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New WSAA white paper advises how utilities can meet Sustainable Development Goals

A new white paper outlines the important role Australian utilities will play in meeting the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDG), and suggests the utilisation of a common framework across the industry to generate and bolster shared values.

The Water Services Association of Australia (WSAA) white paper – Global Goals for Local Communities: Urban water advancing the UN Sustainable Development Goals – outlines how Australia’s urban water industry is currently working towards the SDGs and provides a framework to help utilities advance their contribution.

Australian Water Association Specialist Network Sustainability Co-chair David Kirby said the SDGs not only offer a solid framework for water industry service provision, but also highlight how much of an impact water provision can have on other areas of sustainable development.

“The SDGs offer a good framework for the water industry in how we should be providing services, not just to our customers but to the environment and to society as a whole,” he said.

Adding value to communities

Kirby said the case studies provided in the white paper outline the extent of value provided to communities by their water service providers.

“It’s not that the water industry is going to solve sustainable development by itself, it’s that it can collaborate and contribute to Australian society across all 17 of those UN SDGs. And this is articulated in so many of the case studies that are provided in the whitepaper,” he said.

The paper outlines case study examples of utilities that are succeeding in meeting challenges outlined under the SDGs at a local level through focused initiatives and projects, including:

  • Queensland Urban Utilities’ Innovation Precinct, which supports partnerships between universities and industry to drive innovation;
  • Barwon Water’s adoption of Integrated Water Cycle Management to manage prolonged water stress due to growing populations;
  • Yarra Valley Water’s efforts to support vulnerable customers facing financial hardship through its WaterCare project;
  • City West Water’s work in addressing energy and waste management efficiency; and
  • Northern Territory Power and Water’s efforts to alleviate water shortage and treatment issues in Indigenous communities.

The paper sets out a framework for industry-wide action, as well as specific steps individual utilities can take to ensure the SDGs are addressed in light of operations and strategy.

The paper endorses the establishment of a national summit, similar to the 2016 Australian SDGs Summit, to assist the industry’s efforts in raising awareness of the SDGs.

Taking it step-by-step

Individual water utilities are encouraged to implement the three-step process outlined below, which aims to help organisations understand the SDGs and embed the goals into planning and strategy:

  1. Prepare and commit: undergo an internal education process with the organisation to understand the SDGs
  2. Assess and embed: assess how current utility activities and operations contribute to the SDGs
  3. Monitor and review: report against and review indicators identified as relevant (existing or new)

“The three-step approach will enable utilities to map their objectives to their customer expectations and think about how they can align them together,” Kirby said.

“What gets measured gets done, and the approach provides a framework so that utilities can test, prioritise and measure against what they say they will do. It will enable utilities to demonstrate to customers, shareholders or the state that they are delivering value and that it's relevant to its particular customer base.”

And while Melbourne Water and Yarra Valley Water have committed to reporting progress publicly each year under their commitment to the UN Compact, Kirby said all other Australian utilities should consider doing the same.

“By reporting, these two utilities are demonstrating to the wider industry that they are leaders in this area, that they are not perfect but that they have achieved many things and that they are striving towards the objectives. It provides a good platform for other water utilities to get involved too,” Kirby said.

“Hopefully Melbourne Water and Yarra Valley Water’s leadership will inspire other utilities to sign up to the UN Compact as well. It’s very relevant to a publicly owned water utility.”

Thinking globally and locally

WSAA Executive Director Adam Lovell said it’s hoped the paper will assist industry and utilities in aligning processes to help meet the SDGs both locally and globally.

‘‘Our desire is that this paper will lead to more collaboration between water utilities, governments, regulators, stakeholders and the community to enable us to focus on creating a sustainable and prosperous future,” Lovell said.

“We have developed strong relationships with our neighbours in the Pacific and Southeast Asia to assist them in achieving the SDGs. Creating a pathway for water utilities to be more involved will help our developing neighbours to provide clean safe drinking water and sanitation.”

Access the complete white paper here.

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