A Cork that people want to live in, work in and enjoy, a place where we want to be, and how our future could look.

While 2020 is hard to look on fondly, there has been a reframing of priorities, a reigniting of community spirit and meitheal, a reconnection with our surroundings and nature. Quality of life, when challenged with such restrictions and the even more difficulties experienced by so many in our health services, the vulnerable, our older community, has resurged as the greatest priority of all.

An equilibrium that supports connection, family, community and our environment supported by clear leadership and a thriving business community are constituent parts of a tapestry that embeds resilience, shifts behaviours, champions green and clean and sets us all on a future pathway that is sustainable, inclusive and healthier for all.

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