Late last year, the UK’s water companies collectively made a pledge to achieve net zero on operational emissions by 2030.
It’s an ambitious commitment and is two decades ahead of the UK Government’s own 2050 target. For an entire sector to attempt this is exceptional. Between now and 2030, the water sector will aim to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 10 million tonnes to meet the target.
It’s impressive and bold, and its targets and aspirations are underpinned by a detailed plan. The Netzero 2030 Routemap clearly and practically sets out what’s needed to meet the aim. The sector says it will accelerate plans to save water, generate more of its own low-carbon energy, convert vehicle fleets to alternative fuels and restore and enhance the natural environment.
This undertaking will also have to be delivered amid existing pressures on water companies. They must continue to offer greater value to consumers by reducing costs for households and businesses, improve engagement with customers and get ahead of potential water shortage challenges.
So why bring this up now? While there was much celebration within the water sector about the commitment, it seems to have largely flown under the radar in the national news agenda. It’s hard to find such strong leadership in the global effort to address the climate crisis and I think that rather than being overlooked, it should be celebrated.
Collaboration is the cornerstone of the Routemap and to achieving the targets set out. And this too is interesting in terms of the new thinking needed to achieve net zero. Given they are not competitors and effectively operate a monopoly within their given areas, water companies are in a unique position to leverage their already close working relationships to deliver on something so critical so quickly. Are there learnings that can help others deliver more ambitious plans? Could we see energy or automotive companies joining forces in this way? Could competitors across industries find new ways to collaborate to achieve a collective good? While this might seem an ambitious outlook, given the importance of addressing climate change could this be the catalyst to forge closer working?
Government, regulators and the supply chain will need to do their bit too and, as ever, innovation will be vital to solving unanswered questions. You can always find a reason not to do something though, so it’s great to see this hasn’t stopped the water sector from stepping up to the challenge.
With COP26 coming, all eyes will be on the UK and its commitment to stopping further climate change. We’ll be in the global shop window, sharing what we’re achieving to influence others. We need to do as much as we can now to put our best foot forward later this year.
I’m interested in what’s going to happen next. With the water sector taking a lead, will its example now spur others on to do more?
Michael Philps is a senior account manager at Camargue