Drinking water in harmony with nature: A story from the Netherlands

Dunea, a utility situated in the west of the Netherlands, is committed to providing drinking water in harmony with nature and is taking steps to become a climate smart utility. However, its drinking water supply system and the dunes under their care are under threat due to climate change, population growth, emerging pollutants, and spatial developments in a densely populated region. To face these challenges, Dunea has developed a strategy centred on climate adaptation, mitigation, and leadership.

The quality of the main water sources (the Rhine and Meuse Rivers) is deteriorating, due to contamination from agriculture, industry and households, and it gets worse in dry periods. These developments are increasingly challenging the utility’s ability to supply water continuously. For this reason, Dunea is creating a sustainable and robust drinking water system from multiple sources.

On top of this, Dunea is focusing on creating value for society and delivering positive impact through sustainable practices and partnerships. The utility works in close collaboration with multiple stakeholders, ranging from researchers and practitioners, to managers, regulators, network operators, customers, and community members to increase their positive contribution to society and the environment. Dunea believes that stakeholders and customers can make better decisions and meet their demands in a more sustainable way if they are aware of the environmental impact of their choices and are provided with useful indicators on water use and supply.


Climate change adaptation

Dunea has developed several programmes under the name ‘Drinking Water for the Future’ as a core part of the utility strategy to face future challenges. The plan contains measures both on the supply and the demand side. The core of this strategy is creating a sustainable and robust drinking water system based on multiple sources. Securing additional sources of sustainable water supplies will ensure the provision of safe and secure drinking water for our customers in the long term. For example, Dunea coordinates the Freshman project (supported by the EU LIFE programme), a pilot study which focuses on brackish groundwater as a new source of drinking water. The utility has also invested in several water-saving innovations (e.g. The 50-litre house), inspired by the worldwide 50L-home coalition. In 2021, Dunea, Arcadis and VPdelta launched 50-litre house challenges to encourage water-saving innovations where students, entrepreneurs and start-ups were asked to figure out how to meet household demands with a maximum supply of 50 liters of drinking water per person per day.



For a company so vulnerable to climate change it is very important to consider climate mitigation actions. Since 2017, the utility calculates its annual carbon footprint using the Operational Code 11 (PCD11), which was developed in cooperation with other nine Dutch  drinking  water  utilities and KWR Water Research Institute. This project/system provides a better understanding on the relative importance of a given carbon source compared to other carbon sources and allows to better measure progress of the ongoing CO2 reduction efforts. Thanks to this, Dunea has successfully reduced its carbon footprint from 32.034 tonnes of CO2 in 2017 to 13.108 tonnes in 2022 without carbon offsets.  Although the utility has made great progress on reducing the carbon footprint,  it believes that reducing greenhouse emissions is critical to continue working in harmony with nature and inspire people and partners. To ensure sustainable operations without contributing to climate change, Dunea has set an ambitious goal of becoming a climate-neutral utility by 2025. Some targets to achieving this include electrifying the entire vehicle fleet, and implementing sustainable heating systems. Also, the utility has been working on implementing energy saving measures including investing in renewable energy sources to meet future targets.

In 2020, Dunea set up a subsidiary company called Dunea Warmte & Koude to accelerate the Dutch energy transition by utilising the thermal energy stored in our river water transportation pipelines to cool or heat buildings. This reduces the dependence on energy from fossil fuels. An example of such an application can be found in the attached Case Study (page 2).


Communication with citizens

Given current population growth and urbanisation trends, the utility actively involves a range of stakeholders in their operations. Dunea is expanding its traditional focus on providing 24/7 drinking water supply to a wider role in society as a whole. As a result, we are collaborating closely with stakeholders. To achieve impact management, Dunea has a five-year programme centered around an up-to-date value creation model that places increased emphasis on essential societal connections to water-related fields. The utility partners with various stakeholders, including universities, municipalities, regional water boards and customers, to develop water solutions which contribute to solving greater societal challenges, such as adaptation to climate change (e.g. heat stress), prevention of salinisation of surface water and groundwater, biodiversity protection and more. Additionally, Dunea is working on a roadmap to accelerate sustainability in the sector by sharing costs, knowledge, and best practices.


Lessons learned

  • Since drinking water and nature conservation are primary services that are closely linked to many Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), societal trends are increasingly affecting the utility’s tasks. Dunea is becoming more aware of these trends, including the relevant scenarios, and developing strategies to become more adaptive and agile in response to change.
  • Dunea is eager to contribute to solutions for societal challenges and has numerous ideas and initiatives. However, sometimes these conflict with the utility’s capacity to create the highest value for society, given the tradition of operating at the lowest possible costs.
  • In adopting Impact Management, Dunea is entering into uncharted territory. There are many unknowns regarding the links between the utility’s actions and their environmental and social impacts on society. Consequently, Dunea must engage in additional and long-term iterative learning.



Dunea Case Study WBCSD

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Willemijn Bouland Oosterwijk, Willem van Wijk, Reshma Ghisaidoobe

Willemijn Bouland Oosterwijk is Dunea’s corporate strategy manager, responsible for the strategy on climate adaptation, mitigation, and the shift in focus from output to impact.       Willem van Wijk is the sustainability advisor res... Read full biography