Climate change

Consider the impacts of climate change on the services we deliver and adapt our business accordingly.

Climate change is the long-term change in average weather conditions, including temperature, precipitation and wind.

It is predicted that our climate will change dramatically and that a major factor in these changes is an increase in greenhouse gases (GHG’s). There is global scientific agreement that as a result of human activity the amount of GHG’s in the atmosphere is increasing and affecting the global climate.

We are aware of our contribution to carbon emissions and how climate change might impact upon our services. Our response to climate change can be split into two areas;

Mitigation- reducing the carbon emissions associated with our services

Adaptation- making sure our services are resilient to a changing climate

We are also aware that there are challenges and opportunities within our supply chain and in how we deliver our capital investment programme.

Supply Chain

We are reliant on a large chain of suppliers of varying sizes to support day to day operations and project delivery. We endeavour to influence our supply chain to support our carbon reduction aims in a number of ways, including through the goods and services we procure and project partners we select. Visit the Responsible supply chain section to find out how we have worked with our partners to understand and measure the emissions associated with their operations.

Capital Delivery Programme

A large part of our carbon emissions are associated with our capital delivery programme. As a result we are working closely with our Construction Delivery Partners and Engineering Service Provider to measure and reduce the whole life carbon impact of our capital delivery programme and ensure our programme delivers sustainable solutions preparing us for climate change and delivers them sustainably whilst mitigating any climate change.

  • Adaptation

    Climate change has been the subject of strategic concern to us for over two decades. As a water and wastewater utility provider, we have first-hand experience of the impacts of extreme weather events upon our operations and our customers.

    To ensure consistency in our climate change activities and ensure it is at the heart of everything that we do, we have made to protect and enhance the environmentone of our 5 promises within our business plan for 2015-2020.

    This promise has a number of outcomes beneath it, one of which is Our services and assets are fit for a changing climate and our carbon footprint is reduced'. We have a number of measures of success to demonstrate achievement of these outcomes. All of our projects and business activities will refer to these promises, outcomes and measures of success to ensure we are consistent with our overall strategy.

    The flooding and drought events witnessed across our region in recent years are the forerunners to longer-term impacts of climate change. Our strategic risk planning to address such unavoidable impacts is mature, but we recognise the ongoing need to improve our understanding of climate risks. We have therefore adopted a 25-year planning horizon (to 2040) to ensure the resilience of our water resources (covered in more detail within our Water Resource Management Plan ) and to enable the sustainable future management of drainage systems. This is covered in more detail within .

    We have recently published our second adaptation report which explains to government how we are preparing for a changing climate. Our report on climate change adaptation sets out how we intend to manage material risks associated with climate change and outlines our partnership-based approach. This builds on our first adaptation report, published in 2011. 

    Our approach is consistent with our strategic direction, set out in playing our part in which describe our strategic vision for the whole business from 2015 to 2040. The aspirations set out in 'playing our part' are then used to direct our asset management process.

    For a more detailed view on how we have incorporated climate change into our business strategy refer to our CDP response.

    We recognise that we must take a more sustainable approach to the development, management and operation of our assets in order to effectively adapt to climate change. For example, continuing to pursue a policy that we make all our sewers bigger to take account of the increases in rainfall can no longer be considered a sustainable approach.

    Instead, we will maintain our service to customers through a more holistic, integrated and partnership-based approach as set out below.


    Reducing demand for water is paramount, and our efforts to encourage and support water efficiency measures by customers will continue to expand. We will continue to work with external partners to integrate our messaging further afield.

    We realise that we also need to play our part and we are committed to being water efficient throughout our own operations by reducing leakage and monitoring our own water usage. We have recently secured accreditation to the Carbon Trust Water Standard which recognises companies for their measurement management and reduction of their own water usage.

    In terms of managing water supply and demand, we already have a single, very capable integrated supply zone covering the majority of the North West. Generally, this system is proficient in managing demand across the North West, but there are extremities that remain ill-equipped to deal with future challenges. Our approach is to therefore bring more supplies online to meet any potential shortfalls. Our detailed plans to ensure we can continue to provide safe and clean water to customers in the North West long into the future are covered within our Water Resource Management Plan.


    The key risk to our wastewater service is the predicted increase in more intense rainfall events across the region. The sustainable management of surface water is vital in adapting to this risk. Current work to improve our management of this risk includes:

    • Working with Defra, DCLG, Lead Local Flood Authorities (LLFAs) and developers to ensure that the implementation of Sustainable Drainage Systems (SuDS) through the planning process is successful;
    • Working with LLFAs and the Environment Agency (EA) to develop Surface Water Management Plans across the region.
    • Embedding our partnership working approach with Local Authorities, EA and others.

    There is the potential to deliver enhanced benefits to all parties with sustainable interventions, implemented in collaboration with other stakeholders, moving away from traditional costly capital schemes, helping to share costs. On the wastewater network we are further developing our risk based approach using data on population growth and climate change amongst others to predict both the current and future risks to the service that our sewerage network provides. We can then combine our risk data with that from other stakeholders to identify areas of common risk, facilitating partnership working to jointly resolve problems.

    The requirement for other stakeholders to adapt to climate change acts as an opportunity to establish better working relationships with key stakeholders and regulators. It enables us to address the barriers and interdependencies needed to manage adaptation activities and deliver mutual benefits. This will enable robust sustainable solutions to be put in place for complex issues, where multiple agencies are jointly responsible. Working collaboratively in tackling these issues will reduce the costs of the adaptation activities. We are focusing heavily on this approach through stakeholder engagement and partnership working to tackle these issues more effectively.

  • Energy & renewables

    Reduce our greenhouse gas emissions and generate more renewable energy.

    Reducing our carbon footprint and increasing our generation of renewable energy is not only good for the environment it’s good for our business too. The less energy we have to buy makes our business more efficient and having our own energy means we have the security of energy right on our doorstep.

    Over the last 11 years the trend in our overall emissions has been downwards even though they have fluctuated over the past few years – as they can be affected by weather, operational conditions and the carbon content of the UK's electricity supply. In 2015/16, our carbon footprint totalled 454,857 tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent, 22% below our 2005/06 baseline.

    This year we have reviewed our carbon strategy and set a new challenging target aligned to our investment plans up to 2020. The target is to achieve a 50 per cent reduction on the 2005/06 baseline and to continue to reduce emissions to 60% by 2035.

    Our carbon footprint over the last 11 years

    Our carbon footprint

    We have plans to significantly increase our renewable generation over the next few years, with a target of generating around 35 per cent of our electricity consumption by 2020. Our energy team are working hard to identify suitable projects and sort out all the technical details.  

    Our renewable energy production in 2015/16 was 138 GWh, representing 17 per cent of our electricity consumption in the year. Most of the energy we generate on site is used to power our works, with some of the excess being put into the national grid. This reduces our energy bill, and allows us to access Government incentives.

    We have ambitious plans to go even further with our renewable energy generation. Our first 500kW turbine is now generating power at our Fleetwood treatment works. This facility is also home to one of the biggest solar panel installations in the North West.

    During 2015/16 we installed Europe’s first commercial scale floating solar array at Godley, in Manchester. The installation covers an area equivalent to the size of six football pitches, with the 12,000 panels floating upon 30,000 floats. The 3MW solar PV installation at Godley aims to generate 35% of the water treatment works’ annual power requirements, or the equivalent of 800 homes worth of electricity per year. This should contribute to keeping our future energy costs down and benefit water bills – good news for both shareholders and customers.

    We have been including our carbon emissions in our annual financial statements for several years. Under mandatory carbon reporting regulations for listed companies, we have included more information on the breakdown of our emissions in our annual report

    Reducing our emissions

    The main components of our short term strategy to mitigate climate change and reduce carbon emissions are;

    • Optimising the operation of our assets to reduce energy use, including energy efficiency measures;
    • Generating more of our energy needs from renewable sources - increasing generation from sludge and other sources, but only where it is cost effective to do so; and 
    • Increasing employee awareness such as changing behaviours through training

    Our long term, 25 year strategy includes;

    • Ensuring enhancements are evidence based – working with our regulators to ensure that new energy intensive assets are only installed where the need is robustly demonstrated
    • Researching new technologies

    Energy efficiency measures are important but we recognise that there are limits to the extent they can contribute to any mitigation strategy – we need to deploy renewable technologies effectively to fill the gap.

    We also recognise that our efforts to reduce energy use, no matter how successful, are set against the backdrop of unavoidable climate change. Improving the resilience of our operations is therefore essential.

    We recognise that our mitigation efforts will only be successful if we work with others – any failure to engage our key stakeholders on the critical importance of reducing our emissions and adapting to climate change will undermine our own efforts.

    Measuring & reporting our carbon footprint

    We’re dedicated to understanding how every aspect of our operations contributes to our carbon footprint. We’re also committed to reporting our impact in the most transparent and robust way possible. We set out the boundary of our footprint and previous year’s performance within our annual report.

    Verification and performance

    We want our carbon footprint to be as robust and transparent as possible. Since 2007, our greenhouse gas inventory has undergone independent, third-party verification by Achilles Group to meet the specifications of the Certified Emissions Measurement and Reduction Scheme (CEMARS). This includes compliance with the international carbon reporting standard ISO14064, Part 1.

    We incorporate recommendations we receive during CEMARS verification audits into our business processes.

    We continue to benchmark our performance against several global indices, including CDP, and we share our carbon footprint annually with our regulator Ofwat as part of the water industry-wide regulatory return process.

    What is the carbon impact of my water usage?

    We think it is really important that our customers are aware of how much water they use, the energy used to heat that water, how much it costs and the environmental impact of using that water. There are some really good reasons for this including helping our customers to reduce the size of their water bill and protecting water supplies, particularly as they come under pressure from the impacts of climate change. By encouraging everyone to use less water we can reduce our carbon footprint by reducing the energy we use in treating and distributing water and customers can reduce their carbon footprint by reducing the amount of water heated in the home.

    We’ve teamed up with the Energy Saving Trust so that you can have access to the latest water, energy and money saving calculator on the market.- This calculator offers a detailed report of your family’s water usage in the home and garden and allows you to update your answers instantly so that you can see the impact on the cost if you were to reduce the number of baths a week and switch to showers instead.

    You’ll be asked to select your water supplier when you enter the Energy Saving Trust’s calculator. Please use the drop down menu, scroll down to find United Utilities and select us. You can then carry on and see how water you can save by making some simple changes. To calculate your own water and carbon footprint, please visit the website.

    What can you do!

    Do you leave lights or central heating on when you're not in the house? We all have a part to play in tackling climate change and even the smallest change can help make a difference.

    As much as 25 per cent of the UK's carbon dioxide emissions are as a direct result of the energy we use to heat and light our homes.

    By being more energy efficient, we can help the environment and reduce emissions.

    •Switch off unnecessary lights, don't leave the TV on standby
    •Only boil the amount of water you need in the kettle
    •Use cooler wash temperatures and full loads in washing machines
    •Put aluminium foil behind radiators to reflect heat back into the room
    •Stop heat escaping by draught-proofing all doors and windows
    •Turn down your thermostat by one degree (or use one hour less heating a day)
    •Change to energy efficient light bulbs – they use a quarter the energy of traditional light bulbs
    •Cavity wall and loft insulation will help to stop heat loss of up to 35 per cent from escaping

    Did you know?

    If everyone in the UK turned off household appliances instead of leaving them on standby, the amount of electricity saved could equal the output of a traditional coal-fired power station.


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