Óonagh McArdle - Global Sustainability Implementation Sr. Manager, Dow Inc.

How did you get into CRS, and why did you choose this profession?

Like many of my peers, this is a vocation for us, a true calling which I can trace back to my school days when I was fascinated with learning about the environment and for me it was a given that we should protect it. As a result I went on to study Geography & Sociology at Queens University Belfast (QUB). After my degree I identified the types of jobs which were available in this space and found environmental consultancy in particular peaked my interest, subsequently I went on to do my post graduate studies in Environmental Engineering at QUB. Upon graduation, I began working in local Governmental agencies, including the Environment Agency; Agri-Food & Biosciences Institute and Public Health, after which I moved into the consultancy space with a role as a Consultant Associate in PwC’s Global Research Centre of Excellence, it was during my time here that a role came up in a ‘large multinational’ as a Supply Chain Sustainability Analyst in their Integrated Supply Chain (ISC) function – little did I know at the time, this was Dow Inc., I applied for the position and 10 years later, I can state that it is one of the best decisions I ever made.

This role enabled me to really harness my passion for sustainability, I started leading an employee sustainability network in EMEAI and working on fascinating projects with our customers and logistic service providers, where I could really see the tangible results of my work. After six years in ISC, I moved to the Corporate Sustainability organisation within EHS & Sustainability, firstly as EMEAI Sustainability Leader in 2017 and then in 2020 I took on the role of Global Sustainability Implementation Leader. This role enabled me to build upon the work with customers, particularity in the space of ESG transparency, as well as supporting the six Dow business units internally in development of their sustainability & ESG strategies and ensuring alignment to our Corporate goals and targets.

A large part of the role, pre-COVID included representing the company in external forums and conferences and with COVID we all had to adapt and transition to virtual methods and it was great to see that the pandemic didn’t halt the progress we were making. This role also includes the responsibility of sustainability & ESG learning and development for the entire organisation, the ability to identify alternative methods to continue to engage employees in a virtual world was challenging, but achievable, and in 4Q21 I am pleased to say I launched the Dow Sustainability & ESG Learning Centre of Excellence, providing a variety of online and hybrid courses and programs, internal and external for employees from new hires right through to c-suite.  

Describe a typical day in your current role

Well one important start to the day for me is going for a walk with my dog in the countryside, it prepares me mentally for the day ahead. One of the things I love about my role is the variety. In the morning I could be developing content for an external workshop I will be facilitating on sustainability & ESG for graduates, then by mid-morning I could have an internal meeting in one of the leadership teams I participate in, by lunch I could be sitting in an external forum such as Cefic, discussing the latest on the CSRD as part of my role as sustainable finance reporting lead for the company and by the afternoon I could have multiple customer requests via our businesses asking for the latest EcoVadis scorecard or wanting to engage on the topic of biodiversity or asking us what our carbon emission targets are, how we plan to achieve them and by when.

What do you need to do your job brilliantly? 

I really believe that having creativity and a holistic mindset is key when it comes to sustainability and ESG, yes having qualifications in the sustainability, environmental or business space is an added benefit, but to truly take things to the next level you have to think outside the box and more holistically – how does your job, your product, your service positively impact your business, society and the planet and the subsequent stakeholders.

I started out my career working in rivers taking habitat surveys and water samples, now I am having conversations with widely known brand names on advancing sustainability across the value chain. Having that environmental knowledge and understanding brings integrity to those conversations, I also guest lecture at Queens School of Management on their MSc in International Business and it is wonderful to see sustainability and ESG now becoming more engrained in course curriculums, because the knowledge and appreciation of the role of businesses on the planet and society is pivotal to transiting to a more sustainable planet in the long term.

Having the ability to be agile in this space is also essential, the very nature of sustainability and ESG is so dynamic, it is key to keep up otherwise you will be left behind. Having excellent communication skills is also important, unfortunately in some instances you will come across roadblocks whether it is at the leadership level or in the external world, so being able to articulate the business value of sustainability will be very important, as a leader you want to engage others but you also want inspire them and move forward together in collaborative way and that is my final point, collaboration across everything you do is essential. Sustainability & ESG is so far reaching that nobody can know everything about it or achieve it on their own, so willingness not only to accept that but also to collaborate is important and harnessing diversity, both in terms of backgrounds and skills is very advantageous to an organisation and personal enhancement.

 

Why did you join the ICRS?

I joined ICRS through the ICRS Ireland Hub. I love the fact that ICRS brings together a wide array of people from different industries and at different stages of their careers while all working within the CR and Sustainability space. With this comes a wealth of knowledge and expertise and the ability to connect with peers is invaluable. Having the ability to achieve the recognition for the work I do by obtaining my Fellowship status was a key motivator. 

 

What advice would you give to others on getting into CRS?

Harness that passion you have for Corporate Responsibility and Sustainability – with that passion you will be your authentic self and subsequently inspire those around you. Don’t be afraid to challenge that status quo, to transition to a sustainable planet and a more sustainable way of doing business we can’t keep doing what we are doing today. We need to change, so we need to challenge ourselves and those around us towards more positive and sustainable ways of doing business. Always look at the bigger picture and always be willing to collaborate with others and keep up to date with the external landscape and drivers. 

You can find Óonagh on Twitter and LinkedIn.