Anglian Water's Water Innovation Network enables suppliers like Concrete Canvas to pitch ideas
Anglian Water's Water Innovation Network enables suppliers like Concrete Canvas to pitch ideas

Case study: How Anglian Water is making water cleaner

The company is engaging with local suppliers in creative ways to deliver environmental solutions

As a supplier of the world’s most precious resource, Anglian Water needs to take a long-term view of business. The company supplies water and water recycling services to more than six million domestic and business customers in the east of England – that’s 1.2 billion litres of drinking water a day, processed via 138 water treatment works and distributed via 38,000km of pipes.

The macro pressures it is facing as a business reflect those of the planet more widely, says head of sustainability Andy Brown, namely: climate change, resource scarcity and population growth. “Those are pressures we couldn’t deal with if we continued to work in the same way,” he adds. “We needed to think about how we do business.”

The result is the Love Every Drop strategy, which has 12 business goals, including delivering a 70% reduction in capital carbon by 2030, and achieving zero waste and no accidents. These are ambitious targets, and the utility will not be able to meet them alone – it needs to involve a range of stakeholders, including its supply chain. “It’s about looking outside our organisational boundaries,” says Brown. “By working with our supply chain we can do so much more.”

Supplier selection is weighted towards those who demonstrate a willingness to support the Love Every Drop goals. Suppliers tend to work with the business on a long-term 5+5+5-year timescale and are embedded into the Anglian teams.

“SMEs and local suppliers are an untapped opportunity,” says Brown, who believes supporting local suppliers is critical, especially for innovative ideas. “Cutting-edge businesses might not be able to demonstrate long-term success. Offer them low-risk opportunities and work together to monitor it.”

To encourage smaller businesses to share ideas Anglian Water has launched an online portal: the Water Innovation Network. This is a free business network that allows potential suppliers to present their solutions to the challenges being faced.

Take Concrete Canvas, for example – a flexible concrete-impregnated fabric that hardens when hydrated to form a thin, waterproof concrete layer. It is 10 times quicker to install than conventional concrete and better for the environment. Concrete Canvas used the Water Innovation Network to pitch the idea to Anglian Water, and within nine months the product was being trialed on a site.

Anglian Water is part of the Business in the Community (BITC) Responsible Business Network, and BITC’s Responsible Business of the Year 2017. “[The Responsible Business Network] is a chance for businesses to build on and cascade best practice through their own business network,” says Brown. One example is Anglian Water sharing its mental wellbeing toolkit – created for its employees – with SMEs in its supply chain, helping them to support their own staff.

Target met, new target set

“By working with our supply chain we can offer a solution that delivers value to everyone,” says Brown.

In 2010 Anglian Water had an ambitious target: cut its capital carbon emissions by 50%. By 2015, it had already beaten that: delivering a 54% reduction. “We could not have done that without the engagement of and collaboration with our supply chain,” says head of sustainability Andy Brown. “Now we are working with our supply chain to deliver even higher targets.” This involves collaborating on projects such as Concrete Canvas and a different one to develop low carbon concrete. Anglian Water is the first water company to trial Cemfree, a concrete alternative with up to 60% lower embedded carbon (concrete is estimated to be responsible for about 5% of global carbon emissions).

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