We can be influencers within our network, and we need to ensure that all our stakeholders take the sustainability journey along with us to make change happen.

Jim Barry
Managing Director
Barry Group

Jim Barry

Barry Group is Ireland’s leading family-run wholesale distribution company and it services over 1,500 customers nationwide. Founded in 1955, the Barry Group has successfully grown from a local business to a leading wholesale distribution company, with over 250 employees operating from its headquarters in Cork, Ireland.

The beginning — an unconscious commitment to sustainability (a forward-looking orientation)

As is the case with many family businesses, Barry Group began its sustainability journey unconsciously by establishing the business fundamentals, supporting local charities, looking after employees and making sure the company is a great place to work.

In 2020, the company’s trucks were as efficient as they could be from a fuel perspective, and the warehouse was equipped with modern, energy-efficient lighting. However, no sustainability-related improvements were being undertaken or measured in a formal way.

The time had come to take a big step forward to make the company’s sustainability commitments more formal, but 2020 and 2021 were difficult years in the distribution business during the pandemic. It was ‘all hands on deck’ to move stock and respond to urgent issues, and the sustainability strategy was put aside.

2022 was the beginning of the company’s reset. The family realized that it didn’t have the internal expertise to develop a formal sustainability strategy, and an external consultancy was engaged to help guide Barry Group down a more formal sustainability path.

Changing by degrees — exploring, learning and adapting

The task was to develop a strategy that would set the company in the right direction and catch up with other companies in their sector.

Holly Barry, the company’s Brand Strategist, describes the first step as a materiality assessment among Barry’s employees, company directors, external suppliers and customers. One of the key learnings was that the older generation was interested in learning how to run the company sustainably, but younger generations where much more vocal, and their points of view and behavior were influential at home and in the workplace.

Managing Director Jim Barry has described how both the company and the family stepped back following the completion of the materiality assessment and began to explore what they wanted the company to look like in 2050 for the family, employees and customers — and what the steps would be for getting there.

“For us, it’s more than an environmental issue,” states Holly, “and we have to understand what we stand for. Packaging is a huge part of this for us — as is sustainable sourcing of food. There is legislation emerging in the UK regarding the sale of goods with high levels of sugar and salt, for example. We don’t have that yet in Ireland, but it will obviously have a huge impact when it does come. So, we have to look at how this and other changes may affect our business, and how we may need to adapt our sustainability strategy.”

Measuring and validating business impact

 Barry Group has added a sustainability pillar to its longterm strategy and developed a three-year plan that has sustainability woven throughout every department. Holly emphasizes that “We’re at the early stage of the formal side of our strategy and we know we need to measure things. We have a lot of the boxes ticked, but not in a formal way. So, the initial steps have involved a lot of communication with our senior team about the journey we’re going on and making sure that all our people can continue to live our values.”

“We didn’t have the infrastructure in place for measurement, and that has required a major investment,” says Holly, “and it has made us realize that we need better measurement across our entire business not just for our sustainability goals. That is becoming a much bigger project and making us re-evaluate what modern measurement looks like. So, we’ve been really advancing where we are as a business and progressing our technology capabilities as yet another strategic pillar.”

According to Holly, buyers are challenging all of their suppliers on where they stand from a sustainability point of view. As one of the top issues that suppliers are talking about, Holly believes that sustainability will likely be a major part of the criteria for any significant contracts going forward, and there’s an onus on business owners like Barry Group to make sure that their own suppliers (both small and large) are joining them on the sustainability journey as well.

Leveraging the ‘power of many’

Barry Group’s strategy is based on the power of many by taking a collective approach in order to achieve a collective effect. “We’re influencers within our network,” says Holly, “and we have to ensure that all our stakeholders take that journey with us to make change happen.”

Jim adds that Barry Group has the opportunity to influence the behavior of its own customers as well. “It’s already opening up conversations with customers who want to make sure that retailers are operating ethically. We’re looking forward to including everyone on this journey, and we think that there will be huge benefits in strengthening the relationships between suppliers, retailers and customers through a collective commitment to sustainability.”

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