Bernadette Phelan Maintaining Urgency On Sustainability

Empowering Lessons from COVID

One of the positive learnings from the pandemic, as horrible as it is, according to Bernadette Phelan is how at speed and at scale we can change when there is a burning platform and how we can collaborate. Bernadette is Head of Advisory Services with Business in The Community Ireland an NGO based in Dublin whose mission is driving sustainability practices.

“Government, business and civil society can come together on a focussed common goal and make really swift change and have impact.  To be able to bring the COVID19 experience to bear on the climate battle that we have ahead, is just so important. It should buoy us in our our self-belief in our capacity to change.”

“I hope we don’t forget that. Because what we are living through is so difficult, that it is important I think that we should take the lessons from it. We need to know that we can do this, if the will is there.”

Urgent 10 Year Focus on 2030

I believe the next ten years are where we are going to either win or lose. We have to turn the ship, and get those trajectories right, in terms of what products we are using, what materials are going into products, where we are buying from, because if we don’t change in the next ten years, we run huge risks. National Governments and businesses Bernadette believes are keen on Net Zero by 2050 targets, but that seems so distant. “It is so far away I don’t think as people, we can grasp that time frame. We run the risk of making policy decisions where we can just push it another five years so we don’t have to deal with it right now. Whereas I feel there is a huge urgency that needs to be maintained within the next decade. One of my key drivers now is to maintain that sense of urgency. ”

Flexible Working Here To Stay

“The idea of different type of working models, flexible working are supporting the gender piece, my own framing on it is that it is not just about women, it’s about all employees.”

Bernadette sees that everyone in life has caring responsibilities and everyone may need to take six months out and take that leave of absence. “When you look at the profile of young men, how they want to be dads, how they want to live their life and how you may want to go mountain climbing and then come back to your job.”

There is a general rethinking on what good work practices are and what good cultures are Bernadette believes. “Their origin stories are grounded in trying to get more women into the pipeline but the impact that they will have is just better workplaces for all.” One of the pieces you are trying to move away from, are those fears of women going on maternity leave and the cost of that she says, “but if this is something that everyone does, then you are back to a level playing field and becomes the norms.”

Best Financial Advice

Best financial advice she ever got was to Buy a Pension. Do it when you are young. Track your spending. Get yourself a notebook and every so often start writing down everything you spend. It takes discipline but it is a good exercise to do every now and again she says.

Pearls of Wisdom

Bernadette Phelan’s Top 5 Pearls of Wisdom

1 Listen, proper listen. Pay attention to what people say even when it is not the same as your thinking. You will learn.

2. Be Open it is a fundamental approach to life.

3. Connect with people who disagree with you to understand different walks of life that you wouldn’t experience otherwise. I think it is important to have empathy for different life experiences to challenge your own thinking.  This is about connection in a broad  way

4.  Be Decisive Once you have listened make a decision. It’s a judgement call Once you have listened leadership means making a judgement call.

5. Persistence ‘Plough on’ was good advice she got from a former boss. I believe in grit. Sometimes that can be a little bit forgotten. Recognise smaller changes break down lofty goals into bite-size chunks.

Her Own Sustainability

Sustainability for Bernadette means buying local and for clothes buying well, getting something good that lasts. “I had second hand vintage wedding dress.” She also says she is a novice gardener and plants for the flowers and the bees. “It is not just about the drudge of recycling. Get out in that garden,” she advises. “For me it’s about nature and it is so good for us. Look at the Japanese and their forest bathing. Sustainability can mean new products and new opportunities for businesses.”

Her Go To Music

Bernadette Phelan has a broad taste in music but for adding a pep to her step it has to be Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust. Also a fan of the Pixies from 90s with the big guitars.

BITCI head of Advisory. Picture Jason Clarke.

Angela Mezzetti
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