By @SimonCocking

Interesting interview with Mark Bennett @BennettDublin, from Dublin City Council. He is heavily involved in working to make Dublin City Council and the city as a whole as environmentally innovative and future facing as possible. 

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Your background and the pros and cons of working in different countries?

I studied Environmental Science in Trinity and became interested in the relationship between business and the environment.  That took me to the Chicago where I interned with the Federal Environmental Protection Agency and later worked for a consultancy calculating pollution fines.  Working in Chicago was eye-opening and often eye-popping, the scale of the city is vast, vertically in the downtown, and horizontally in the endless suburbs.

To better understand business perspectives I did a masters in international management in London, which was no less big, but did feel a lot faster.  I was in King’s College and the hustle of a world city was evident every time I left the building for a sandwich.  I still find myself bracing for impact when I go back.  From London I went to Milan where the pace of life shifted again.  It’s also a hard working and fast living city, but with more balance.

Working in a bank near Piazza della Scala, I fell into the pattern of espressos ‘on the fly’ and apertivo in the evening.  Milan was more about working as part of living. My last international work experience was 6 months at the European Commission in Brussels.  The city fabric isn’t particularly special (apart from the odd eurocratic excess), but the melting pot of nations is particular and I always look forward to visits there.  My take-away from working abroad is that Dublin has a very human scale and social vibrancy that makes it particularly attractive.

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It used to be the case environmentally, Ireland was slower to move getting initiatives going (when we founded Global Action Plan Ballymun in 2001 & worked with Ballymun Regeneration Limited & DCC, 01 – 08) Are things better now?

During my career I have seen the narrative of the environmental sector go from conservation, to compliance, and increasingly to competitive advantage.   This logic of green activities saving, and indeed making money, seems to be attracting greater attention.  This has had a halo effect of making the whole topic more acceptable to people who would otherwise not identify themselves as green.

The short term efficiency gains help promote the long term strategy changes that will be needed to decarbonise the economy.   However, it important to note that not all important issues have a direct cost savings, e.g. aspects of biodiversity conservation.

Your brief is to link public, private and academic sectors to increase competitiveness and sustainability. How is this going?

The linking of these sectors is a great driver for innovation and is part of our smart cities approach. A recent example was a solar power project involving Dublin City University (DCU) and IBM.  DCU supported our application to the IBM Smarter Cities Challenge to look at the potential for solar to power municipal buildings. Winning the challenge gave us access to $500,000 worth of IBM consultancy and brought together stakeholders from across the city. The eventual outcome has been the tendering of solar panels for Civic Offices and four libraries.

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Your brief includes projects on smart cities, cleantech, finance, carbon, energy and CSR. How are things looking for IoT opportunities in Dublin for 2015 & beyond?

The advent of cheap and ubiquitous sensors and processors means that the area of smart and connected cities is developing rapidly. For example we have been running trials with Intel on apps and sensors that can give us more insight on how the city is performing in real time. This can be with regard to flooding and extreme weather, or to everyday cleanliness or traffic. Another aspect we are working on is open data and the possibilities of big data analytics unlocking value for the city. IBM and others have helped us deliver DubLinked.ie, Dublin’s open data platform.

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How was 2014 for you? Wins? Anything you would do differently?

2014 saw the publication of the fourth annual sustainability report for the city. Building on the previous three, the report brings together information and indicators on the triple bottom line of environment, economy and society. The report has gained international recognition and provides a good summary if what achievements have been made and what challenges remain.

Your plans / goals for 2015?

The Green Business Officer brief in Dublin City Council broadly covers  enterprise, finance and technology, while the responsibilities of the council are far broader again.  It is very hard to capture our progress in a way that is comparable across cities. This is important as we are a very open economy and compete for business globally.

As of last year there is a new standard for sustainable communities called ISO 37120. It requires the measurement of 17 indicators consistently across cities. This will allow us to benchmark our progress, for better or worse, against peer cities. Better data will allow for evidence based decision making and will allow policy makers to prioritise.

What technology makes you life easier?

I find that cloud services have changed the way I work.  I can now work across multiple devices and have access to my data wherever I am.  Using productivity software in this way I was motivated and able to go (almost) paperless in the office. Notwithstanding the energy use of the devices and storage, I think this has a lower environmental impact and is more efficient.

Anything you wish was already available for you to use (but isn’t yet)?

Working with public data makes you very conscious of data protection and security. While I have two stage authentication and pin locks on devices and apps, anything that better optimises security and convenience would be very welcome. Another complication is maintaining my right to privacy at the same time, e.g. concerning use of biometric data such as retina scanning.

Life / work balance, tips, words of advice?

I think maintaining the right perspective is the hardest and most useful skill in life and work. Our careers can become so specialised that we can lose sight of the bigger picture of competing priorities – though working in the environmental sector is fascinating and rewarding, it has the potential to be all-consuming.  Working in a number of different cities has made me realise there is no single approach to urban problems and in fact it is the diversity of approaches that makes cities interesting.

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