Group Sustainability Officer Caoimhe Donnelly reveals firm’s plans to transform fleet and improve infrastructure
The path to a greener and more sustainable future is complicated for a public transport company with a mostly diesel-powered fleet.
For CIÉ Group, the umbrella organisation made of five companies with nearly 11,000 employees that facilitate hundreds of millions of passenger journeys a year, and which generates more than €1.2billion in annual income, the task of reducing emissions and increasing energy efficiency is even more so.
Caoimhe Donnelly, Group Sustainability Officer for CIÉ Group, believes that while the size of the challenge is comparable with that of the company, there is – as the old saying goes – power in numbers.
“CIÉ Group is made up five operating companies – Bus Átha Cliath, Iarnród Éireann, Bus Éireann, Rosslare Port and CIÉ Tours. I work alongside the sustainability leads across the operating companies within the CIÉ Group and together we spearhead a group sustainability strategy. Our steering group collectively drives the sustainability strategy of the group,” she says.
The need for change
The CIE Group’s Sustainability Annual Review 2021 followed the publication of the Group Sustainability Strategy the previous year. It set out a number of ambitious internal targets, including a 51% reduction in emissions by 2030, net zero emissions of 2050, a 50% increase in energy efficiency by 2030, a 25% reduction in waste produced across the group by 2025, as well as the implementation of a group-wide ban on single-use plastics.
According to Caoimhe, the Group is aware of a need for sweeping organisational changes in order to meet its sustainability targets – a process she says has already begun with the expanded electrification of the DART and the rollout of the National Transport Authority Bus Connects programme, the transformative public transport scheme that also forms a key part of the government’s climate strategy.
“Our sustainability strategy is a massive influence in our day-to-day operations. We’re committed and our board is committed,”
“We have signed up to meeting the goals of the Climate Action Bill and the Climate Action Plan. Our targets are broad-based and we’re working to figure out how to achieve them. On the energy and carbon side of things, we have massive operational transformation that needs to be delivered. For example, 90% of our emissions come from our diesel fleet so we are working with the National Transport Authority and the Department of Transport to transition to zero emissions fleet technologies across the rail and bus networks and deliver a number of measures set out in the Climate Action Plan.
“Our sustainability strategy is increasingly embedded in our business. We’re delivering DART+ which is trebling electrified rail line from 100km to 300km while doubling passenger capacity. Supporting the NTA Bus Connects programme is a big strategic deliverable. We’re also using our property assets to develop transport hubs and provide commercial and residential property space. Our expansion plans for Heuston Station in Dublin and Colbert Station in Limerick are examples of that.”
Engaging with TCFD
One of the key elements to the CIÉ Group’s bid to meet its sustainability targets is the Task Force for Climate-related Financial Disclosures (TCFD), an international scheme established in 2015 to encourage firms to be transparent about climate action, particularly in the areas of governance, strategy, risk management, metrics and targets.
CIÉ Group signed up to TCFD in 2021 and is now in the first stages of joining more than 30 Irish companies in aligning to its key recommendations.
“We want to be a climate leader. We’re committed to transparency and TCFD provides a very good framework for the right processes and procedures to work towards our goals and objectives, and also shows us how to prioritise them,”
“The governance has to be right from board level on down. Our CEO and chairperson are very committed. Sustainability is on the board agenda. We even have a CIÉ board subcommittee and all that support and buy-in is critical to meeting our goals. It’s a bit chicken and egg in the sense that these frameworks ensure that you have the right governance structure and once you have that, the rest flows.”
Caoimhe says CIÉ Group has embraced the cultural shift towards greater transparency and is taking steps to educate all its key departments around its necessity, as well as its reporting requirements.
“Thankfully we haven’t seen resistance around the transparency element but there is still a need to build awareness of what TCFD is and why it’s important. Our finance team and the risk functions are fully aware of TCFD and are involved in the process of managing and reviewing climate risks. The challenge is bringing everyone along and educating them to its importance – and I think we’re succeeding in that,” says Caoimhe, who credits Sustainable Finance Ireland with an “absolutely critical and essential” role in guiding the training process.
“Signing up to TCFD is not mandatory in Ireland yet, but this initiative is more than supported by the Irish government. And that’s really important because change can only happen when the whole of the economy has a climate strategy. By signing up and supporting TCFD, you’re setting out that you are ready to take climate action and be exposed to external scrutiny of your climate strategy. Accountability is a great enabler.”