Category Archives: Deep Dive

Sustainability in Business, Sustainability as Business

By Ciarán Quinn

Before the pandemic consumed the eyes and ears of the world, the cry for the halt to climate change and destruction caused by the world’s economy was a silent wave coming to its peak. Whether it was a schoolgirl from Sweden being awarded Time Magazine’s Person of the Year for her efforts to raise awareness on the issue, or the hundreds of school strikes organized around the globe, a wary eye was cast once again on the efforts companies are making to heed these warnings. There are plenty of examples of companies who have blatantly disregarded their environmental responsibilities in the past. Take Volkswagen’s ‘Diesel gate’ or the continued deforestation of the Amazon by the likes of Costco and Walmart. It is clear from the profile of these companies, an auto industry powerhouse and the world’s largest company by revenue in 2019, that thus far sustainability is not something they feel is vital to the present and future success of their businesses. The likes of Ryanair have introduced a voluntary ‘carbon footprint offset fee’, which seems to try and give back through environmental schemes, rather than tackling or reducing the issue head-on. This all begs the question, is sustainability within business achievable? And is the notion of sustainability as a core business element constituent only possible as an allusion?

There are examples of hope to contrast the examples of doom mentioned above. Many household companies have embraced sustainability and the chances it creates, with different approaches to the issues allowing for innovation and creativity in this field. This has led to disruption and new improvements across all aspects of business. Whether it be supply chain or the product itself, sustainability is slowly being embraced across the board, although some companies have shown great agility in their conversion to sustainable practices also.

Adidas have concentrated on creating a greener supply chain, with a focus on reducing energy used and importantly water consumption- which has historically played a huge role in the fabric-dyeing process. This has been made possible through the reconfiguring of their production process with the implementation of ‘Drydye’ technology. Another project by Adidas is their collaboration with Parley, a non-profit organization to commit to creating shoes from 100% recycled polyester. This will be possible through a material called ‘primeblue’, which the two have collaborated on creating from plastics and polyesters recycled from the ocean. Another lifestyle-clothing stalwart is Nike, who have
focused on the introduction of recycled and reconstituted materials in their products. Most notably, 75% of the products produced by Nike partially contain some recycled material. This effort has culminated in the release of Nike’s ‘space hippie’ collection, which combines sustainability with radical design. The result is a fashionable sports lifestyle shoes made from between 85-90% recycled materials. Furthermore, Companies have focused on logistics to drive improvements. British supermarket Tesco have invested to improve rail systems to shift a portion of their distribution
network from road to the more environmentally friendly rail network. It’s clear that these firms see sustainability as an important issue in their profitability and future growth. While the companies mentioned above have begun to adopt sustainability as a core element of their businesses, there are several companies that have sustainability as a core constituent since their inception. Patagonia is a clothing company which puts the environment and sustainability above all else, whether it be through their ‘don’t buy this jacket’ campaign or use of 70% recycled materials across their range. Tesla have shifted their product focus to machines that build a future foundation for the firm, where the use of fossil fuels is eliminated through their groundbreaking technology.

None of Tesla’s vehicles have tailpipe emissions and the company have revolutionised how homes can be fueled through their intuitive solar roof technology. The potential for advancement through renewable energy and sustainability can be seen here, with the opportunity for solar energy to charge a customer’s car at home rather than having to stop at a petrol station. With every advancement in sustainable fields such as renewable energy for Tesla, even more innovation is demanded, and the likes of Tesla are delivering.

Another company taking an approach similar to Tesla’s, but within the fashion industry is the brand SAYE. SAYE is a start-up founded in Barcelona, which has incorporated sustainability across all its activities from the start. Their shoes are made from a host of ecological and recycled materials. The leather comes from European farms, which have been vetted as respecting environmental stewardship standards. The laces are produced from organic cotton, allowing them to easily integrate back into the cycles of the earth for future generations. The insoles are produced from PU foam, repurposed from the by-products of the European car industry. The company has also ensured all packaging is made entirely from recycled materials and promises to plant two trees for each pair of their shoes sold, with 90,000 trees planted to date. With their production facilities located in northern Portugal, the company guarantees fair wages and working hours, with worker friendly policies concerning overtime and conditions. With sustainability underpinning the ethos of the company, SAYE are in the best position to take advantage of the many opportunities and innovation stemming from this vital and growing sector.

The struggle between sustainability and profitability has long been a source of contention within business regarding its achievability. Too many companies have given lip service, but few up until now have made it a real purpose. Today’s world of Greta Thunberg and climate activism doesn’t see this issue as it once did and demands that real change be made. Patagonia, SAYE and Tesla have risen to the challenge. The idea of sustainability as business is clear from these companies making honest change, and the success of these businesses is reflective of that.

Why Can’t Entrepreneurs Ignore Geopolitics?

Today’s top entrepreneurs are always learning to deal with fast and inevitable changes. All the entrepreneurs or startup firms are expected over time to adjust entry mode and mode of service when resolving market dynamics and regional & global parameters. The various situations of global geopolitics, according to several analysts’ claims, would allow diverse startups and innovators to work together to counter multiple geopolitical uncertainties and risks. For the growth and advancement of an entrepreneurial venture, other than geographical position and time, global factors involve many other items such as world population distribution, the effects of international developments such as the cold war, post-cold war results, regionalisation, and so on. Related effects happen for some significant events, such as changing state relationships, foreign trade disputes etc. Thus, the diverse dynamics in geopolitics may be clustered in several lines to construct a global model in terms of the potential for innovation and entrepreneurship.

To illustrate, a significant geopolitical change was observed in the post-cold war period with the fall of the USSR and the democratisation of Eastern Europe. The transition offered tremendous opportunities for creativity and entrepreneurship. This is an age we are living every small and big entrepreneur are concerned about geopolitical risks and opportunities. For instance, concerning various geopolitical situations, Israel has concentrated on numerous developments in different sectors, including defence, security, cybercrime, and software; thus a considerable amount of development has occurred in the entrepreneurial ecosystem of the nation. In such a geopolitical environment, with the help of numerous government policies, VC investment schemes, systemic developments continued to take place, contributing to the rapid growth of technical entrepreneurship, particularly in Tel Aviv.

Furthermore, in the current scenario, globalisation is another critical aspect of making a geopolitical decision. The economic effect of interconnectivity, resulting in new trading partners, monetary and labour movements, and global governance, especially in this field of globalisation. To assess the reach of innovation and entrepreneurship worldwide, especially in emerging markets, a proper study is needed through the lens of geopolitical variables such as global globalisation, intergovernmental institutions, ever-changing political structures, etc. The value of understanding the notion of globalisation should be taken into account when relating geopolitics and business practices.
The definition of globalisation often raises the scope of the market environment worldwide, and therefore, there is often a risk of rising uncertainty. Therefore, careful consideration of the benefits and challenges from globalisation is necessary for long-term viability to fuel creativity or build a model for startup growth. Globalisation leads to more vigorous competition in the industry. It is a dominant geopolitical dimension which is shaping the worldwide scenario of entrepreneurship.

Therefore, in the modern world, geopolitics related questions are very significant. For any international entrepreneurship opportunity, various geography-related questions are specifically relevant. Such enquiries are supposed to provide a framework in terms of exploring the extensive nature of geography and how it could create impacts on environment-oriented variables like cultures or local politics.

In brief, it will not be wrong to say that in the upcoming future, various geopolitical changes are going to influencing entrepreneurship scenario worldwide. For instance, after the current geopolitical shock, i.e. Covid-19 pandemic, it is expected that the world could experience a wave of innovation by the efforts of various entrepreneurs.

This is the Crisis that Monetary Policy Will Miss

Dubbed ‘The Great Lockdown’ in a recent IMF report, the sudden halt of the world economy has sparked an imminent recession unlike anything we have seen since the second world war.

The estimated loss of global wealth is $9T (equivalent of Germany & Japan’s economies falling off the face of the earth for an entire year) and IMF project a 6% decline in GDP across Europe & the US – twice that of the 2009 global financial crisis.

However unlike 2009, interest rates today are at record lows, rendering any change from here ineffective. This means we need to print money to generate liquidity and spend money to fuel growth, both of which are problematic.

Why do Interest Rates Matter?

Interest rates are set using Monetary Policy which refers to the actions undertaken to control the money supply of a given currency in an economy. In each case, a central bank determines the minimum interest rate in which a currency can be borrowed. Monetary policy is set by the European Central Bank (ECB) in the Eurozone and the Federal Reserve (Fed) in the US.

The lower rates are, the cheaper it is for businesses to borrow which then incentives investment and fuels economic growth.

It is one of two primary tools used to achieve macroeconomic goals and is fundamental in stimulating growth. Without strategic monetary policy, inflation can go out of control (currency loses value) or a recovery can be stalled. For this reason, the UK choose to set their monetary policy independent of the Eurozone via the Bank of England.

Where is Monetary Policy at Today?

Prior to the Global Financial Crisis, monetary policy across the west was in fairly good shape. At the beginning of 2008, interest rates were 4.2% in the Euro, 5.25% in the Dollar and 5.5% in Sterling. This meant that once the crisis hit, central banks were able to lower rates and effectively fuel growth to curb the downturn.

Today, 12 years on, rates are lower than ever; 0% in the Euro, 0.25% in the Dollar and 0.1% in Sterling. This gives central banks virtually no ability to use them to generate further liquidity using interest rates during this crisis.

To put it simply, borrowing money can’t get any cheaper than it is today meaning that central banks can’t reduce the cost of borrowing to tackle this downturn like they could in 2009.

As a result they’ve turned to what’s called quantitative easing (QE) to increase the money supply. This is another word for printing money and is highly contentious as it creates inflation (decrease in the value of money) which may go out of control if not strictly measured. As a result it has a very limited capacity to generate liquidity.

Outside of QE, economies are reliant on fiscal policy to restore growth.

Fiscal policy refers to the use of government spending and tax policies to influence economic conditions, namely macroeconomic conditions such as growth. It is set at the domestic level by national governments. Although the 3 economies in question are aligned on the issue of low interest rates, they face different problems individually when it comes to fiscal policy.

European Policy is Limited

ECB rates have been at 0% since 2016. If they go any lower they will be paying people to borrow money,  if they go any higher the Euro Area will be shocked with tighter rates than have been seen in the last four years and economic recovery will be inhibited. So as it stands, the ECB can’t do anything for Europe with interest rates.

This means monetary policy is reliant on QE. Which has recently hit a major roadblock in Germany where a recent ruling stated that the ECB’s QE Program is excessive (destabilising) and that the German Central Bank must cease cooperation with the ECB in the next 3 months unless they can prove otherwise.

This puts the ability of the ECB to tackle a downturn in serious jeopardy. Given that Germany is responsible for a third of the Eurozone’s GDP, a cease of cooperation will make the ECB’s policy ineffective.

This means that Eurozone countries must turn to fiscal policy for stimulus.

In the EU, fiscal policy is primarily set at the domestic level – meaning it’s up to each national government to choose how they’ll spend their money. Undoubtedly there will be an effort to coordinate spending in Eurozone countries to minimise the downturn’s impact across the continent. However, such efforts have historically been politically contentious and will likely be no different this time round. Coordination means that smaller countries (Ireland, Greece etc.) will have to base their spending on that of the larger countries (Germany & France). If one country fails to emerge from stagnated growth, other Eurozone countries will feel the burden.

With nationalism on the rise in Europe over the last half decade, we may see sharp resistance towards EU intervention in fiscal policy decisions, threatening the stability of the Euro entirely.

The UK still has to deal with Brexit

With interest rate constraints the UK has also resorted to QE, recently announcing a £200bn purchase of UK government and corporate bonds. However, they still need to finalise Brexit agreements before they leave the Customs Union and Single Market by the end of the year. This may be prolonged but will inhibit fiscal policy going forward.

Limitless QE and High Debt in the US

Similarly to the ECB, the Fed can do little with interest rates to aid growth from here,  turning to QE as for liquidity generation. However, it has slightly more independence than the ECB when it comes to its monetary policy. As a result, they’ve announced a limitless QE program. This effectively means they will print as much money as they believe is necessary to achieve their macroeconomic targets. The stock markets have reacted well to this announcement as it increases the likelihood of high returns. However, the stock market is not the economy, printing money has historically never been favourable and if the Fed isn’t careful they may devalue the dollar beyond their capacity to control it.

To destabilise matters even further, US officials have announced that they are considering writing off some of their debt to China. Such a move would be catastrophic for their credibility and will send the bond market into panic, this would be unprecedented.

Aside from issues with QE, fiscal policy in the US is also under constraints. As it stands, the US national debt is at a record $25T. This has more than doubled since 2008 and stands around $75,757 per person. Evidently, this is becoming less sustainable as time goes on and seriously calls into question how the US government can reliably borrow any further

In either case, an effort to restore growth now will be paid for in the near future. Undoubtedly, the debt is a long-term issue to be faced by millennials, of whom are currently already burdened with $1.6T in student loan debt (owed by 40 million borrowers). Whichever approach the government chooses to adopt, it will make the macroeconomic situation increasingly unsustainable. If the government are not responsible today, the US public will have to pay for it down the line.

In essence, to reboot the economy, the US government will need to spend more money, mounting on their ever growing, unsustainable debt which may lose all its value should QE go out of control.

The Outcome

In Europe & the US monetary policy is restricted to QE as a mechanism for generating liquidity. This is limited at best and destructive at worst.

The West will have to fight this battle without the monetary tools we’ve had in the past – which means national governments need to strategically set their fiscal policies to coordinate a quick recovery across both continents.

In Europe, this involves a coordinated effort among distinctively different economies who are each faced with their own problems and political pressures. In the US, it likely requires an increase in the ever-growing national debt which will have to be paid for at some point in the future. It is hard to imagine a sustainable “V Shaped” recovery in such a global climate. If there is, it will entail a lot of borrowing.

Economics can be convoluted and politics can be misleading, which has taken this conversation out of mainstream news reports. Monetary policy will not be able to help us out of this crisis and extensive efforts to do so could make it worse. Fiscal policy will take on all the responsibility for recovery, which implies increased debt and a need for smart spending.

Whether or not the economy gets back on its feet next year, interest rates will eventually have to rise, and government debt will eventually have to be paid back. In order to do so, we need long term strategic vision and strong underlying growth. If not, we may see the demise of the Euro over the next decade and potentially the Dollar.

The sooner we recognise this, the better we can act. The longer we ignore it, the less we can do.

Striking the Balance: Will Hindsight Lead the Way?

By Sinéad Flynn


Innovation and technology are the most prominent buzz words for firms and corporations around the world. The next big idea, next invention, and next discovery are waiting to emerge. Society has evolved from the 1880s, where it was once thought by Commissioner of US Patent Office Charles Duell that “everything that can be invented has been invented” to new advances exploding at our fingertips without limits. FinTech has received a great deal of attention, and it’s only in its infant stages.  Marc Andressen notes that ‘internet companies might end up in 180 countries before they have 180 employees.’ Globalisation and technology have had a huge impact on markets, and the role of Fintech is just a new stimulation.

What is Fintech?

Fintech is a financial technology that aims to compete with traditional financial methods. Fintech can take the shape of crowdfunding, cryptocurrencies, or blockchain, and notably is expanding into new markets rapidly. While online banking has been prevalent for years, fintech adds a new dimension to the payment’s services. Within seconds, users are sending and receiving money faster than ever before. Fintech has begun to dominate our everyday lives where it is commonly seen with those who use Apple Pay or Samsung Pay or those that have sent funds via GoFundMe. The limits to what may be considered Fintech can be unlimited, where most start-ups are embracing technology to create innovative products and services. FinTech is emerging throughout trading, insurance, and risk management as well, which has appeared quite disruptive to these industries that haven’t changed for quite some time.

Opportunity or Threat?

While business may be booming, and the financial crash seems to be forgotten, how does commercial law interact with this fast-paced business environment? It is argued that fintech firms receive a competitive advantage and create an attractive space for investors when they comply with regulations. Cryptocurrency companies and those that are an unregistered seller of securities have been hit hard in the US by the Security and Exchange Commission. These fines have diminished confidence in these certain start-ups and created financial loss through settlements and fines. There are concerns that fintech firms are utilising their institutions to harbour illegal assets utilised for criminal activity. While fintech firms have been embraced for their revolutionary growth and modern methods to business in this age of technology, it must be approached with caution due to poor ethical choices being made at times.

Striking the Balance

Countries such as Ireland that rely on a great deal of foreign direct investment must adequately strike the right balance between attracting new business, but also ensuring the system is not abused. Research shows that there is no specific legislation designed to regulate certain services that fall under this broad FinTech category, besides those concerning the Central Bank of Ireland and minimal EU Regulations. Ireland is a lucrative location for start-ups and businesses looking to set up a European hub, as they have more freedom to do so while then receiving this passport into the European market. Diversity in our financial markets reflects this growing desire to explore alternative mechanisms to enhance society. While research is ongoing for the limitations and effects FinTech firms bring to the table, these initiatives are looking primarily to law firms to structure and protect their interests.

A Closer Look

If one narrows the analysis of Fintech into electronic payment companies, the Payment Services Regulation 2018 will apply. This Regulation has effectively created a more level playing field for fintech start-ups to enter the market and develop their technology services further with an overall aim to increase competition for the benefit of consumers. At the moment, it is argued here that the EU is fully embracing these innovative and competitive practices. If one assumes that the market will regulate itself and that the legislature should be more laissez-faire, then more relaxed regulations should be welcomed. While this may be worrisome to those that appreciate the traditional style of banking and finance, this is ultimately a positive step, as time and time again, traditional banking models and financial institutions of the past have failed multiple sectors leading to dire losses.

Has the Balance Been Struck?

The right balance must be struck in order to protect investors, but also to facilitate this necessary development. The Central Bank of Ireland is conscious that there is a lack of legislation specific to Fintech entities, and that it has assumed the role as the main regulator where able. This leaves investors and innovators in a precarious spot. In one regard, there is little law guiding their activities, but in turn, this allows them to receive the freedom necessary to develop and surpass imaginable limits on their ventures. While the Payments Services Regulation may increase accountability and reporting, this may not be enough to accurately analyse how these institutions are operating.

What Next?

The embrace of the change in the financial markets may be a positive step, and a mechanism that may prevent future economic crashes and downturns as new perspectives and ways of managing the financial sector are introduced. Consumers must be wary for that this partially unregulated ecosystem may produce detrimental effects that hindsight may prove useful.

What Is the Circular Economy and Why Should We Care?

The world’s population is expected to reach nearly 10 billion in 2050, according to the United Nations. Yet, the earth’s resources are not limitless. Basic economic principles tell us that more demand, without a simultaneous increase in supply, results in higher prices. While this economic model of price determination is pretty straightforward, it highlights a pressing problem that humanity faces: the scarcity of resources. Our current economy is largely linear – we collect raw materials (take), turn those materials into products (make), use the products (consume), and discard them as waste when we do not need them anymore (dispose). This take-make-consume-dispose approach however is not sustainable.

The Solution

The circular economy is a systemic approach with the aim to eliminate waste and pollution, keep products and materials in use, and regenerate natural systems, according to the Ellen McArthur Foundation. There are several components to a circular economy that make our economic system more sustainable:

  • Maintain, prolong and share: By making products more durable though design, maintenance and repair, and by making products accessible to other users, the need for creating entirely new products that require resource input can be removed.
  • Reuse and redistribute: Certain materials and products, especially technical ones, can be reused multiple times or redistributed to new users. Sometimes, there may be a need to slightly change or enhance a product or material, but online marketplaces like eBay showcase that this is viable and already being done.
  • Remanufacture and refurbish: Both approaches refer to the restoration of the value of products. When a product is remanufactured, it is dissembled and rebuilt, with certain components being replaced when necessary. This results in an as-new condition of the product with the same warranty as an entirely new product. Refurbishment on the other hand refers to a cosmetic process where a product is repaired as much as possible but usually without dissembling it or replacing components.
  • Recycle: Recycling is an already well-known process where a product is reduced to its basic material level that can be used to manufacture new products. However, recycling is a lower-value process compared to the previously mentioned processes. This is because recycling results in a loss of embedded labour and energy, the costs of remaking products entirely are higher, and recycling inevitably results in material losses.
  • Cascades: The Ellen McArthur Foundation describes the cascades process as “[…] putting used materials and components into different uses and extracting, over time, stored energy and material order”. This is done until the material is ultimately returned to the natural environment as nutrients. An example of this, according to the foundation, is a pair of cotton jeans that first is turned into furniture stuffing, then into insulation material, and ultimately returned to the soil as nutrients after being anaerobically digested.

The circular economy promises many benefits for the environment and the whole economy. For example, increasing revenue from circular activities and more productive utilisation of resources may result in overall economic growth. There is also the possibility of job creation across industrial sectors and SMEs, and through increased innovation and entrepreneurship. The environment may benefit from lower carbon dioxide emissions, a reduction of primary material consumption, higher land productivity and enhanced soil health due to more nutritious fertilisers from natural sources rather than chemical ones.

Also, businesses and individuals can benefit from the circular economy. By lowering the cost of remanufacturing and introducing new revenue streams, companies can increase their profits. Also, by using more recycled inputs, a company can reduce the risk of volatile raw material prices. Moreover, the circular economy demands new business services, such as supply chain logistics to support the reintroduction of end-to-end products into the system, and new sales platforms to facilitate longer product use or higher product utilisation.

The Ellen MacArthur Foundation even suggests that a circular economy could result in a €3000 increased disposable income per EU household by 2030. Also, a circular economy could result in products that are better tailored to customer needs, resulting in more choice and higher perceived quality. Moreover, longer-lasting products would increase the convenience for customers since hassles with repairs and returns could be avoided. By introducing a circular economy in the food value chain, healthcare costs could be lowered that are related to pesticide use. Additionally, lower air pollution, lower water contamination, lower antimicrobial resistance and lower foodborne diseases, achieved by a circular economy in the food sector, could save up to 290,000 lives by 2050 that would otherwise be lost due to outdoor air pollution.

The Future

Currently, only 9% of the world economy is circular, according to the Circularity Gap Report 2019. However, the scarcity of resources makes a transition towards a circular economy all the more pressing, especially with a growing global population and other related issues like climate change. Major global brands (e.g. BlackRock, Google, 3M, Heineken, IKEA, McDonald’s, Apple and Microsoft), universities (e.g. UCL, Arizona State University and TU Delft), cities (e.g. Brussels, Milano and Toronto) and governmental bodies (e.g. the Danish Business Authority, the Scottish Government and the Republic of Slovenia) have already opted to learn, share knowledge and put ideas with regards to the Circular Economy into practice by joining the CE100 Network. The circular economy creates exciting opportunities for companies, organisations, the public sector and entrepreneurs alike, and it is likely that we will see a variety of innovative circular economy initiatives on both local and global scale in the not-so-distant future.

« Older Entries