Utility community comes together to innovate and embrace climate ambitions
With contributions from: Jonathan Clement, Co-Chair Utility Leaders Forum Organising Committee, Ed McCormick, IWA Specialist Group representative & member of the Utility Leaders Forum Organising Committee, Miriam Feilberg, member of the Utility Leaders Forum Organising Committee, Corinne Trommsdorff, Climate Smart Utilities session
The Utility Leaders Forum (ULF) organised by IWA is an excellent platform for utility leaders to meet, expand their network and exchange knowledge among utility leaders from all over the world, while strengthening the community of utilities within IWA. The 2022 ULF was held over two days at the IWA World Water Congress & Exhibition in Copenhagen, Denmark.
Feeling the atmosphere in the room and listening to the discussions of 250 participants during the Forum gave us a clear impression that the ambitions of the ULF were met. Creating relations is really what this is about, and if you think about it, imagine if every participant connected to one person they met at the Forum when they came home, the impact is actually quite massive. This important event helped to raise awareness of the role utilities play, even more in this critical time when we have to deal with climate change and international instability.
The ULF comprised five sessions on urgent and global utility issues:
1) Water utilities as community leaders
2) Accelerating innovation
3) Evolving with climate change
4) Living in the digital world
5) Celebrating Climate Smart Utilities
The final bonus session celebrated Climate Smart Utilities with an impressive poster exhibition highlighting concrete climate smart actions implemented by a number of utilities from all over the world. You can read in more detail about the session outcomes and discussions in the summaries below.
Day one concluded with a reception event hosted by HOFOR, the Greater Copenhagen utility. This social event held at their premises was an excellent chance for participants to continue the conversation and network in an informal setting. At the end of the second day, participants also had the chance to enjoy a boat trip demonstrating climate solutions across the canals of Copenhagen. Thank you HOFOR for providing this unforgettable experience on the canals!
The effort of the utility community however does not stop here. Building on the relations created here in Copenhagen, we pledged to continue the discussions and take them further with upcoming utility forums to be held at the Singapore International Water Week and the next IWA World Water Congress & Exhibition in Toronto, both in 2024.
Session outcomes and discussions – summaries
Session 1, by Ed McCormick: The first session entitled ‘Utilities as Community Leaders’ provided a highly successful kick-off to the two-day Forum. Session one included a lively and engaged audience of ~250 attendees. Approximately 80% of the audience came from utilities, and another 10% from engineering, consulting firms, or technology providers. The speaker panel included five utility leaders (three General Managers/Managing Directors and two Chief Operating Officers) from four continents, including three from the Global South. This diversified speaker panel successfully achieved the outcome of audience understanding and buy-in to three important, visionary concepts for the water sector:
1) The role of water utilities is rapidly evolving: they are becoming leaders and ‘Anchor Institutions’ in their communities and in society to successfully address the world’s water and climate challenges.
2) Workforce innovation to attract, develop and engage a high performance workforce is the most important factor for utility success in achieving its new mission as community and societal leaders.
3) Utility relationships with their stakeholders must move from ‘transactional’ to ‘transformative’ to help create outcomes that benefit all parties and lead to future success addressing huge challenges including climate change and associated water shortages and flooding disasters from major storm events.
Speaker Diane Taniguchi-Dennis, Chief Executive Officer, Clean Water Services, Hillsboro, Oregon, USA, commented: “Anchor institutions are organisations rooted in a specific location that have a long-term interest in the economic and social vitality of the surrounding community.”
Session 2, by Jonathan Clement: The overall message of session two on innovation was collaboration and being courageous as an answer to the acceleration of innovation. Collaboration in the form of utility or industry partnerships. Many utilities have gone down a successful innovation path and they can teach other utilities ways to achieve the same level of success. Close industry partnerships with technology companies, consultants and universities are critical to achieve success. Finally, being courageous by taking the step to bring something new that comes with some risk is a must.
Strong leaders who can see beyond the short-term issues was a common theme in the discussions. This is closely linked with the need for pioneers who dare to lead. This was exemplified by utilities pioneering international alliance, driving innovation and cooperation through partnerships.
Session 3, by Miriam Feilberg: Session three was allocated to the topic ‘Evolving with climate change’. Key messages are related to urgency, citizens, communication, governance, and knowledge sharing. Our starting point is the urgency to act on climate change now. We must put citizens in focus and ensure that they understand the need to act, the benefits from adaptation and the related costs. One of the takeaways from the session was: “Never let a good crisis go to waste. Use it in your communication with politicians and stakeholders for funding and support.” Utilities must make sure that measures have visible impact for communities and must improve their storytelling skills for better impact. Governance also matters, as utilities would benefit from a more coherent and holistic planning, innovative governance and stakeholder integration, so that all actors can adapt to the changing situation.
Miriam Feilberg, Climate Lead at DANVA, adds: “In the water sector, we’re passionate about making a difference. We can do so if we cooperate and share knowledge. IWA conferences improve our ability to act.”
Session 4, by Adam Lovell: Session four addressed the challenging and promising topic for utilities of today living in the digital world. We recognised the great work that water organisations are now doing in applying state of the art digital tools in the pursuit of delivering great customer service. Shane Morgan, from Urban Utilities, Brisbane framed the session and challenged the panel on sharing their stories, on how they would use the rich informatics to enable informed collaboration with their customers and stakeholders. Some stories were given in the session in a lively round table discussion among the audience and we look forward to more stories told via different IWA platforms and at events in the future. One critical message from the session was to remember to involve and engage the youth – the youngest employee maybe – in solving challenges and creating opportunities, the digital generation who grew up with tablets in their hands.
Commenting on this session, speaker Shane Morgan, Executive Leader Urban Utilities Brisbane, said: “The 2022 ULF has been an absolute success story for water utilities to share and learn from each other, and really has pushed its participants beyond simply networking to leaning-in to real issues confronting a future-focused utility”.
Session 5, by Corinne Trommsdorff: Celebrating Climate Smart Utilities
Utilities are facing the impacts of climate change today and need to anticipate on their aggravation in the future. At the same time, utilities have a role to play in contributing to reducing GHG emissions, reducing their own emissions, those in their supply chains and those associated to their products usage. This session was an opportunity for 22 utilities around the world to share their ‘Climate Smart Utility’ story through the posters submitted as part of the 2022 Climate Smart Utilities Recognition Programme. The diversity of the utilities, combined with their similar experience on specific issues, led to a very rich exchange on a wide range of topics such as adaptation planning, protection of water resources and diversifying the supply portfolio, efficiencies, energy production, urban stakeholders and citizens engagement, or how to go about assessing GHG emissions accurately.
The ULF organising committee wants to thank all those who contributed to the forum, shared thoughts and made it a memorable Utility Leaders Forum in Denmark. We hope that you will build on the connections you made in Copenhagen, and we look forward to continuing discussions at the Singapore Water Week and at the next Utility Leaders Forum taking place in Toronto at the IWA World Water Congress and Exhibition in 2024. We learned that discussions between the audience, the speakers and at the roundtables were appreciated by the participants, and it created good dynamics and relations. This element of the forum is something that we will extend and elaborate further for the next edition. Any feedback concerning the forum is welcome to anyone from the organizing committee, and we will make sure it is handed over to the organiser of the forum in Toronto.
2022 ULF Organising Committee: Helle Katrine Andersen, Jonathan Clement, Tom Mollenkopf, Ed McCormick, Adam Lovell, Shaunna Berendsen, Miriam Feilberg, Brian Hansen, Carlos Diaz, William Cappuyns