The Clean Water Voice

Solving Water While Advancing Net-Zero

Nov 9, 2022
By Austin Alexander

The race to net-zero emissions is on. Just as the water sector is helping make the world more sustainable by delivering clean water and reliable sanitation to communities, we also can play an important role in reducing greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) to help slow climate change.

Since the Paris Agreement of 2016, more than 70 countries, accounting for 76 percent of all GHG emissions, have pledged to meet ambitious net-zero goals.[i] This is a challenge for water utilities. Water and wastewater infrastructure account for approximately 2% of global GHG emissions[ii], on par with the global shipping industry.

With the right approaches and proven technologies that generate significant efficiencies, utilities can reduce emissions quickly and affordably – and the water sector can help be a leader in global efforts to achieve a net-zero world.

Xylem’s recent paper, Net Zero: The Race We All Win, highlights innovative strategies and practices that utilities can embrace to help them decarbonize while fulfilling community and regulatory commitments. 

The good news is that we don’t need a technological sea change. Much of what the water sector requires to drive progress already exists. Our industry is also making significant gains in developing innovative approaches to tackle long-standing water issues more efficiently and affordably.

One great way to get started and accelerate your net-zero journey is to establish baseline emissions and set targets. Another is to learn from peers who are further along in their journey. 

Our new paper outlines six considerations for shaping emissions reduction targets to help utilities advance their net-zero agenda. Based on frameworks from major international and national industry bodies, these points are not meant to be prescriptive. Instead, they bring together best practices from across industries to create actionable insights.

  1. Align organizational and sustainability goals: The Science Based Targets initiative (SBTi) encourages organizations to set targets that build resilience, drive innovation, and prepare the ground for policy shifts. With this approach, utilities can serve customers and strengthen their bottom line while protecting the environment.
  2. Map your current GHG footprint: Suppliers should offer both basic and advanced audits, providing analyses on the condition of assets and the risks associated with infrastructure. This type of information can help you build a meaningful emissions profile that, in turn, can help you measure your progress.
  3. Ladder up short-term actions to a long-term emissions-reduction goal and strategy. The SBTi recommends targets cover a minimum of five and a maximum of 10 years.[iii] Start with the “quick-wins” in GHG reductions, such as the proven strategies spotlighted in our paper.
  4. Increase visibility into your operations by embracing digital products and solutions: Digital technology is helping water managers across the industry better understand their systems and manage water more effectively and sustainably at an affordable cost.[iv]
  5. Take on process emissions: Wastewater treatment by-products, particularly N2O, can be a substantial proportion of emissions. While technologies to address process emissions are less advanced, we are making progress.
  6. Be open and transparent: Providing a transparent view of the gains, and challenges, you are making is key to engaging stakeholders. As example, the International Water Association (IWA) is developing a community of practice around adaptation and mitigation to a changing climate. The initiative aims to support the bridging of science and practice – to help fuel the necessary cultural shifts and actions.[v]

At Xylem, we believe the water sector has an extraordinary opportunity to solve water while significantly contributing to the global movement to decarbonize. We also know that no one’s journey to net zero will occur in a straight line. It will require collaboration, support and celebration of each other.

Water has the technology and innovation, commitment to sustainability, and spirit of collaboration needed to create real change. The race to net-zero emissions is on – let’s be the pacesetter.

Austin Alexander
Vice President, Sustainability and Social Impact


The views expressed in this resource are those of the individual contributors, and do not necessarily reflect those of NACWA.  


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