Business outlook: sustainable business practice in Northern Ireland is recognised

The Belfast Telegraph Business Awards featured SMEs tackling climate change. Cormac McKervey, our Senior Agriculture Manager/Climate Lead, on why sustainable business matters.

One of our real strengths in Northern Ireland is our fantastically trained people and talent in farming, as well as government-run education resources including the College of Agriculture, Food and Rural Enterprise (CAFRE). We also have the Agri-Food and Biosciences Institute (AFBI) here, which is driving innovation.

AFBI are working on feed for animals that will lower their methane output and carbon emissions. They’ve done a lot of work on soil and soil health. Every field in Northern Ireland will be assessed over the next five years using a drone to analyse how much carbon the soil is storing, and whether it has the potential to store more carbon to lower the footprint.

The support and the infrastructure for agri-businesses to find solutions to challenges including climate change is second to none.

Tackling climate change is one of the biggest challenges of our time

As a purpose-led bank, we have a significant responsibility, and the ability, to encourage and enable others to transition to a net zero carbon economy.

It’s for this reason we were so pleased to support the new award in this year’s Belfast Telegraph Business Awards, in partnership with Ulster Bank, to recognise climate action and commend a local company demonstrating a significant commitment to sustainable business practices.

With so much for businesses here to contend with during the past two years in terms of the coronavirus pandemic and the UK’s exit from the EU, it is understandable that, for some, climate change has slipped down the agenda. But, given its importance and the genuine emergency we now face, it’s time to prioritise the response and for businesses here to grasp the job and growth opportunities that a green economy can provide.

Henry Brothers, the family-owned construction firm, are deserving winners of the award for Outstanding Commitment to Climate Action. Their investment in transitioning to lower carbon emissions is a great example of how a local company can play its part in meeting climate change targets.

Strong commitments on climate

As the banking sponsor of the recent COP26 UN climate change conference, our CEO, Alison Rose, used the partnership to outline the bank’s strong commitments in this area, which start with reducing our own impact on the environment.

NatWest Group has announced its ambition to provide £100bn of climate and sustainable funding and financing to customers by the end of 2025

We are offsetting our carbon footprint and making buildings and activities more energy efficient, but also looking carefully at what we’re funding. Following the conference, NatWest Group announced it would stop lending to and underwriting major oil and gas producers, unless they have a credible transition plan in line with the 2015 Paris Agreement.

The group has also announced its ambition to provide £100bn of climate and sustainable funding and financing to customers by the end of 2025. It has made green loans and green asset finance arrangements available to assist SMEs in fulfilling their own sustainability ambitions.

Here, our teams of relationship managers are also being trained and equipped to have climate-related discussions with customers about things like energy performance certificates (EPCs), renewable energy, and the use of landfill; and we’ve committed to having 25% of places or more in our Entrepreneur Accelerator going to green businesses.

Recognising climate-conscious companies

SMEs have a critical role to play in helping Northern Ireland tackle climate change, which is why it was so important to include an award for climate action in this year’s Belfast Telegraph Business Awards.

By showcasing the success of companies that are already making strides in this field, we hope we can encourage others to think seriously about improving their own practices. Our message to these companies is that we are here to help you on this journey and will provide information, funding and incentives, such as loans and asset financing, in order to support sustainability.

We cannot underestimate the power of small changes to make a big impact, and a move to a green economy will undoubtedly bring benefits for us all.

A version of this article was published in the Belfast Telegraph.

Cormac McKervey
Head of Agriculture, Northern Ireland, Ulster Bank

Cormac joined Ulster Bank in 2002 and leads the bank’s agriculture sector presence in Northern Ireland. He helps clients in the sector expand and improve their businesses responsibly and sustainably.


Previous experience
Cormac worked as a college lecturer and farm manager before becoming a farm business adviser for the Department of Agriculture, where he supported beef and sheep farmers in Northern Ireland.

Cormac holds a Bachelor of Agriculture degree from Queen’s University Belfast. He also obtained a Nuffield Scholarship in 2000, to undertake a study of South American beef production.

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