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Utilities take charge in implementing SDGs

The United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) provide a powerful framework for driving sustainability within the water sector, as two Victorian utilities have shown.

Presenting on the first day of Ozwater’19, Melbourne Water Corporate Planner Tim Rowan said the organisation has been working to implement the SDGs at a strategy, project and policy level.

Rather than just focussing on SDG 6: Clean water and sanitation, the organisation has broadened its thinking to look at its impact across all 17 SDGs.

“Our approach is to adopt the SDGs as a lens through which we can address our contribution to sustainability at multiple levels,” Rowan said.

“We are implementing the SDGs and driving sustainability in a range of ways, including our commitment to being carbon neutral by 2030, installing hydroelectric plants that generate electricity from our water supply system, and by capturing biogas at our treatment plants.”

Part of Melbourne Water’s strategic vision is to enhance life and liveability for the community through three pillars: healthy people, healthy places and healthy environment.

Rowan said an assessment of these pillars found a clear alignment between them and a majority of the SDGs.

“From this, we realised the business could contribute to all the goals, rather than just one,” he said.

“This was a challenge; we had to broaden our thinking to achieve it. We had to think not just about what we do but how we do it, and how we can make changes that lead to greater sustainability outcomes.”

Rowan pointed to the Melbourne Water System Strategy (MWSS) as an example of how the SDGs can be incorporated into a service strategy.

MWSS is a 50-year plan that sets out how Melbourne Water will ensure safe, secure and affordable water for the Melbourne region in the face of climate change, climate variability, population growth, increasing urbanisation, the emergence of water markets and a more connected water system.

The draft actions of the strategy were assessed against the SDGs to provide an additional frame of reference, parallel to statutory requirements.

Rowan said this challenged the business to consider how its strategic actions could be delivered in a way that supported sustainable outcomes, without compromising on water security and availability.   

“Incorporating the SDGs into the strategy made sure we kept the goals as a lens to ensure we are delivering on them in a way we set out to achieve,” he said.

People, planet, prosperity

Yarra Valley Water (YVW) has also used the SDGs as a framework to drive change.

Acting Divisional Manager of Community Inclusion Grace Rose-Miller said the SDGs are a way of defining what being sustainable means, and YVW has used them to shine a light on areas it could improve, as well as highlighting what it has achieved.

This was set out in the People, Planet, Prosperity report, released last year, which outlines how the utility’s goals relate to the SDGs and the progress that has been made.

This includes aims as diverse as becoming carbon neutral by 2025, better supporting customers who are struggling financially, and long-term adaptive planning to address population growth and climate change impacts.

In contrast to an annual report, which looks at the year that was, Rose-Millar said People, Planet, Prosperity was about looking ahead at the value YVW intends to deliver.

“The value we provide can be expressed in a much richer way than just the profit we provide to the government at the end of the year,” she said.

“Our objectives with the report was to articulate our contribution to the planet, people and prosperity, and to talk about ourselves in a holistic way. We wanted to be future-focussed and set out our key commitments.

“The point was to increase our accountability and put all our commitments on the table.”

Rose-Millar said YVW wanted to tell an engaging story about its progress on the SDGs, but it also wanted to get a balanced view.

“We went through all the SDGs and showed where we have a positive impact, and where we have a negative impact,” she said.

“I’m really proud of this report. It makes us richer, stronger, helps cement some firm values we have, and sends a message to stakeholders that we’re serious about sustainability.”

Ultimately, Rose-Millar said public utilities have a big role to play in implementing the SDGs and creating change.

“We are significant employers, we spend a lot of money buying goods and services, and we have quite a big sphere of influence to drive change,” she said.

“Sustainability is all about balancing the needs of the current with protecting the rights of future generations. It’s about living within our means and leaving no one behind.”

Day one of Ozwater'19 might be finished but the conference is far from over! Click here to find out what's on offer tomorrow.