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SIRO Sponsors Biodiversity Project For Schools

We are delighted to announced our sponsorship of a new schools’ biodiversity project which aims to raise awareness amongst primary school children of the importance of protecting Ireland’s pollinators and their natural habitats. The project was officially launched by Minister of State for Communications and the Circular Economy, Ossian Smyth TD at Gaelscoil Shliabh Rua, Ballyogan, Dublin. The launch was also attended by SIRO CEO John Keaney, Principal of Gaelscoil Shliabh Rua Ruth Mhic Adaim and teachers and pupils from the school. This sponsorship will allow 100 schools across Ireland to participate in a biodiversity project, focused on protecting native pollinators. The project will include school workshops with biodiversity experts; pollinator packs for each school, with resources to make their school grounds more pollinator-friendly, and additional free online materials for pupils. The company is aiming to become Ireland’s most sustainable broadband provider, whilst enabling the communities it serves to live more sustainably. Recent environmental initiatives by SIRO include converting its fleet to electric vehicles and becoming a signatory of the UN Global Compact.   SIRO Sponsors School Biodiversity Project Biodiversity in Schools is a national organisation which has been providing education on biodiversity to schools for the last 10 years. They aim to address Ireland’s biodiversity crisis by improving pupil’s eco-literacy and understanding of their natural environment. The overall goal for the project is to build a ‘nature-positive’ future for Ireland and for future generations to come. Minister Ossian Smyth noted:
Young people will be our leaders in restoring nature in Ireland.  This project means that students from 100 schools nationwide will work with experts and their teachers and communities to make their schools more pollinator-friendly, planting native species and contributing to a better, more biodiverse future for us all.  Well done to SIRO for supporting this important work.”
SIRO’s CEO John Keaney noted:
“SIRO is an Irish company rolling out our fibre to the home broadband network to communities across Ireland. As we do so, we see first-hand the importance of biodiversity in enhancing the lives and wellbeing of those communities. “Our hope from this project is to foster young biodiversity champions in communities across Ireland encouraging them to protect and preserve our native habitats and biodiversity. “Our sponsorship of this school pollinator project makes a small contribution to this task. We are pleased to be able to contribute to the valuable work which Biodiversity in Schools have been undertaking in this area for the last ten years,” added Mr. Keaney.
Commenting on the partnership, Mark Nolan, Director of Biodiversity in Schools noted:
“We are pleased to have SIRO onboard as a sponsor for the pollinator project. Increasing young people's awareness of the important contribution biodiversity makes to our health and wellbeing is critical." “It’s also important for Irish companies to be aware of the biodiversity crisis we are experiencing, and to help by joining us to tackle this issue together. This initiative provides the resources needed to empower pupils with the knowledge and skills on how to help save and nurture our environment.”
Schools who wish to participate in the project can register their details at
Rebecca Hurst SIRO sustainability specialist The internet probably isn’t the first thing that comes to mind when you think of sustainability. Instead, you might picture smokestacks, polluting factories, or open pit mines. However, the infrastructure operated to provide broadband requires electricity to power active network equipment and data storage facilities.   Information and communications technology (ICT) is one of the fastest growing greenhouse gas emitting sectors, accounting for 3-5% of global emissions (European Commission 2022), which is on par with the aviation sector. The challenge of the growing energy needs of the ICT sector is being tackled by major companies setting ambitious targets. Microsoft has set a target to be carbon negative by 2030, and Intel have committed to using 100% renewable energy by 2030.  

The role of SMEs in Ireland’s Sustainable Development

We can’t leave it all up to the world’s biggest companies, however. With market pressures, we see big companies turn on a dime and roll back their previously ambitious targets. BP’s profits doubled in 2022, yet the oil and gas company reduced its emissions reduction target for 2030 down to 20-30% from its previous 35-40% target (Reuters). This is where the role of small to medium enterprises (SMEs) comes in.    SMEs are businesses with less than 250 employees. In 2020, Ireland’s SMEs accounted for 99.8% of the total number of enterprises and generated 41.9% of total turnover in the business economy (Irish SME Association). Given their critical contribution to the economy, SMEs are perfectly placed to be sustainability vanguards.   Being small gives SMEs the advantage of agility, with the flexibility to make decisions and implement meaningful changes quickly. SMEs can have a higher exposure to sustainability-related risks compared to larger companies due to their limited influence over supply chain risks and smaller cash reserves. But they also stand to gain more, with the benefits of integrating sustainability as a core value being very clear.   From cost savings and improved efficiencies to higher employee engagement and satisfaction, improved reputation and increased consumer satisfaction, SMEs with a clear sustainability strategy can obtain competitive advantages.   [caption id="attachment_7906" align="aligncenter" width="702"]siro sustainability siro sustainability[/caption]

How Sustainability is a Driver of Innovation for SMEs

SIRO is an SME, and with that there are additional challenges for certain sustainability initiatives due to fewer resources and reduced internal capacity. However, these same conditions can also make SMEs fertile ground for innovation.   Sustainable innovation differs from traditional innovation due to the equal balance given to economic, environmental, and social considerations. Sustainable innovation improves the sustainability performance of a business while simultaneously minimising its impact.   It is becoming increasingly important that SMEs recognise the importance of sustainable innovation as a driver in differentiating their products and services, as this will ultimately improve the company’s prospects in the market. Driven by social changes and cutting-edge technology, sustainable innovation in SMEs can be quickly investigated and adopted given the short pipeline between employees and decision-makers.   Sustainability in innovation benefits everyone. For SMEs, innovation enhances their competitive edge leading to enhanced market opportunities and in turn increasing their business’ resilience (which further increases the business’ sustainability and so on). On the other hand, as products and services continue to improve, this positively impacts on consumers’ social and economic development. Digital technology is a particularly important driver for sustainable innovation, as well as an enabler for innovations that contribute to social and economic challenges.   For example, as SIRO’s network grows, access to fibre to the home broadband  is made available to many homes and small businesses that were previously not serviced, opening digital transformation opportunities for these communities.  

Building Resilient, Reliable, And Sustainable Infrastructure

SIRO is committed to providing broadband connectivity to as many people across Ireland as possible, while improving the sustainability of our infrastructure at the same time.   SIRO’s network is being built using ESB’s existing infrastructure, limiting our footprint, and removing excessive resource consumption at the design stage. Continuous innovations in fibre to the home technology increasingly contribute to a sustainable broadband future.  SIRO is deploying an XGS-PON fibre network, technology that supports high-speed 10 gigabit per second data transfers. By delivering this now, we can avoid a future upgrade cycle, eliminating unnecessary waste and materials.   We have embedded a future-proof approach through the delivery of XGS-PON, which also provides higher bandwidth with lower energy consumption requirements. Sustainability goes beyond just the physical footprint and environmental impact of an organisation’s infrastructure however, encompassing the three pillars of environment, social and governance.  By deploying XGS-PON we are providing greater reliability for our communities due to the absence of active network elements, improving access and affordability in an equitable way.   siro sustainability

Opportunities For SMEs To Pursue Sustainability

The limited internal capacity and resources available to SMEs doesn’t prevent action on sustainability, but it does require a targeted approach. You can’t boil the ocean. Instead of trying to act on everything, reflect on the business’ priorities by identifying what topics matter most to your stakeholders and where your business stands to make the greatest impact. A materiality assessment is a great tool to use to begin this process.   Once you know what matters, select a limited number of meaningful goals to track your progress against, rather than spreading your resources too thin. For example, SIRO has a “Science-Based Target” which provides an option for SMEs to set an emissions reduction target that is in line with what climate science deems necessary. Finally, by focusing on transformative change and collaboration with peers, SMEs can be on the frontlines of sustainability.   SMEs cannot afford to be unsustainable, with greater exposure to sustainability-related risks due to their size and reduced resilience compared to larger companies. Sustainability-driven innovation provides a key opportunity for SMEs to differentiate their products and services. Going further than just being value-adding, sustainability can be harnessed by SMEs to access new markets, improve consumer confidence, increase employee engagement and satisfaction, and attract and retain talent.  [lookup_modal type="eircode" button-text="Search Your Eircode Today" position="mid" title="Input your Eircode to check whether SIRO is available at your location"]
Thanks, hun! Penney's!” That’s the badge of honour often recited when a woman in Ireland is complimented on their outfit. Fast fashion, both in Ireland and across the world has been the norm for the last 30 years. It’s not so long ago, people wouldn’t bat an eye to doing large shopping hauls for no real cause. Now, amidst a global climate crisis, attitudes are shifting towards creating long lasting, sustainable fashion choices. A report from McKinsey stated that the number of garments created annually exceeded 100 billion for the first time in 2014, equating to 14 pieces of clothing for every person on earth created each year. And if we are honest most of us buy at lot more than that each year.

Technology, including fibre broadband, are driving the growth of the second-hand market across the globe

Technology and The Growth of Fast Fashion

Fast fashion first started around the late nineties in the United States, designed to replicate trends like those that your favourite celebrity wore, quickly and cheaply. It wasn’t long before other countries followed suit.

Then, smartphones and social media arrived and changed the face of commerce forever. Once you could order clothes online through Instagram and Facebook in 2016, fast fashion orders accelerated. As well as that, websites such as Pretty Little Thing, Shein, Missguided and have become some of the trendiest fashion sites to order from today. But what if you could remain fashionable while reducing your carbon footprint? The Internet, while acting as an enabler for fast fashion, can also be a driving force for creating sustainable fashion choices. A notable example of this has been eBay, who have been around since 1995. For years, eBay has been an accessible marketplace selling pre-loved goods of all sorts, with clothes included. This year, ITV’s Love Island, ended their collaboration with fast fashion company Pretty Little Thing as their fashion sponsor, and replaced them with eBay, recognising the impact the show can have on its impressionable audience. eBay isn’t the only site dedicated to creating a circular economy. In 2016, Facebook launched Marketplace, which was established to be a direct competitor with eBay and US ad listing service, Craigslist. Facebook’s Marketplace enables people to advertise goods for sale or for free to their local community, which has proved to be a success, with over 1 billion monthly users.

In the past, ‘thrifty’ was once a positive, rather than a negative comment, in any era when people valued the cost and effort which went into producing clothing.

People’s perceptions towards fast fashion have changed in recent years. We are seeing more celebrities, influencers and young people opt to thrift clothes rather than support large fast fashion warehouses like Shein or Penney's. Thrifting is no longer confined to store-front shops. Some of the best goods can come from someone else’s wardrobe. In 2011, the concept drove the creation of Depop. Depop was established in London, as a peer to peer, social e-commerce community, where you could “like” and buy directly from the seller. Depop has grown in popularity, especially among young people. As of 2021, Depop now has over 21 million users, 90% of which are under the age of 26. Depop has proved that all you need to make more sustainable choices in fashion is a smartphone, a stable internet connection, and the drive to make some cash on your old clothes. Depop published its’ sustainability strategy in 2021, cementing its’ commitment to greener and more ethical commerce further (more here: Depop Sustainability Strategy ). SIRO also published its first sustainability strategy in 2021 (more here: SIRO Sustainability Strategy ). Key aspects include switching our fleet to electric vehicles, reducing waste in the construction of our full fibre network, and commitments to promoting diversity and inclusive practices in the workplace. With so many companies now pushing forward with sustainability commitments, it’s important to be conscious of greenwashing, including in the fashion industry. Buzzwords like “eco-friendly,” “biodegradable” and “carbon neutral” are thrown around regularly. So, it’s essential to do your research first, allowing you to shop with companies that have genuine sustainable policies and practices in place. In the past, attitudes to clothing were different. The focus was on quality and durability vs. our current throwaway culture. ‘Thrifty’ was once a positive, rather than a negative comment, in any era when people valued the cost and effort which went into producing clothing. The circular economy (though not called that back then) was often in full swing with clothing passed down through the family or precious items like wedding dresses repurposed into garments such as communion or christening outfits. Sustainable living provides an opportunity to rethink how we value clothing and to embrace being thrifty again. Technology and connectivity can now also make sustainable choices more accessible allowing consumers to shop in a more environmentally and socially equitable way. A final thought, particularly as we grapple with cost-of-living challenges, is the opportunity to make money from your pre-loved clothing, by opting to download apps that offer resale services. Technology, including fibre broadband, is driving the growth of the second-hand market across the globe. With SIRO’s 100% fibre to the premises broadband, you can manage your orders, post up your best pre-loved fashion outfits and make connections all from the comfort of your home.

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SIRO, has today announced it is to sponsor the connection and delivery of fibre broadband to Esker House - the Athlone-based Women’s Refuge and domestic abuse support service. SIRO, which is rolling out Ireland’s only 100% fibre broadband network across 154 towns, is partnering with broadband retailer Viatel to provide broadband connectivity to this vital service. Established in 1982, Esker House, supports women and their children who experience domestic abuse and violence. The Refuge provides services, support and outreach to 9 counties across the Midlands and West, stretching from Sligo to Roscommon to Carlow. Services offered by the refuge include Women and Children’s emergency refuge accommodation, a helpline, children/young person’s support Service, court support, court accompaniment, outreach service, advocacy, awareness raising and community education. Esker House’s most recent service user figures from 2020 highlights the importance of the refuge to the wider Midlands region, showing it:
  • Responded to almost 500 crisis calls on their helpline
  • Provided emergency support services to 109 women
  • Providing 1,850 support sessions to women
  • Provided refuge accommodation to 21 women and 27 children.

Pictured left to right: Deirdre Berry, Esker House Manager and Amanda Glancy, SIRO Director of Corporate Affairs

SIRO’s gigabit fibre broadband connectivity will further enhance the services provided by the refuge. Its’ existing phone systems can now move to a cloud-based solution, improving communications between the centre and its service users; while users of the emergency accommodation can access more reliable internet connectivity for work or education, TV and video streaming or to stay connected with family and friends. Commenting on the sponsorship, Esker House Manager Deirdre Berry, said: “Having high-quality and reliable fibre broadband will make a significant difference to our operations and to the services we provide to our users each day. For people who use our accommodation services, whether it’s for kids to help them do their homework or watch TV or adults wanting to keep connected, it will provide an important sense of stability. More broadly, for those seeking to avail of our services we can provide them with greater online options. We are delighted to have SIRO and Viatel come on board and support us in this way.”

Pictured left to right: Steven Farrell, SIRO Account Director and Linda Tiley, Esker House Team Lead and Deirdre Berry, Esker House Manager

SIRO’s Director of Corporate Affairs, Amanda Glancy noted: “Since the pandemic, and this year in particular, an uncomfortable spotlight has been thrown on the prevalence of domestic abuse, of women, men and families in Ireland. Unfortunately, too, the need for the support services totally outstrips demand for them. SIRO, with Viatel, is pleased to be able to support the hugely important work that the team at Esker House are providing across the Midlands Region, by sponsoring their broadband connection. Having reliable broadband allows individuals, families and businesses to live and work better, and in the case of those trying to access services such as Esker House’s, we believe connectivity is even more critical.” Damien McCann, Director of Sales and Marketing at Viatel, said: “It’s amazing to see the critical services Esker House provides for people across the midlands, Viatel are very proud to partner with the team in SIRO to provide this high-speed connectivity service to the Esker House facility, which hopefully will help users of the facility and also help the wider Esker House team’s daily operations” If you, or someone you know may need the services of Esker House, please contact their helpline at 09064 74122 SIRO is available in locations across Westmeath and the Midlands. Search Your Eircode today to see if you can avail of SIRO 100% Fibre Broadband.

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2022 marks my 27th year working in Environmental Health and Safety (EHS), with the last seven spent working with SIRO. Over the years, I’ve completed qualifications to Masters levels and attained my Chartered practitioner status. Allied with practical experience, these have given me significant expertise on developing successful organisational environmental, health and safety management systems and practices. SIRO began its journey in 2015, as a new company, a joint venture between ESB and Vodafone, rolling out a completely new 100% fibre broadband network. From the off, Environmental Health and Safety is something that we have placed a paramount importance on.

“SIRO is an Industry Leader on Environmental Health and Safety.”

SIRO is acutely aware that human interaction and organisations are dynamic and ever changing, diffusing between several layers of interaction and influence, all of which affect perceptions, meaning, values, attitudes, norms and thus behaviour; and that one unsafe behaviour can significantly change an organisations’ record. Today, there is much talk within organisations and businesses about “culture.” Within occupational and environmental management, the importance of having a positive safety culture is much highlighted. Culture is the evolving result of the continuing negotiations about values between the members of that organisation and with its environment. It includes norms, ideas and factors which prompt behaviour and attitudes towards the organisation. Is culture the single determinant of all aspects of safety and the organisation of safety practices? Unfortunately, no. It is just one, but important, part of a wider paradigm of factors required to establish a successful management system. ISO standards, in particular ISO 45001 & ISO 14001, refer to this paradigm of factors as an organisation’s “context”. To develop successful systems, there is no singular, defining handbook, each organisation must determine their own, suited to their own context.  

The Key Elements driving SIRO’s Environmental, Health &Safety (EHS) managements systems


Our Heritage

SIRO is a joint venture between ESB and Vodafone, with both companies having well established management systems. At SIRO, we took the best from both organisations’ approaches.

“We considered the complexity of utilising existing electricity infrastructure to construct & operate a 100% fibre-to-the-building broadband network, and successfully created management systems specific to SIRO”. 

SIRO's Health & Safety Context

As an “essential service,” SIRO’s workplace is complex and the risks real. SIRO as a wholesale operator successfully completes and controls, high-risk works across a variety of networks - overhead, underground, Core, and Metro. This is in addition to navigating between a myriad of existing overlapping utility networks (e.g., gas, sewage,) in a congested urban underground landscape.

SIRO's Environmental Context

SIRO is rolling out one of Ireland’s greenest telecoms networks, with a strong focus on environmental sustainability. Through using the existing ESBN electricity infrastructure, we have adapted circular economy principles. Our fibre network is significantly more energy efficient and much less polluting vs. copper or cable broadband. SIROs fibre broadband network is already underpinning:
  • A reduction in national carbon footprint due to working from home and reduced commuting
  • More sustainable and balanced development, supporting people to live and work in their communities
  • Contributing to improved work-life balance
  • Reducing in pandemic risks through facilitating greater access to online goods and services

So, what are the main elements of SIRO’s successful EHSMS management systems?

These are broadly categorised as:
  • Leadership & Participation
  • Risk & Impact Assessment
  • Setting & Enforcing High Control Standards
  • Competence (Approvals & Authorisations)
  • Integrating EHSMS within business management systems

Leadership & Participation:

  • Having robust worker participation and organisational leadership is vital to the success of all aspects of a business, HSEQ is no different.
  • SIRO’s HSEQ Department have direct line of authority from, and communication with the CEO and the SIRO Board.
  • SIRO’s Senior Leadership & Management Teams are accountable and responsible for HSEQ within their functions.
  • Worker participation is strong and there is a shared responsibility within SIRO from Leadership level throughout the whole organisation.

Risk & Impact Assessment:

  • Planning and organisation are also vital: the need to identify hazards, environmental aspects, complete risk and impact assessment should form core elements of any activity. Through planning, SIRO has devised specific control measures and standards to reduce or eliminate risks and impacts posed.

Setting & Enforcing High Control Standards:

The setting and enforcing of high HSEQ standards is vital; aim as high as you can reach. Make it about the best available technology/approach and not the ‘cowboy’ corner-cutting approach. An organisation that aims for the legislative minimum will always find they fall short. SIRO as an industry leader – sets and enforces high environmental, health and safety standards.


From experience there are two key aspects to competence an organisation must get right, and both must align with the level of risk involved:
  1. Approval: The assessment and engagement of competent contractors
  2. Authorisations: The training, assessment and authorisation of worker activity based on levels of risk.

Integrating EHSMS within business management systems:

HSEQ is not an add on, it can never be if an organisation is to be an industry leader. HSEQ integrate into all aspects of thoughts, change, and actions across our business functions.

So, does SIRO have a positive “culture”?

I believe so. At SIRO we have put in place all the key elements to ensure a positive H&S culture exists, is prioritised and can continue to grow. HSEQ is always evolving, and organisational paradigms are ever shifting in our dynamic work environment. Management systems must continually evolve and improve to respond to these dynamics.  
Today Tuesday 14 September, we launched our Sustainability Strategy, which aims to establish SIRO as Ireland’s greenest broadband network. The Strategy was formally launched by the Minister of State with responsibility for Public Procurement and eGovernment and Communications and Circular Economy, Ossian Smyth. The launch occurred on the same day as the our first electric vehicles (EVs) took to the road and coincides with Dublin Climate Action Week also taking place this week.  

“Today’s launch is the culmination of several years’ work at SIRO, first to measure our outputs and impact on the environment and broader sustainability targets and second, to then act to become cleaner, greener and more sustainable as a leading Irish telecoms business."

John Keaney, CEO, SIRO

A switch over of our existing diesel commercial fleet to EVs is a key component of the Strategy. This initiative alone will see 1.6 million kilometres in journeys undertaken each year as part of our network roll-out operations (equivalent to travelling around the globe 40 times), become greener and more sustainable. We expect the switch will more than halve our existing carbon emissions. With effect from this month, we have switched 65% of our existing diesel fleet to EVs and the remaining third will be phased out by the company over the next year, with the fleet fully electric by end 2022. image of siro electric vehicles Work on developing and activating the Strategy, which encompasses environmental, social and governance (ESG) issues relevant to the company and its operations, began in 2018 leading to today’s launch at our Carrickmines offices. Our broadband network is 100% fibre, with no copper at any point, also making it significantly more energy efficient (by up to 60% and emitting less carbon emissions (over 80% less) than traditional copper or cable broadband networks).

Key aspects of the Strategy include:

  • Switching the SIRO fleet to EVs: Transitioning of SIRO’s existing diesel fleet to EVs by end 2022, reducing carbon emissions by 53% once complete.
  • Joining the UN Global Compact: SIRO joined the UN Global Compact in February 2021. The Compact obliges participants to implement changes to their business to achieve a set of agreed UN objectives in areas such as environment, human rights, labour, and anti-corruption. SIRO is only one of 14 Irish SMEs (or 35 Irish entities in total) to join the Compact (vs. comparable sized countries such as Denmark where almost 500 (493) businesses are members)[1];
  • Utilising solar power and supporting biodiversity on its’ network: SIRO has commenced a feasibility study on installing solar panels on SIRO’s PoP cabins. These panels would offset the energy used in these internet connection points with renewable and green energy and feed into the national electricity grid. SIRO is also undertaking biodiversity projects in the environs of PoP cabins.
  • Reducing waste: SIRO has reduced its annual waste to landfill by 20% between 2018 and 2020 and is targeting zero waste to landfill by 2030.
  • Reducing commuting: Introducing a hybrid work strategy which aims to reduce emissions from employee commuting by 15% per annum.
  • Championing gender equality: The company has made significant progress in achieving gender equality, with its’ senior leadership team now 66% female, with 34% female representation across the business generally. The company is also a signatory of the UN’s Women Empowerment Principles (WEP) which commits employers to equal pay for work of equal value, gender-responsive supply chain practices and zero tolerance against sexual harassment in the workplace.
  • Partnering with community stakeholders: SIRO is partnering with several community stakeholders including Open Doors, Junior Achievement Ireland or Employers for Change to promote inclusivity and equal opportunities in their workplace and the wider communities served by the company.
[1] Figure as of 1 August 2021.

“Long term success for all telecoms operators requires strategic transformation, including through embracing sustainability and committing to a long-term investment which not only contributes to the circular economy, but which will also reap numerous benefits in meeting customer needs, increasing efficiency, strengthening brands, and creating new business opportunities."

Ossian Smyth, Minister of State

“I look forward to engaging with SIRO and other telecoms operators to ensure that the sustainable solutions they apply in all aspects of their activities will allow for building competitive advantage and best in class innovation, while also helping to protect and preserve our natural ecosystems for future generations” - Minister Smyth commented. siro build team with new EV   According to SIRO CEO John Keaney: “Today’s launch is the culmination of several years’ work at SIRO, first to measure our outputs and impact on the environment and broader sustainability targets and second, to then act to become cleaner, greener and more sustainable as a leading Irish telecoms business." Mr Keaney stressed the urgency for action: “Change is never easy or convenient. Becoming sustainable and protecting both people and planet is no longer a choice, but an essential, enduring activity; one which business leaders must champion. Technology can be a great enabler of more sustainable living. SIRO’s 100% fibre broadband is empowering communities and businesses to become more sustainable in areas such as remote working and reduced commuting; smart homes and cities; enhanced business productivity reducing emissions and driving greater energy efficiency. SIRO’s fibre broadband network is also the cleanest broadband available today, using less energy than traditional copper networks and emitting significantly less harmful emissions. This further highlights the focus that all stakeholders must place on achieving a full fibre Ireland, not least because of the contribution it can make to Ireland meeting climate change and sustainability commitments”, added Mr. Keaney.  

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  Over the last 12 months so much has changed in our lives in ways we could never have predicted. Yet, we have also adjusted, relatively, well to “the new normal”. With International Women’s Day upon us, where one of its’ missions this year is to “forge inclusive work cultures where women’s careers thrive”, it is timely to consider one of the biggest changes over the past year – working from home (WFH) – and its impact on women in the workforce. It is important to note, that while International Women’s Day highlights the significance of achieving gender equality in the workplace, it is a core goal that SIRO is committed to achieving all year long. As part of the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals, Goal 5 focuses on achieving gender equality and empower all women and girls, a goal which SIRO believes has become more relevant throughout the pandemic. During Level 5 lockdowns, over 40% of the Irish workforce worked from home. WFH quickly shifted from something done by a small segment of the population to a mainstream activity overnight. But for working women, the jury is still out on their recent experiences of WFH. For working mothers, anecdotal evidence paints a picture of exhausted mothers, at home and double jobbing between the paying office job and childminding and home schooling. Much of this narrative may be true but does it tell the full story of WFH for women? Not all women WFH are mothers or if they are, not all have childminding and home-schooling responsibilities. Equally, does it adequately take account of fathers and the roles they have also played in parenting during lockdown? Yet, according to OECD statistics, women in Ireland average almost 5 hours of unpaid work per day. While men in Ireland average just over 2 hours of unpaid work per day. The gap remains too wide. For true equality, we need a fairer sharing of responsibilities in the home. While the division of labour along traditional lines remains a factor, there are many reasons for this imbalance including more women opting to work as a full-time homemaker or women choosing to work part-time in a professional/paid role. The success or failure of the recent mass exodus toward WFH cannot be fully judged against a backdrop of extraordinary circumstances – schools and childcare facilities closed, shops, restaurants and other entertainment and leisure facilities shut, restricted travel, social distancing and no meeting with family, friends, and colleagues. Yet, for many the experience of WFH has been positive. Several employee surveys have shown a majority of employees either wish to remain working from home in a full or part time capacity, post-pandemic. As Chief Financial Officer at SIRO, a company rolling out high speed broadband across Ireland, I have more than a little vested interest in ensuring that WFH can work successfully, including for our employees. At SIRO we have long championed and promoted WFH amongst our non-field-based employees. This has allowed us to adapt more easily than others. We appreciate the huge benefits which can be derived from WFH and how life changing it can be. But as a woman too in this role, International Women’s Day, creates another moment to reflect on how we can continue to improve the lives of working women. With WFH, I see an opportunity for working women.

Opportunities of Working From Home

One of the greatest opportunities of WFH lies in its capacity to bring more women into the workforce. CSO data for the last quarter of 2020 tells us that while there was 69% male participation in the workforce, female participation lagged 13% behind at only 56%. And of these 56%, almost a third (30%) work part-time. Many factors such as access to and cost of childcare; commuting long distances to work; and even the cost of going out to work every day may make it unviable for women. WFH from home creates the capacity for women to reduce these barriers. The gender pay gap (GPG) is also linked, at least partially, to the issues outlined above. Eurostat data shows Ireland’s GPG stands at 14.4%. Campaigners seeking to close this gap, point out the gap effectively means women work for free from 9th November to year end. WFH means women can work more flexibly, empowering women, who wish to, to shift from working part time hours to longer or full-time working, increasing their earnings and further reducing pay gaps. Another reason for the GPG is that, traditionally, men have tended to be in higher managerial roles, with higher salaries. Research has shown that despite equal qualifications, women are often not as confident as men in actively seeking promotions or putting their names forward for senior roles. Here too WFH might also be leading to shifting attitudes amongst women. Some women see WFH as a potential leveller in career advancement, helping to bridge the gap between the higher number of men in senior roles than women. Remote working may dilute many of the traditional male-dominated office networks from which some women have felt excluded.

The Introduction of a Hybrid Work Model

However, when lockdown restrictions ease, many organisations expect to transition to a ‘hybrid’ model of both WFH and team workplace-based activities. It will be critical that organisations ensure that this transition does not result in an imbalance, where women choosing to WFH, find themselves missing out on the networking opportunities at the office. This male networking culture is changing fast in Ireland. Indeed, in my industry, telecommunications, we have two of the leading telcos headed up women in Vodafone’s Anne O’Leary and Eir’s Carolan Lennon. Equally in public sector bodies such as ESB there is increasing diversity at senior levels. Within my own company, SIRO, we have a gender balanced leadership team, a board where a third are women and we continue to work to increase diversity across our business. Thankfully, my experiences both from a utility background and now a telecoms background, have been overwhelming positive in terms of career progression and diversity. WFH may bring a true meritocracy to career advancement and promotions across all industries resulting in greater diversity amongst those in senior roles not just between men and women but also those of differing sexual orientation, social backgrounds, or ethnicity etc. The global WFH experiment is only beginning. The years ahead will see it honed further. For all workers it creates many opportunities for people to enjoy greater flexibility, work on their own terms and to shape their working week around their wider lives. For women, it can breakdown many barriers which have traditionally excluded them from the workforce or career advancement. WFH may not always be perfect but it can be transformative, particularly for women, and that is something to celebrate on International Women’s Day. Michelle Mullally is SIRO Chief Financial Officer. SIRO is a joint venture company between ESB and Vodafone. It is delivering a 100% fibre-to-the-building broadband network with speed of 1 Gigabit per second across Ireland.
Blanaid O Reagan SIRO Today is Gimme Fibre Day, a day that celebrates Nobel Prize winner Sir Charles Kuen Kao, whose work on transmitting light through fibres revolutionised communications. This day, Kao’s birthday, is a day to acknowledge both his achievements and the benefits his work on optical fibre bring to the world. More than 95% of global digital data is carried by fibre optic cables and this technology touches every aspect of our lives, from facilitating communication with loved ones to enabling smart homes, smart cities and smart working. Many of today’s most complex problems necessitate the contribution of equally complex ICT solutions, which in turn depend on Very High Capacity Networks (VHCN) to transfer data at scale and at speed. One such problem is climate change. The challenge of reducing harmful emissions and adapting to an uncertain future climate will require enormous change, much of it technical, in every sector of the economy. A recent paper published by UK wholesale fibre network operator City Fibre pointed to the need for VHCNs to underpin ICT carbon reduction solutions across sectors such as energy, eHealth, transport, smart buildings and cloud computing. Without a high-speed, high-quality with low latency and resilient broadband network, these solutions will be difficult to adopt widely. At SIRO, we see building a future-proofed 100% fibre optic network as an important enabler for the transition to a sustainable economy. Our network currently reaches 275,000 homes and businesses across regional Ireland, with 50,000 customers and growing. FTTH networks themselves are more energy efficient than other access networks and research has shown that per gigabit, widespread adoption of FTTH infrastructure could be responsible for 88% fewer emissions in European countries than the alternatives. Public concern over climate change is growing. According to the Eurobarometer (2019), 75% of Irish people see it as a ‘very serious’ problem, up from 68% in 2017. While they see Government (48%), the EU (45%), business (39%) and themselves (43%) as being relatively equally responsible for tackling climate change, 62% of Irish respondents say they have personally taken action “to fight climate change over the past six months”. Proposals relating to specific Government actions, e.g. financial supports for clean energy transition and national renewable energy targets are heavily supported by Irish respondents (93% and 95% respectively). These results show that on the whole, Irish people are willing to make personal changes in behaviour to tackle climate change but they also see a need for these changes to be supported by Government action. However, business and industry also bear a huge responsibility, not only to decrease their own carbon footprint, but to empower the public, including their employees, to take their own actions on climate change.  

FTTH – empowering people to make change

Building a future-proofed 100% fibre-optic broadband network will help Irish people to make the changes they want to make in their own lives and work to help fight climate change. For the individual, there is potential to reduce transport emissions, in particular through facilitating remote working. A quantitative analysis using a lifecycle approach conducted by PwC for the FTTH Council North America found that within 6 years of its deployment, a typical FTTH network in the US will have a positive impact on the environment mainly due to the benefits of remote working.[1] As a company we believe that we should also empower our employees to make similar changes, and facilitate remote working where possible. At SIRO we have a mixture of office-based and field-based staff and while the options to work remotely are dependent on business needs, we aim to allow all those who desire it and whose role allows it, to work from home or a remote office/site. We are building our fibre network in towns in regional Ireland, so while our head office is in Carrickmines Dublin, many of our employees are based in towns across the country from Letterkenny to Tralee, to Galway and Dundalk. To get an idea of the prevalence and the appetite for remote working in SIRO and the carbon savings we could make by spending one day a week working from home, we recently surveyed the staff. We found that that SIRO staff respondents travel an average of 58km daily to their place of work. Those who travel by car travel an average of 62km daily to their place of work.[2] In keeping with the profile of the company, many SIRO employees live outside of Dublin, commuting to the office in Carrickmines from towns and cities such as Roscommon and Cork. Given the location of the office and the distribution of our build sites, it is unsurprising how far the average SIRO employee travels to get to work. Also reflecting our head office location and build sites, 87% of SIRO staff travel to work by private car or company van, with 8% taking public transport and 3% travelling by car share, 2% use other modes such as walking or motorcycle. The company already incentivises use of public transport through the Government Taxsaver scheme, other options to decrease emissions from travel to work are car sharing and remote working. When asked whether they would be open to car sharing, only 30% of respondents indicated they were and only 3% of people currently car share regularly. Remote working, on the other hand, is more popular, 63% of respondents reported working from home/remotely during the week. Of those that do not work remotely/from home [3], 60% of them said that they would like to. Aside from the other benefits of working from home, (e.g. better work-life balance), the emissions reductions can be significant. The Government’s Climate Action Plan estimates that every new remote worker will yield a net energy saving of 10kWh per day. In the UK, it has been estimated that the nationwide availability of faster broadband could save 1.6 million tonnes of CO2 emissions per annum due to remote working and a reduction in work travel alone.[4]  

The Benefits of Remote Working on CO2 Emissions

From our survey, we calculated that on average a SIRO employee working from home one day a week for a year would save 724 kg CO2, or 0.72 tonnes CO2 emissions each, or approximately 5% of an Irish person’s emissions per annum (13.3 tonnes per capita 2017) Not everyone who wishes to work remotely wishes to work from home. An option many found attractive was working from a digital/co-working hub. If it was available, 26% would work from a hub occasionally and 38% would work from a hub frequently/very frequently. Through a partnership with Vodafone, SIRO sponsors 15 Gigabit hubs in regional towns around the country, giving them access to two year’s free 1 Gigabit connection. Recent research by Vodafone found that Gigabit hubs make a substantial economic contribution to the towns they are based in and it estimated that 5,200 jobs could be supported.[12] That’s 5,200 people who can avoid a lengthy commute. By giving people who live in regional towns the option to work in a local Gigabit hub rather than commute to the nearest city most likely by car, they are also empowering people to reduce their carbon emissions. Dr Kao would no doubt be pleased with the significant efforts going on across Europe to “Switch Off” Copper networks and replace them with Very High Capacity (VHCN) Fibre networks, both in the backhaul trunk networks and the local last mile access networks. Greater adoption of this infrastructure he pioneered has the dual benefit of driving the EU Digital Agenda and competitiveness and also contributing to the decarbonising of industry and transportation. Happy birthday Sir Charles from SIRO.     [1] PwC (2008), ‘Developing a Generic Approach for FTTH Solutions using Life Cycle Analysis Methodology to Determine Environmental Benefits of FTTH Deployments in the USA’. [2] Response rate of 58% [3] 37% do not currently work from home/remotely [4] SQW (2013), UK Broadband Impact Study.  Found in WIK Consult (2018), The Benefits of Ultrafast Broadband