The biggest asset we have

Our sustainability strategy manager, Jonathan Dobson, shares his views about our approach to Natural Capital in light of the Government's 25 year environment plan.

Our business and the environment go hand in hand. That’s why protecting and enhancing it is a key commitment for us. It’s a responsibility we take seriously and we were especially pleased when the Environment Agency awarded us four stars for our environmental performance in 2017.

Over the last few decades we have invested in improving wastewater networks and treatment works to solve environmental challenges and enhance the environment for future generations.
The government’s 25 Year Environment Plan (25YEP) – launched today – sets out to continue that progress in delivering clean and plentiful water by managing abstraction and leakage, improving bathing waters and reaching or exceeding objectives for protected water bodies.

One of the key themes throughout the 25YEP is Natural Capital, which has been receiving considerable attention from government, regulators and companies. The plan states:
‘the 25 Year Environment Plan will help boost the productivity by enhancing our natural capital – the air, water, soil and ecosystems that support all forms of life – since this is an essential basis for economic growth and productivity over the long term. ‘

And we couldn’t agree more.

We rely on natural capital to provide the clean water that we then treat and supply to customers. Our wastewater treatment helps to protect and enhance the natural capital of the North West through removing pollutants before it is discharged back into the natural environment. We know that customers also get enjoyment from experiencing the natural capital that we own through providing access and recreation on our sites, like our Thirlmere and Rivington catchments.

There is increasing interest in utilising natural capital approaches and many are expecting the water sector to be a key contributor. We’re up for the challenge and have been exploring how these approaches can help us to make better decisions about the management of our land, assets and business to make them all more resilient.

For us Natural Capital approaches include the following (most of which make an appearance in the 25YEP):
• Natural Capital Accounting – incorporating natural capital and ecosystem services into decision making processes like the Corporate Natural Capital Account we are currently working on;
• Natural Capital Solutions – activities that enhance natural capital to provide multiple benefits as demonstrated by our award winning SCaMP programme, featured as a case study in the 25YEP; and
• Natural Capital funding – investing in natural capital to provide benefits into the future, which we have been doing through a trading platform with farmers around our Cheshire boreholes.

Engaging, understanding and working with stakeholders is a key part in piloting these approaches especially when looking at how, together, we can target the best solutions and deliver them in the most efficient way. We are gaining valuable experience in this by playing a central role in the Cumbria Catchment and Manchester Urban Pioneers and with organisations like Business in the Community on the potential of sustainable drainage solutions for schools in Greater Manchester.

As we develop our approach and increase our understanding of the true value of natural capital we are confident we can make a significant contribution to the government’s ambition to be ‘the first generation to leave the natural environment in a better state than it inherited’.