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Making the most of the circular economy

Embracing the circular economy is helping to ensure a more sustainable future for the water industry, but performance indicators will be necessary for participants in the sector to make the best decisions.

That is what Peter Donaghy, General Manager, Treatment and Production, at Urban Utilities told a session on the opening day of Ozwater’21.

Urban Utilities applied a new performance framework to resource recovery centres (RRCs), as transition to a circular economy will change the way these facilities are operated and will require management of complex systems.

“We’ve combined some environmental and economic thinking together … and we’ve created a new way of looking at what we do,” Donaghy said.

“You have to understand what performance is, and you have to be able to measure it. If you’re not measuring it, it can’t be any value.”

As a result, Donaghy said, he could work with Urban Utilities’ resource recovery team to make better decisions.

The new framework brings together economic, environmental and other non-financial data together to improve understanding of performance and enhance business decision making.

“We can actually look at our system in a different way to see how things are connected and what are the overall resources consumed and the emissions we emit,” Donaghy said.

“This is about gathering the right people in the room so that, when you start the thought process about the problem that we are trying to solve and the sort of decision we have to make, it has to be evidence based.”

The process permits teams to effectively gather the information they require — and what information is missing — so they can make necessary decisions about their resources.

“We’ve had tremendous success focusing minds on what we think is a good decision, and validation has to happen afterwards,” he said.

Implementing the system at its RRCs has allowed the Urban Utilities team to reduce its emissions while also controlling operating costs.

“Work out how it all fits together and what’s the materiality of those connections,” Donaghy said. “That can help inform good decision making, and that’s also allowing us to focus on where we can achieve the most benefit.”

 Another utility making use of a circular economy approach is Victoria’s Yarra Valley Water (YVW).

According to the utility’s Kyle Olsen and Jarrad Legg, the water industry is uniquely placed to contribute to achieving a circular economy, but a people-centred approach is necessary to maximising its opportunities.

“We found that at Yarra Valley Water there were a lot of technical solutions applied to achieving a circular economy,” Olsen said. “But what we also found there was a gap between these technical solutions — the proposed solutions — and the people that were delivering them.

“We found that there was a lack of awareness and understanding of the circular economy concept and a lack of internal engagement strategy in order to overcome this gap.”

When YVW sought to implement a circular economy, it found that it was necessary to focus on closing this “gap” to ensure that it was able to drive longer-term, sustainable initiatives across the industry. This involved building stronger awareness, engagement and knowledge of the circular economy throughout the entirety of YVW.