What does a green & fair recovery mean for water customers?

10 August 2020

What does a green & fair recovery mean for water customers?

With the ‘Water Innovation 2050’ draft strategy, it’s good to see the sector recognising the role it has to play in the face of a climate crisis, ecological emergency and now a pandemic. There’s understandably a lot of buzz about #netzero in the utilities space; but as well as contributing to reduced emissions, the environmental impacts of our water system need to be addressed, if we are to achieve a sustainable future supply.

This got me thinking, what does a green and fair recovery look like for water customers a.k.a. humans? What can we learn from lockdown?

Lockdown brought an abrupt and radical change to our daily lives and behaviours. Many of us enjoyed quieter streets and less pollution. However, while we might have planned meals more carefully as the shop shelves emptied and we shopped less frequently, was it just me who spent longer in the shower and bath, to get a break from my family? Or watered plants more?

Now industry and the public are calling for a green and fair recovery, but what are we expecting for water, and how do we achieve it in the coming decades if a pandemic hasn’t made us treat this key natural resource more carefully?

As @AxiaOrigin recently asked, ‘how do we make “2050 Water” a project which isn’t just for the fans, but something which is societally relevant?’

At Traverse, we don’t think that can be answered without engaging across society, with the public and stakeholders. We believe that learning from people’s lived experience is key to designing successful behaviour change.

More collaborative engagement

The draft 2050 strategy is going in the right direction, recognising the opportunities for collaboration. Yet arguably in terms of customers, there is still a tone of doing things to people, giving and extracting information from them, rather than involving and empowering them in the innovation and transition journey. The decisions we make this decade will be crucial to limiting the climate crisis, so putting collaborative methods like co-creation in the ‘long-term / toward 2050’ box isn’t ambitious enough.

Moreover, we are starting to recognise more widely that addressing social inequality is inextricably linked to a sustainable future. At Traverse we’re thinking about how our engagement (and research) can be more inclusive, and when to take the decision to not just seek a ‘nationally representative’ evidence base, but to try harder to involve audiences that are less likely to participate, or more likely to be adversely impacted by change. Who should we be talking to, to achieve a #JustTransition?

More inclusive engagement

It’s good to see the emphasis on vulnerable customers and those in water poverty in the strategy – indeed it’s going to be even more important to work toward zero water poverty as we feel the economic effects of Covid-19. However, it would be even better to see the sector take an overt stance on equality and diversity in its vision for the future and how customers shape it.

What next?

 Well it’s refreshing (hah) to see water companies wanting to work together on research and engagement, for example aiming for ‘sector-wide clarity on the common behaviours, wants and needs of customers.’ With PR19, it felt like regulator-incentivised engagement has led to hesitancy in working together on the big issues.

Perhaps it’s just the engagement nerd in me, but wouldn’t it be interesting to convene national public ‘transition dialogues’ to deliberate on ‘future water scenarios’, and work collectively on the innovation required to deliver this strategy by 2050!?*

If you want to chat about engaging the public on the challenges the water sector faces, find me @byAmelieT or for a fuller conversation on how Traverse could help, email me amelie.treppass@traverse.ltd

 *Yes, I’ve been reading National Grid’s 2020 Future Energy Scenarios…

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