For this issue of our In Conversation with Series we had the opportunity to hear from David O’Flynn, Dawn Meats’s Group Head of CSR.
Please describe your role and responsibilities and how many years you have been in the company
As Dawn Meats’ Group Head of CSR my role covers our 17 sites in Ireland and the UK where we employ about 3,500 people. At Dawn Meats the terms CSR and sustainability are used interchangeably. We seek to embed sustainability across all elements of the business so, rather than having a large CSR team, we have a CSR committee comprised of the CEO and senior directors. My role involves developing the CSR strategy with this committee and through their teams supporting its delivery across the business. This September I will have been with the company two years.
What was your background previously? How did you enter the CSR field?
I am a qualified civil and environmental engineer and started my career designing buildings, bridges, water and wastewater plants and landfills and was also involved with transport modelling. Engineers by their nature look for resource efficient solutions taking a lifecycle approach. While working as an engineer I also completed an MBA. Following this I spent a number of years in business development where I was responsible for developing the market for low carbon cement in Ireland. When looking for my next opportunity I had three guiding criteria: 1) it had to be in the area of sustainability, 2) it had to have an export opportunity and 3) it had to have a competitive advantage. I had always thought that Ireland’s food sector sat at the nexus of these key elements. At this time, I attended a conference where the now CEO of Bord Bia was speaking and mentioned the launch of a new exciting initiative called the Origin Green Ambassador programme. I was attracted by the opportunity as it facilitated my transition into the food sector, through hands on experience while gaining a Masters in Sustainable Business. Dawn Meats were one of the sponsors and during the course I got to know the company and Niall (the CEO) and was struck by their ambition. Through conversation with Dawn Meats, the role that I now hold today was created.
How has the sustainability/CSR programme evolved at your company?
Sustainability has been at the heart of Dawn Meats business since it was founded in 1980. Dan Browne (founder) recognised that to have a sustainable business we needed a sustainable supply chain. He worked with farmers to improve the efficiency of farm practices. This work has evolved today into the Better Farms Programme, which has wider industry support and a direct reach into most counties in Ireland. Additionally, because of our rural setting and our supply base of over 20,000 farmers there has always been a natural affinity for community support.
In 2009 we developed our first formal sustainability plan and on joining Origin Green in 2012, the world’s first national sustainability programme, we further advanced our ambition by doubling our original targets. Since I joined in 2015 we have evolved our strategy to formalise and build on the many initiatives we already had in place. We are now focused on 5 key strategic pillars: people & community, sustainable sourcing, animal welfare, innovation & nutrition, and resource management. We will continue to build on these pillars taking a creating shared value approach.
What are the challenges you encounter in driving the sustainability agenda and how do you stay inspired?
One of the primary challenges comes from frequently competing priorities due to the fast paced nature of the business: on one hand you have business critical issues which need to be addressed in the short term and on the other hand you have sustainability challenges which are typically longer term. While planning and forecasting is a key part of any business, the very nature of dealing with a fresh perishable product means that a huge number of matters require daily and immediate attention. My job is to work within these parameters and to put systems in place to enhance the sustainability of the business. What is critical to this success is having senior and middle management support right from the CEO down, coupled with the empowerment of the front line to ensure delivery.
I am a firm believer in having sustainability at the heart of the business. There are a huge number of win wins out there and each and every one can inspire the next step. Fairness, resource use efficiency and waste minimisation are important to me and I am extremely fortunate to have a role that allows me to take action and continuously improve. Of course there is the more formal recognition of achieving improved certification levels, winning awards, receiving customers’ acknowledgements and active community feedback to get you through the inevitable frustrations that arise along the way. The ultimate satisfaction and inspiration comes from seeing a company that is more robust and better prepared for the future.
What is your biggest accomplishment or learning so far?
I am very proud of having the courage to make a career transition. I spent 18 years as a successful engineer and the decision to go back into the full time education to move into the food sector wasn’t easy. Since joining Dawn Meats I am delighted to have obtained such senior level support, of having developed a robust, synergistic strategy and of the successes we have enjoyed internally and externally. Where I really want to get to is a place where every employee in the company knows and understands what Dawn Meats sustainability agenda is about, why we are doing it and are actively contributing to its delivery.
Lesson learnt: Don’t be impatient and don’t try and go around the bottlenecks. Of course the nature of what sustainability professionals do, requires both resilience and single-mindedness. The role involves implementing new ways of doing things, the benefits of which might not be seen immediately, so developing a shared long term vision is important. One needs to have a drive and hunger to get things done. It is extremely important that you engage in building consensus for plans with key constituents; as work and commitment up front will pay dividends when it comes to execution. Listen. Listen. Listen.
What is your motto in life?
Paraphrased from the film The Rock (Sean Connery to Nicholas Cage): “losers do their best, winners go home with the prom queen”. If something is worth doing it is worth doing well. Driving change is challenging, it is easy to make excuses. What we as CSR and sustainability professionals get to do is a privilege so there can be no excuses for not delivering.
What would a perfect day entail for you?
Being in the moment. Sharing new experiences with people whose company I enjoy.
Visit the Dawn Meats website to find out more about their CSR and Sustainability.
This year Dawn Meats achieved the Business Working Responsibly Mark.
You might be interested in reading more interviews:
Audrey Nolan, Head of CSR at Bank of Ireland
Geraldine Kearney, Group Director of Sustainability at Glanbia
Niall Gleeson, Managing Director for Veolia Ireland