Water utilities are at the forefront of climate impact as they grapple with challenges posed by climate change, including shifting precipitation patterns and increased water scarcity. By adopting sustainable practices, utilities contribute to a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions and support the push towards net zero. With the release of its first sustainability report, Urban Utilities is highlighting its commitment to a more sustainable future.

Environmental, social and corporate governance (ESG) reporting is becoming increasingly important in the eyes of investors, consumers and other stakeholders. Once a non-binding invitation for companies to articulate their strategies for managing sustainability risks and opportunities, it has now become a critical aspect of corporate responsibility worldwide.

Many jurisdictions, including Australia, are transitioning from voluntary to mandatory sustainabilityrelated disclosures. Whether it’s the adoption of innovative technologies, improving infrastructure or embracing environmentally conscious policies, Australian water utilities have long played a pivotal role in reducing emissions and achieving longterm sustainability.

Transparent reporting is the next step in fortifying this commitment, providing a clear account of sustainability efforts and progress. By publishing regular sustainability reports, utilities can enhance accountability and offer stakeholders, policymakers and the public a valuable tool to understand the impact of these initiatives and foster collective action.

Sustainability in motion

Urban Utilities is responsible for delivering drinking water, recycled water and wastewater services to approximately 633,300 residential properties and 30,300 commercial properties in South East Queensland. The company’s first sustainability report examines the environmental and social impacts of its operations and describes the measures it’s taking to drive ongoing sustainable change.

It outlines actions and progress during the 2023 financial year across seven sustainability pillars: net zero, healthy land and water, responsible waste management, secure water future, satisfied customers and liveable communities, safe and engaged workforce and corporate governance.

Urban Utilities has aligned its framework with the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals, focusing on the 14 goals where the company believes its work can make a significant contribution.

This ensures that efforts towards fostering a sustainable future are directed towards not only the region Urban Utilities covers, but also Australia and the world at large. Furthermore, stakeholders can examine the company’s sustainability outcomes in the context of the wider Australian water industry.

Urban Utilities CEO, Paul Arnold, said the utility was committed to protecting people and the planet through responsible actions and operations. “Sustainability is at the heart of all we do, from securing our region’s longterm water supply and reducing our environmental impacts, to having a safe and engaged workforce, and creating positive social value,” Mr Arnold said.

“While sustainability has always been central to our business strategy, the report both formalises and reinforces our commitment, and provides greater transparency and accountability around our ambitions and efforts.”

Getting ready for reporting

The release of Urban Utilities’ sustainability report is, in part, a response to growing stakeholder expectations that organisations share their ESG ambitions and performance. Additionally, the company is preparing itself for future reporting requirements introduced by the Federal Government.

Significant and concerted action is required if Australia is to achieve its commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 43 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030 and achieve net zero by 2050. In light of this, from 2024, Australia’s largest corporations will be required to report on new sustainability-related disclosures issued by the International Sustainability Standards Board.

This regulatory shift underscores the increasing importance of transparent reporting in fostering accountability and advancing broader sustainability goals. “Although a timeframe has yet to be proposed for the water sector, Urban Utilities is proud to be taking a proactive approach,” Mr Arnold said.

“We need to be ready to transition to mandatory sustainability reporting requirements in the very near future, and our first report has provided us with a strong foundation to build upon.”

Green successes

Urban Utilities’ FY23 Sustainability Report details several of the company’s initiatives, including the unveiling of an Australian-first algae based technology, which purifies wastewater up to five times faster than traditional lagoon-based treatment in regional and rural areas.

Responsible waste management is also a key focus, with the company pursuing a transition to circular economy practices. Urban Utilities has partnered with Cleanaway, Australia’s largest waste management company, to convert organic food waste from major supermarkets into green energy.

Building on an 18-month trial, the collaboration utilises Urban Utilities’ anaerobic digesters at its Luggage Point Resource Recovery Centre (RCC) to break down organic liquid food and fat, oil, and grease (FOG) waste to generate biogas. The biogas is then fed into cogeneration units to produce renewable electricity.

Urban Utilities will now work with Cleanaway to treat up to 32 million litres of waste each year, and use the electricity generated from treating that waste to power its Luggage Point RCC, in turn reducing its greenhouse gas emissions. Other initiatives outlined in the report include:

  • Generating 12,610 MWh from waste (13.2 per cent of the utility’s total FY23 electricity use)
  • Planting 1,100 native gum trees, which are irrigated with recycled water from the utility’s nearby wastewater treatment plant at Helidon
  • Delivering multiple actions from its Innovate Reconciliation Action Plan, including an increase in spending with First Nations suppliers by over 85 per cent
  • Driving water literacy within the community via engaging and memorable experiences

Urban Utilities’ FY23 Sustainability Report is available here.

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