Working towards a low-carbon and resilient future

Susan O’Flaherty works as Operations Manager at XD Sustainable Energy Consulting, alongside her husband, Xavier Dubuisson. XD Consulting is an integrated sustainability consultancy providing multi-disciplinary advice and support in the area of renewable energy and energy efficiency.

Susan and her family moved to Clonakilty from Brussels in 2001. Prior to this she had been working in project management in the non-profit sector and after the move, having done an MA in Translation Studies (French and German), she started running her own translation business. 

“Fortunately, we ended up in Clonakilty and West Cork became home,” says Susan. After renting for a short period, the couple bought their home in Ballinglanna, a stone cottage in a stunning location overlooking the Atlantic. Over the past 18 years they have turned this old damp cottage into an A3-rated house. “We have a 100 per cent renewable energy supply in the home,” explains Susan. “We felt that it was important to be walking the talk.”

“Our mission is to empower people, organisations and communities in making the transition to a low-carbon, resilient future,” says Susan.

Their office is in their garden, with ocean views and it from here over the past  two-and-a-half years, together with a very talented team of engineers, software developers and designers, and with research funding from SEAI, that they have created RetroKit.

With housing representing a quarter of all CO2 emissions in Ireland, improving the energy efficiency of our homes is essential. And so XD Consulting has created a software solution designed for engineers and managers in local authorities and housing associations, to help them decide on the best way to invest in the energy upgrades of their housing stock.

“They can use RetroKit to visualise their houses on a map and run different retrofit scenarios according to their energy performance targets and budgets,” says Susan.

The company is currently working on a case study with Cork City Council, who will be trialling Retrokit in October and by the end of 2019, RetroKit will be available as a cloud-based digital platform.

After moving back to Ireland in 2001, Susan worked remotely as a project manager for a while and then set up her translation business while raising her family. She is also a founding member of the Clonakilty Kindergarten, a Steiner-based community playschool.

When she decided to join Xaviar full-time in the consultancy business in 2014, her experience in project management came into play. “I really enjoyed putting all the systems in place,” she says.

This time last year, she decided to take on the challenge of helping turn their research for Retrokit into a business. One of the most significant lessons she has learned along the way is the importance of listening to the customer. “There is no point spending years and years developing something that people don’t want or need,” she says. “My role is finding out what the customer wants and being their voice.”

Another important lesson learned was the importance of surrounding yourself with the right people. “We have such a creative pool here in West Cork, we’ve never had any trouble finding people,” she says, “there are so many great individuals involved in this business, it’s not just Xavier and me.” 

“We have always worked remotely on projects with different energy specialists around Ireland and the rest of Europe and so we are quite flexible in our way of working.” 

Susan completed a Women in Business course through the Local Enterprise Office, which she found really helpful. She went on to enrol in the Rubicon Exxcel Female Entrepreneurship programme, an initiative providing women with a business idea related to the science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) sectors with the opportunity to explore and develop their idea.

“Both of these courses provided me with valuable support,” says Susan. “I met so many other women at different stages of business and we’re still in touch. We meet up every six weeks and talk about our challenges in business.”

Life is busy and it can be difficult sometimes to switch off from work but living and working in the beautiful rugged surrounds of Ballinglanna with the sea on her doorstep does have its advantages. “I do struggle a bit with work-life balance but we have no commute and can walk down to the beach after work.

“In time I’d love to build up the business and the team in such a way that we can expand and develop new projects yet still maintain a good life-work balance.”

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WCP Staff

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