04 October, 2021 | Posted by Colm McDonnell

Manager at Irish Water to speak about Sustainability in FM at Portobello Webinar

Sustainability in Facilities Management: Energy and Systems Support Manager at Irish Water

Ahead of our upcoming webinar series on Sustainability in Facilities Management, we sat down with one of our guest speakers, Dermot Walsh, to get a better idea of how sustainability impacts on his day-to-day responsibilities.

Dermot has more than 20 years experience in sustainability and is currently the Energy and Systems Support Manager for Irish Water.

Irish Water is a public domain company responsible for the provision of water and wastewater services across Ireland.

Register for our upcoming free webinar 'The Implementation of Sustainability in FM' here.

Dermot is responsible for facility side of the company’s sustainability strategy.

This includes overseeing the running of 12 buildings hosting 2,000 employees and a fleet of over 1000 vehicles that support the water services network.

Dermot plays a key role in Irish Water’s goal of attaining net zero carbon status in the next few years.

However, the sustainability strategy for Irish Water is not solely environmental in nature, says Dermot.

“There are also very many other social and economic aspects that we feed into as well.”

“It’s not just about carbon. It’s about engaging with the community, driving and enhancing biodiversity in projects and then increasing the overall drinking water quality, reducing water leakage in our network. So, there’s quite a social aspect to that as well.”

“And then from an economic point of view as well, trying to move into the domain that Irish Water is self-sustaining from a cost model perspective. At the moment it’s very much dependent on the exchequer. So, moving into that sustainable side from an economic point of view. It’s all bundled up if you look at it across from a social, environmental and economic perspective. That is the wider array of the sustainability strategy.”

When asked about where the zero-carbon approach comes from and what is driving it forward, Dermot replied, “It’s two-fold”.

“One is senior leadership where they have requirements and targets as part of their overall strategy to become more sustainable”.

Then there is also a push, as a public domain body, from the Department of Climate Change and Energy and the wider EU Green Deal, with the former having quite “aggressive” targets according to Dermot.

These targets include a 50% reduction in CO2 emission, based on 2016 – 2018 figures, by 2030. Additionally, a 50% increase in energy efficiency is also being mandated by 2030.

More detailed targets within these include all company buildings achieving a BER (Building Energy Rating) of a B or higher for all buildings.

On the fleets side, Dermot is now mandated that 38% of new commercial vehicles obtained by the company be zero or low carbon emitters, with 10% of heavy good vehicles making this requirement also.

This isn’t an easy directive to follow, Dermot admits.

“It is struggle at the moment because there’s not a lot of commercial vehicles on the market currently.”

These targets are being made more ambitious to fall in line with the EU green deal.

The carbon budget is coming in October of this year which Dermot says will put increased pressure on Irish Water and similar bodies to decarbonise.

Who is responsible for making sustainability changes?

When asked whom is responsible for making sure these sustainability targets are met, Dermot says responsibility is mutli-tiered.

Senior management will be held to account and it is up to them to appoint the right people that will achieve those targets.

However facilities management has a key role to play as one of the main departments of Irish Water.

This is Dermot’s responsibility and he has his own role to play in the company’s overall action plan. Each department has their own part to play in the overall action plan.

When asked if this divided form of sustainable action could be problematic in comparison to one department taking complete control of its implementation, Dermot says;

“When you look at the amount of assets within Irish Water, with over 8,000 physical assets, there’s no way a team of 20, 30 or even 40 people could manage that. So it’s broken out according to area of expertise. As facilities people, we can certainly bring a lot to bear in terms of buildings and so on.”

But Dermot goes on to say that more and more, the facilities team are being asked to work with the various, as he calls them, optimisation teams to drive the several sustainability strategies that are in place.

From a client’s perspective, Dermot believes facility management service providers have a big role to play in the execution of sustainability plans and that the key is “finding the right match” for what you as a client are looking to achieve.

He gives the example that Irish Water is currently carrying out a pilot programme of installing electric charging stations in operational sites.

This pilot shall be crucial to its success and finding a facility management service provider that can best assist in that specific area. Key to this is the supply chain capability of the FM providers.

Dermot highlighted how Irish Water has been focused at measuring exactly what is required from an energy standpoint and measuring performance to ensure a constant reduction in energy usage.

The pandemic has thrown up a challenge in that regard as Dermot now has to assess how they can help their employees at home as well as those returning to the office.

When asked if he thinks the broader community will take well to new sustainability practices coming in, Dermot was very hopeful of a positive outcome. He believes more and more people in Ireland are seeing it as a joint struggle that we all have to play a part in.

He also points to examples where Irish people, when pushed, will always do the right thing.

“Irish people as a whole we are a very compliant nation, as we know from the smoking ban. There was a huge uproar, ‘we won’t do it, we can’t do it’ and we just did it. Irish people are very good at going to do what’s right”.

Dermot will be speaking at Portobello Institute’s Sustainability in FM webinar on October 19th and you can register for that event here.

This webinar is part of a series you can read more about here.

Portobello Institute offers a range of courses in FM, visit our department page here.


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