Eva Cahill FICRS - Relationship Lead, Earthworm Foundation
How did you get into CRS, and why did you choose this profession?
Growing up in a village in Ireland I always had a love for the countryside. Stories in the 80’s of Sellafield and Chernobyl which impacted Ireland, reconfirmed my interest in environmental protection. The first book that opened my mind to sustainable development was Our Common Future which is now dog-eared and creased on my book shelf. I visited my cousins in Seattle around that time and first heard stories about Chief Seattle and his famous speech on custodianship of the planet. One of his best lines still holds true; “The earth does not belong to man, man belongs to the earth” With that mindset I studied a BSc in Environmental Health at the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow followed some years later with a MBA from the same university. This mix of environment and business helped me to relate and translate sustainability initiatives into meaningful actions.
This is a ‘follow my heart’ career which has taken me literally from the heights of the Forth Rail bridge in Scotland to the depths of waste sites, from polished board rooms of Whitehall and a Queens garden party, to blustery wind swept coal mines. Now with Earthworm Foundation, uncovering and transforming often hidden supply chains far upstream from consumers views, I find I have reached a place where I can really make a difference bridging the divide between companies and their upstream sourcing regions and helping improve outcomes for all parties – the farmers, the companies and the consumers.
Describe a typical day in your current role
At the moment we are restricted in our travel due to the UK’s third lockdown caused by Covid 19 so I am working from home. A typical day involves early morning online calls with our Asian offices in Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand and our corporate member companies and their upstream suppliers. I try to fit in as many of these calls as possible before 10am GMT due to the time difference. Then it is a switch of focus to UK and European activities often followed by calls with the US west coast from 3pm. Topics range from policy design and communication, debriefs on standards, discussion on farmer diversification, tackling deforestation, wildlife protection, satellite mapping and human rights. Having started in my current role just before the first lockdown happened it was a bit of a rollercoaster ride getting to meet people virtually within Earthworm Foundation and outside but I have been pleasantly surprised with the warmth everyone has shown in the organisation. I feel I have arrived at an organisation that talks and walks true values of listening and acting on environmental protection and restoration and improvement of social conditions for communities and workers in upstream company supply chains.
What do you need to do your job brilliantly?
I had a number of roles throughout the years and one thing I think stands true for all, is getting on with people. Listening to and accepting different points of view are essential to bring people with you when developing and implementing strategy and plans. This is critical as I see sustainability should be everyone’s job, and more, it should be embedded in how we approach everything we do, whether it is in our personal or professional life. In delivering these messages across organisations and typically with limited direct sustainability resources, you need to convince and get people to come with you. Clarity and belief in why sustainability is important is crucial, so it becomes business as usual and the core of how we do things. You have to have a passion and belief in where you want to go and have the support around you to realise that ambition for the organisation. To be successful it is critical to have good communication and relationship skills and a good understanding of emotional intelligence. It is not enough to have knowledge of the subject area but having the ‘know how’ how to translate the message to make it real for those you are engaging with. Whether it is procurement departments, marketing, operations or R&D, keeping it real, relatable and relevant to your audience is key!
What are your favourite and least favourite parts of your role?
My favourite parts of my current role are the variety of people I engage with, from company executives to field staff. The range of issues tackled is also diverse – from discussing deforestation monitoring using satellites and how to tackle labour abuses in supply chains to the implications of different standards for palm oil, soy and rubber and improving farmer livelihoods through regenerative agriculture practices and agroforestry.
My least favourite part is when a negative article is reported such as labour abuse in a supply chain as some of these stories are disturbing and it is disappointing that they still happen today.
What makes your sector unique from a CRS perspective?
Working between the corporate world and farming community, in an NGO is a unique position to be in which I look forward to every day. Helping improve people lives and their environment far upstream where companies source natural raw materials such as palm oil, rubber, cocoa, timber and soy, is very rewarding and interesting.
Why should people choose a career in CRS?
It’s a never-ending adventure and exciting if you find the role that suits you. I never get bored as things change frequently. So, if you are looking for variety and to make an impact, look no further. There is also a great sense of satisfaction in that you are helping organisations to do the right thing and helping those who are vulnerable and voiceless deep within supply chains.
What advice would you give to others on getting into CRS?
Ensure you have a passion for the job and up to date knowledge of the subject as you will need to be flexible, persuasive, open minded and willing to adapt to changing aspects of the role. Don’t be afraid to go outside your comfort zone, try new ideas and suggest improvements, as there are many ways of achieving your objectives. There are so many different avenues to pursue, from inspection, policy, reporting, teaching and supply chain, working in the public, private or NGO sectors.
Who or where do you look to for inspiration on CRS topics? And, who do you follow on Twitter?
Today during lockdown I am limited to online updates from key industry bodies, sustainability experts and newsletters I subscribe to. I also connect to LinkedIn, podcasts, webinars, twitter and Earthworm colleagues via Skype and Zoom meetings. I have always followed the Global Reporting Initiative as I was a GRI training partner for UK and Ireland. Along with the UN Global Compact, I believe they give a solid base on management approaches and KPI’s across all industry sectors. Most recently I am excited by the announcement of the Terra Carta by the Sustainable Markets Initiative as I can relate a lot of what Earthworm Foundation do to the Articles within the Carta – check it out !
My twitter groups have changed over the years to reflect the changing roles I have had and now include a number of forest protection organisations.
What one question would you like to pose to the ICRS community?
What gives you hope about the future of CRS?
Ten years ago CRS was a nice to have, add on to marketing - good to do if you had some spare budget or a ‘PR job’ as a reaction to a negative campaign. This year in particular, climate change has taken centre stage. With COP 15 on Nature and COP 26 later this year, impending UK legislation on forest risk commodities, a new UK Environment Bill and European environmental and social due diligence legislation on the horizon, it is apparent that we have finally woken up to this important topic. ESG investors and shareholders are focusing efforts to drive action in areas such as deforestation to de-risk their portfolios. Reporting frameworks such as the two Taskforces on Climate and Nature Related Financial Disclosures are making headlines along with an uptake on Science Based Targets and Net Zero by companies. We are however currently heading towards a 3.2 degree C increase which is unsustainable so we need to completely transform and speed up our actions as we have no time to waste. We cannot delink ourselves from climate and nature and need to harness that sense of urgency now. As Chief Seattle said in the mid 1800’s “Man did not weave the web of life, he is merely a strand in it. Whatever he does to the web, he does to himself”.