A shift in the conversation
The United Nations has said Covid-19 will not be stopped without the world’s population having access to safe water and sanitation and that the impact of the virus could be considerably higher on those who do not.
While the UK water industry has responded excellently to the coronavirus crisis, providing essential water and wastewater services to customers throughout, stakeholders are now asking whether it has an opportunity to recalibrate and change tack towards a more sustainable future.
The opportunity to lead the green economic recovery has certainly been a frequent discussion point during British Water’s Better Together video calls, which have been gathering members and industry leaders together since the crisis began to unfold in March.
It has been reassuring to see the steady shift in conversation from the early days where sourcing personal protective equipment and adjusting to home working were popular topics.
“Water companies are looking much further ahead at building future resilience, not only against the threat of pandemics but other urgent issues such as water scarcity.”
Focus then switched to adopting innovative digital technologies and restarting capital programmes.
Currently, water companies and the supply chain are looking much further ahead at building future resilience, not only against the threat of pandemics but other urgent issues such as the climate emergency and water scarcity.
Plans for a greener, sustainable industry
Of course, this is all against the backdrop of tough regulatory targets and the industry’s own net zero carbon ambitions – including water companies in England working to achieve net zero by 2030 - in a post-Brexit world.
The industry acknowledges these challenges will only be addressed by working differently and my conversations with sector leaders, stakeholders and the supply community tell me they are ready to strive forward with plans to create a greener, more sustainable industry.
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In an encouraging step, these points have been echoed by the government, the Environment Agency, the Drinking Water Inspectorate, the economic regulator Ofwat and the Consumer Council for Water.
Collectively, on July 20, they jointly wrote to water companies in England, inviting them to submit specific proposals to fast-track plans, proposals and innovative ideas and “build on their quick and effective incident response” to the pandemic.
The letter said the government and regulators would facilitate water companies to accelerate planned investment, bring forward future investment and implement new ideas to boost the economy in areas including water resources, flood mitigation, net zero carbon reductions and water quality improvements.
Supply chain collaboration
Working collaboratively with the supply chain will be key to the successful delivery of these projects and British Water will continue to work closely with all stakeholders to ensure the green economic recovery gets off to a good start.
Our July event, Net Zero 2030 Digital Conversation, followed by our hosting of the International Water Association’s water resources webinars, are just two examples of our ongoing collaborative work.
“Through collaboration and leadership, the sector can use its influence and expertise to help achieve a low carbon future.”
Through collaboration and leadership, the sector can use its influence and expertise to help achieve a low carbon future by, for example, investing in smart technologies and renewable energy schemes, and accelerating digitalisation across water and wastewater networks.
A key part of this will be enabling the supply chain to have early sight of plans and to establish and maintain communication channels so that innovative ideas can be fed through.
A time to be bold
Building necessary resilience at home and overseas will be critical as we emerge out of the lockdown, as well as retaining and sharing any good practice adopted throughout the pandemic.
It is recognised that water management will play a crucial role in the way the world responds to climate change.
The United Nations has stated: “An integrated view on water, the biosphere and environmental flows is required to devise sustainable agricultural and economic systems that will allow us to decelerate climate change.”
Being bold, taking positive action and leading in practical measures will allow the water industry to tackle climate change and be a key player in driving a global green recovery to create a more sustainable future for all.