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30 July 21

Our plan for Net Zero

While we at Affinity Water have been working hard to be “carbon neutral”- reducing our emissions by around 40% in the last five years, our recent work has led us to conclude that this is an area where we’re far better served by humility at the task still to be completed than pride in our achievement. And we believe this is true not only for ourselves, but for every business and organisation in our region and across the planet.

Climate change impacts our business and customers in terms of drought and reducing water resources, flooding, extreme weather such as heatwaves and freeze / thaw events and physical factors such as rising sea level. Significant investment will be required to support resilience of our supplies and protecting our communities from the impacts of climate change. There is global agreement that we all need to take action to keep the average global temperature rise below 1.5°C to avoid further damaging impacts.

This route map to Net Zero is a living document and we will update it regularly based on the innovations and partnerships needed for delivery and in response to policy and regulation changes. We will also need to adapt our approach in response to wider resilience issues such as the increase in demand for water we have seen during the Covid-19 pandemic. We welcome an ongoing conversation with our stakeholders and customers on how we can best deliver our ambitions.

If you enjoy reading this and would like to join the conversation please contact us at publicaffairs@affinitywater.co.uk.

 

Affinity Water: Carbon net zero by 2030

While the UK has committed to reach net zero by 2050, those of us who can move faster and go further should do so. That’s why we are announcing an ambitious goal and a new plan to reduce and reach net zero by 2030 for our operational emissions.

We recognise that progress requires a detailed plan to support this bold goal. We will achieve Net Zero operational emissions by 2030 through:

  • Reducing our carbon footprint (energy efficiency, demand reduction, fleet);
  • Developing renewables (solar and wind);
  • Sequestration (planting new forests, restoring soils, chalk grassland restoration in the Chilterns, and regrowing seagrass forests in the estuaries of Essex); and
  • Purchasing green electricity tariffs.

Below is a summary of our proposed actions to achieve our Water UK commitment to achieve net zero operational carbon emissions by 2030 including: energy efficiency, renewables, transport and nature based solutions for sequestration. We have also outlined our additional plans we will develop to address whole life carbon (our embedded emissions in infrastructure we build), additional nature-based solutions and eliminating fossil fuel use.

Beginning next year, we will also make carbon reduction an explicit aspect of our procurement processes for all of our supply chain. We will ensure that our progress on all of these fronts will be published in our Annual Report and updated in this plan. We are working with our communities to help them save water and are working on innovative projects to make new homes water neutral. About 20% of a UK average energy bill is from energy used to heat water. By saving water we can save carbon and help to reduce fuel poverty.

We will continue with innovative reverse auctions and engagement with farmers to promote better water sensitive farming which in turn creates carbon sinks. All this work will be supported by our voice and advocacy supporting public policy that will accelerate carbon reduction and removal opportunities.

This route to net zero confirms our commitment to reducing carbon emissions and we will continue to engage with and support other sectors to achieve this vision.

 

The scientific consensus is clear and the situation we face in the South East is stark

There is growing urgency for both businesses and governments to limit global warming to no more than 1.5°C, to protect human health and economic growth. At current rates of emissions, we have until 2030 before we reach this threshold of dangerous climate change. Avoiding it will require rapid and radical transformation of every sector of the global economy - halving global emissions by 2030 and reaching Net Zero carbon emissions by 2050 .

Climate experts agree that the world must take urgent action to bring down emissions. We must reach “net zero” emissions, meaning that humanity must remove as much carbon as it emits each year. It is easier to decarbonise some sectors of the economy than others. And the water sector must take a lead and has committed to achieve Net Zero operational emissions by 2030. It is an ambitious goal and is of fundamental importance to every person alive today and for every generation to come. No sector, company or individual can solve the problem alone, but we know that we need to make our contribution.

Additionally, the South East of England is already classified as a severely water stressed area. This means it gets less rainfall than other parts of the country. The Affinity Water area is one of the driest in the country. For example, between July 2016 and April 2017 the area received 33% less rainfall than the national average. The National Water Resources Framework has identified that we face a deficit 76Ml/d due to climate change in the East and 111 Ml/d due to climate change in the South East. Affinity Water are working with regional planning groups to develop this evidence further and find shared solutions to provide resilient water supplies .

We are currently producing our third climate adaptation report for Defra. The previous report identified drought, flooding and peak water demand as the key risks posed by climate change and provided a range of actions to mitigate these. The Committee on Climate Change’s Third Climate Change Risk Assessment identifies a range of risks with specific links to our Net Zero objectives, including soil health and risk to natural carbon stores (figure below) [4].

 

Our approach to achieving Net Zero

With a new and complex global societal issue, we strive first to learn and then to define a principled approach to guide our efforts. This has been fundamental to our recent work around chalk streams, and it’s the approach we’re taking to pursue our carbon goals as well. We’ve concluded that six principles will be vital as we continually innovate and take additional steps on an ongoing basis.

  1. Addressing the full scope of our emissions. We will develop carbon accounting and improve our baseline assessments in order to help us reduce our emissions.
  2. Taking responsibility for our carbon footprint. We will take responsibility for all our emissions – reducing first, offsetting next.
  3. Empowering customers. We will develop and deploy technology to help our customers reduce their carbon and water footprints.
  4. Ensuring effective transparency. We will publish our progress in our Annual Report and updating this route map.
  5. Using our voice on carbon-related and environmental public policy issues. We will support new public policy initiatives to accelerate carbon reduction and removal opportunities.
  6. Enlisting our employees and partners. We recognise that our employees and partners will be our biggest asset in advancing innovation and driving behavioural change, and we will create new opportunities to enable them to contribute to our efforts.

 

1. Addressing the full scope of our emissions

A big part of the challenge is that, as a society we have not committed sufficiently to reduce emissions. Scientists account for carbon emissions by classifying them into three categories, or “scopes.”

Scope 1 emissions are the direct emissions that our activities create — like the exhaust from the car you drive, or for a business, the trucks we drive to transport the products we use from one place to another or the generators we might run.

Scope 2 emissions are indirect emissions that come from the production of the electricity or heat we use, like the traditional energy sources that light up our homes or power the buildings owned by a business.

Scope 3 emissions are the indirect emissions that come from other activities in which we’re engaged, including the emissions associated with producing the food we eat, or manufacturing the products that we buy. For Affinity Water these emissions include emissions from some outsourced services and business associated travel in addition to our own vehicle fleet but do not include chemical manufacture, capital infrastructure and associated emissions (non-operational) or our customer’s energy use to heat water for example. Given this broad range, a company’s scope 3 emissions are often far larger than its scope 1 and 2 emissions put together. We may not have direct control over these emissions but will work with our supply chain and stakeholders to measure our impact and reduce these.

Clearly we need to measure all three of these scopes. At Affinity Water, we expect to emit about 40,000 metric tons of carbon this year from our operational activities. But scope 3 emissions, beyond those we currently report, are likely to be large too. Given the wide range of scope 3 activities, this higher percentage of the total is probably typical for most organisations, particularly those in infrastructure.

We’re committing to becoming carbon negative for all three scopes. Scopes 1, 2 and 3 as defined above by 2030. We also commit to reporting on non-operational scope 3 emissions by 2022/23.

 

2. Taking responsibility for our carbon footprint

We have set out a range of actions to take responsibility for reducing our own carbon footprint. These are summarised below in terms of reducing our operational emissions and taking a whole life carbon approach.

Reducing our scope 1 and 2 operational emissions

First, we will drive down our scope 1 and 2 emissions to near zero through the following steps:

  • We’ll reduce our energy use by 7.5% by 2030, by replacing and refurbishing equipment and plant and using smart and AI controls and analytics. In the last year we’ve assessed 155 pumps for example, focusing on pumps with a power rating over 100kW to gain maximum operational and we’ve reduced greenhouse gas emissions by 719t CO2e which equates to a 1% reduction of our total emissions.
  • We have shifted to a 100 percent supply of REGO (or Renewable Energy Guarantee of Origin) backed renewable energy, meaning that we will have power purchase agreements for green energy contracted for 100 percent of carbon emitting electricity consumed by all our pumping stations, buildings, and sites.
  • We will reduce or eliminate our fossil fuel use in standby generation and replace end-of-life gas heating with electric options (e.g. heat pumps).
  • By 2030 we’ll generate 10% of our energy usage from our own renewables like solar, wind or hydropower.
  • We are bringing forward electric vehicles to replace our existing fleet. We will also reduce mileage through use of virtual meetings as much as possible and have refurbished our offices to enable hybrid working.

Using this approach will leave a minimal amount of carbon to offset from 2030, which we commit to doing. We will achieve this through a portfolio of natural capital solutions - including afforestation (planting new forest on land without trees) and reforestation, soil carbon sequestration, seagrass restoration, wetlands, wet woodlands, and chalk grasslands.

  • We’ll plant 110,000 trees by 2030 and work with communities to ensure these provide wider benefits for drought and flood resilience.
  • Using a market-based approach we’ll work with farmers to plant cover crops on otherwise bare soil. This helps to restore soil health and depth and sequesters carbon.
  • We will work with landowners and conservation bodies to restore over 250 hectares of chalk grassland by 2030. Chalk grassland was once one of the defining features of the area we serve from Dunstable to Dover. Much of it has disappeared with different farming practices. Bringing it back will help us manage water supplies, will absorb carbon and will help recharge the water that goes into our globally rare chalk streams.
  • Our river restoration programme also has the potential to significantly improve carbon storage and we will develop and apply methods to assess and certify this.
  • We will develop a ‘blue carbon finance framework’, a seagrass nursery and trial seagrass restoration to capture carbon off our Essex coast as part of our Innovation in Water Challenge project.

 

Taking a Whole Life Carbon Approach (addressing Scope 3 emissions)

A large proportion of our emissions comes from the construction and operation of new infrastructure. We are taking a whole life carbon approach to our investment programme to help us reach net zero.

We will publish our baseline embedded emissions in 2022/23 and develop targets and a strategy to reduce these emissions.

We are developing our approach following PAS2080 – Carbon Management in Infrastructure. This includes the four principles to: build nothing, build less, build clever and build efficiently.

We are partners on the project ‘Enabling whole life carbon design’. This project will develop an industry wide approach to using carbon in decision making by considering data and visualization, process and governance and people and culture. In parallel to this project we will develop and apply a reduce carbon, reduce costs approach to our investment and procurement programme.

We are applying a risk and value approach to our AMP7 investment programme. We will utilise operational and capital carbon assessments in our decision making tools to support our route to net zero. This will require additional carbon calculation tools and databases as well as improving skills within our teams and our supply chain.

 

3. Empowering customers

We believe that one of our most important contributions to carbon reduction will come not from our own work alone but by helping our customers reduce their carbon footprints through saving water. Although we don’t count this as part of our emissions, it is critical to Affinity Water’s drive to become sustainable. We also want to support our vulnerable customers and address both water and fuel poverty.

For many customers, sustainability is already a core part of their lives, while others are beginning their work to mitigate their carbon impact. Regardless of where we all are on our journey, we’re committed to being of help.

Of all the CO2 emissions in the UK, around 6% are from overall water use. Around 89% of this comes from heating water in our homes and 20% of a typical household gas bill is due to heating water in the home.

The average carbon intensity of a person in England who uses the average amount of water is around 2.6kg of CO2 per day or one tonne per year. The majority of Affinity Water’s customers have consumption higher than this average. Even a very modest 5-6% reduction in water consumption could deliver around 50 kg CO2 saving per household in a year or 1.4 mega tonnes of CO2e per year based on 27.8 million households in the UK .

Affinity Water is aiming to reduce water consumption per head by 130 million litres a day in 2025 from a 2020 baseline. We’ve started a major campaign called Save Our Streams which is already helping one hundred thousand customers to save millions of litres per day. We are delivering in-home and virtual water wastage checks that are immensely popular with customers. Working with a new portal available to all customers we are supporting them faster, delivering more comprehensively, and, most importantly, delivering their bespoke needs. By 2030 we will have offered half of our customer base an actual or virtual home water saving visit. To sign up and find out more please see saveourstreams.co.uk

 

4. Ensuring effective transparency

When it comes to carbon reduction, real progress requires real transparency. Affinity Water will continue to disclose the carbon footprint of our work. We will support strong industry-wide standards for transparency and reporting on carbon emissions and removal, and we will apply these ourselves.

We will publicly track our progress in our Annual Report. We’ll continue to improve our ESG reporting to our investors. We also commit to signing up to the Carbon Disclosure Project by 2025. Through this process we will report on our climate risks and adaptation actions in an integrated way with our progress towards achieving net zero.

 

5. Using our voice on carbon-related public policy issues

We will also use our voice to speak out on four public policy issues that we think can advance all of the world’s carbon efforts:

  • Empowering consumers through transparency and information about the carbon content of goods and services. We are pleased that Defra have announced their intention to introduce mandatory water labelling which would give consumers clear information on how sustainable water using home appliances are. We called for this through our #WhyNotWater campaign two years ago and raised awareness of the issues by producing a ten tonne block of ice outside St Albans Cathedral.
  • We are advocating for the need to expand global basic and applied research efforts on carbon and sequestration and reorient them towards targeted outcomes and enhanced cross-border collaboration to develop the breakthrough technologies needed to achieve Net Zero global emissions. We will engage with Ofwat’s innovation competition by leading and partnering on projects that help achieve Net Zero and supporting design of future competition rounds and the approach for PR24.
  • We want the removal of regulatory barriers to help catalyze markets to enable carbon-reduction technologies to scale up more quickly. We are pursuing and an active role in the UK voluntary carbon market but we need to do more and work more closely with partners and government to expand this work further. We also support the Government’s proposals in their 10 point plan for a Green Industrial Revolution to increase public EV charging infrastructure, and driving the growth of low carbon hydrogen, which will support decarbonising our Heavy Goods Vehicles in future.
  • We are advocating the use of market and pricing mechanisms so people and businesses can make more informed carbon decisions. We already use market mechanisms but are trialling further refinements to market mechanisms to create a wider set of benefits – improving biodiversity, water quality, soil health and sequestering carbon through the same investment. We also want partners, local authorities, financial services companies, landowners, farmers, and environmental NGOs to work with us and invite potential partners to approach us through.
  • Working with regulators to ensure that our business plan and investments from 2025 to 2030 help us achieve net zero. Ofwat’s PR24 and Beyond framework recognises the challenge of achieving Net Zero and the review of the Water Industry National Environment Programme (WINEP) provides a further opportunity to take a lower carbon and nature-based approach.
  • Integrating adaptation and net zero policy and strategy - the Committee on Climate Change’s third Climate Change Risk Assessment identified that only four of fifteen government announcements in the past 3 years included integrated goals on adaptation and reducing emissions. The water sector is a large energy user and needs support to move to net zero.

 

6. Enlisting our employees and partners

Finally, we’ll capitalise on the energy and intellect of our employees by inviting and encouraging them to participate in our carbon reduction and removal efforts. We believe that sustainability is a cause that is not only important to our employees, but an area where they can generate important insights and innovations across the company.

We know that others who have begun the journey to net zero have changed the culture in their organisations to focus on sustainability. As we’ve started to put Chalk Streams at the heart of our business we will also create more opportunities for our employees to become actively involved, both in company-wide activities and in the work of their individual teams.

We’re launching an expanded internal website where our employees can learn more about climate change and the role they can play. Each year this work will culminate during an annual sustainability hackathon event “SusHack” that will include a specific focus and call for proposals on carbon reduction and removal.

We need to equip our teams with the tools and knowledge to reduce carbon. Awareness raising and training across an organisation has been shown to reduce carbon by 5-15% in other organisations. In addition to in-house training we will give specific training from the Institute of Civil Engineers for engineers and projects managers on infrastructure carbon assessment.

We will begin to implement new procurement processes and tools to enable and incentivise our suppliers to reduce their scope 1, 2, and 3 emissions. We will work with our suppliers to implement consistent and accurate reporting and pursue effective steps to make progress against our targets.

We will aim to support all our partners and ask that they have a Net Zero plan in line with our own by 2025 or sooner. This will be key to ensure that we do not export emissions to other countries and sectors where it is harder to decarbonize. Our data and communications suppliers are already aiming to achieve Net Zero by 2025 and we will work with those that are further ahead to help our wider supply chain.

 

Rising to the challenge

Reducing carbon is where the world needs to go, and we recognise that it’s what our customers and employees are asking us to pursue.

It won’t be easy for us to get to Net Zero by 2030. And even harder to reach net zero for embodied carbon. In particular, we need to move very quickly on scope 3 emissions and will report on our progress in our Annual Reports. We believe it’s the right goal. And, with the right commitment, it’s an achievable goal. We will need to continue to learn and adapt, both separately and even more importantly in close collaboration with others around the world.

We launch this route map with our initial plan and a line of sight, but we have problems to solve and will work with our customers and stakeholders, including our supply chain, to achieve net zero. We will develop this conversation as we begin our business planning process for PR24 and beyond.

 


  1. See summary of IPCC report on limiting global warming to 1.5°C https://post.parliament.uk/research-briefings/post-pn-0594/
  2. https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/meeting-our-future-water-needs-a-national-framework-for-water-resources
  3. https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/477213/climate-adrep-affinity-water.pdf
  4. https://www.theccc.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2021/07/Independent-Assessment-of-UK-Climate-Risk-Advice-to-Govt-for-CCRA3-CCC.pdf
  5. Net Zero and the role of Water Efficiency, Waterwise, 2020

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