This anois talk highlighted two key challenges for the wood and furniture sector that have the potential to be turned into business opportunities though collaboration via the network:
Good evening everyone.
I am delighted to be here this evening to share some thoughts with you.
As Bill Vernon mentioned my name is Frank O’Connor, should be an easy enough name to remember in Cork.
I run a strategy and design agency called anois with my partner Jude Sherry. We moved to nearby Blackpool recently.
While I was born in Cork, and lived in Ireland until 1995, I’ve spent the last 23 years living abroad, working on a diverse range of projects around the World.
I have spoken to many groups over the years but as it happens this is the first time I have done a talk in Cork City.
So why am I here chatting to you tonight?
In 2012 my good friend Alphie Holland, a business mentor-coach originally from Galway and based in the Netherlands, connected me with Bill.
He was convinced we would have a lot to chat about and he was right.
It was immediately obvious that Bill loved wood with a passion and wanted to do whatever was possible to help Irish industry evolve and grow.
Conversations led to us exploring two overlapping questions:
Firstly, is there a need to create a platform to bring industry together, to tackle some of the many national and global challenges currently being faced?
And secondly is there a need for authentic and responsible Irish brands that demonstrate all that is good about Irish design and making, putting Ireland on the global map?
In 2013 Bill took Alphie and I on a busman’s holiday to meet with 6 Irish companies. What an interesting few days that was.
The conversations reaffirmed the need for a support network while furthering our appetite to delve deeper into the brand side.
Bill has since taken a lead role in the creation and launch of the network.
And Jude and I have spent the last few years exploring what an authentic, responsible Irish brand might look like.
I am not going into the branding side now but we are happy to discuss afterwards or at a later stage with anyone who is interested.
Instead I am going to focus on two challenges that we believe bring significant risk to your companies, but also have the potential to be greatly reduced through the support of the network, or even potentially flipped over and turned into exciting new business opportunities.
These challenges are:
Lets take raw materials first.
You will be well aware of the rise in raw material costs over the past few years. We have seen the cost of Irish timber sold to sawmills increase by over 50% between 2016 and 2018.
And our research suggests that global timber prices will continue to fluctuate with rises of up to 8% in the last year. We are clearly not producing enough of our own timber in Ireland, and definitely not enough of the right types of wood that bring maximum sustainable value to the economy and society.
Added to this almost 50% of imported wood comes through the UK. With Brexit on the horizon this reliance is dangerous ground to thread. And when you take into consideration widespread global deforestation, upcoming stricter EU import material controls, and the many economies vying for the same materials and markets these potential risks escalate even further.
And what about the rising cost of waste disposal?
It is globally accepted that we over consume and waste too much. For a long time this was not considered a major business issue as economists were convinced that the linear model of take-make-dispose was indestructible. How wrong they have been proven.
We are now in an era of resource scarcity with many worldwide already irreversibly depleted. Take-make-dispose is no longer a viable business model, irrespective of whether we care or not about the long-term future of the planet. Rising costs alone are making the model obsolete.
For example Veolia highlighted a 136% increase in waste management costs in Ireland between 2004 and 2012. These costs will continue to rise as the legislative landscape drives more ambitious targets with stricter enforcement.
For instance, the EU will no longer fund new landfills and they will greatly restrict new incinerator funding, which will just increase waste costs even further. This has significant implications for your businesses and it soon be could be a question of survival.
So what do we do about all of this? We’re putting forward two propositions to start the conversation.
Firstly adopting ecodesign is a crucial step in addressing rising material and waste costs. Ecodesign will enable you to reduce your raw material consumption and reduce the amount of waste you produce.
Ecodesign achieves this by integrating the environmental and social considerations into every design brief and solution your company works on.
And secondly if everyone works together solutions can and will be found to all the challenges being addressed. It would also seem that a network like this is ideally placed to help, particularly if it has a strong industry core willing to collaborate with government, education and other groups.
Lets take our second scenario, how could joining the network and working together make business sense.
Okay, just say you work together, come up with a strategy and action plan to lobby government to put companies like yours at the heart of their economic and industrial strategies.
This could lead to public procurement changes, mentoring support, financial assistance, training and access to new technologies amongst other benefits.
Public procurement with incentives based on ecodesign alone would be a massive boost to the industry, local economies and the innovation process.
So maybe it’s about working together so you can collectively learn to design and make goods around the principles of ecodesign, so they can be loved, repaired and reused thus embracing the circular economy mode of thinking.
Maybe the network can explore how you share resources, e.g. bulk purchasing of raw materials or utilising additive manufacturing equipment through a sharing scheme?
Coupled with this maybe libraries of secondary materials, could be established across Ireland, where used materials are collected, sorted, cleaned and made available for value-add reuse. So your waste becomes some raw material for you and others.
Maybe it’s about moving beyond the UK markets and though regular access to global trends you innovate more. For example, consider the fact that urban areas are growing rapidly with more and more people moving to cities. In fact greater than 54% of the Worlds population now live in cities.
Add this to an ageing population and the ever-changing definition of a home and clear opportunities present themselves, such as innovating in terms of designing for limited space, increased mobility, and product/service adaptability alone.
It might be that you want to get access to European funding for research, development and innovation. When it comes to ecodesign and the circular economy there is significant financial support across Europe. However, it requires collaboration.
But of course if you are in the network and already collaborating that strengthens the funding case, particularly if you have already worked together to create tangible results.
As it happens the European Commission are placing a stronger emphasis than ever on creating resource efficient circular economies. They have allocated over €6 billion to funds such as Structural & Investment and Horizon 2020.
And so on, there are lots of possibilities, I am sure you could come up with many more.
If you commit to working together, using the network as a platform, these things will happen.
We truly believe it makes business sense at all levels.
So why not give it a go, even a trial for two years. Judge it then on all of your results.
I will leave it with you to think about. Let us know if you have questions.
Thank you for listening. Good luck with your businesses.
Event location: Benchspace, Cork City, Ireland