Anglian Water: Linking net zero to employees and customers

This case study outlines how Anglian Water used Business in the Community’s (BITC) Future Leaders Board to engage its young employees on its climate action and sustainability plans.   

About Anglian Water

Anglian Water is the largest water company in England and Wales by geographic area. It supplies water and recycling services to almost seven million people in the East of England and Hartlepool. Compared to other regions, the East of England has a high proportion of flat and low-lying areas, including the Cambridgeshire Fens and the Norfolk Broads. A quarter of the region lies below sea level, increasing the risk of flooding.

With few hills providing gravity, more energy has to be used to pump water from place to place. Because of the region’s size, Anglian Water runs more water and water recycling treatment works than elsewhere, around a quarter of all the works in England and Wales. The region is also one of the driest in the country, receiving just 600 millimetres of rain each year on average, a third less than the rest of England. All of these factors make positive action on climate change and carbon neutrality more critical. Anglian Water played a leading role in developing the water industry route map to net zero by 2030. Chief Executive Peter Simpson co-sponsored the commitment and the business chaired the working group that delivered it. Launched last November, it has been described by Nigel Topping, the UK’s High Level Climate Action Champion, as one of the most significant steps taken by any sector anywhere in the world.

In July 2021, Anglian Water launched its own route map which details how it will reach net-zero carbon by 2030. It is based on a three-stage plan of

  1. reducing emissions
  2. decarbonising its electricity supply 
  3. removing or offsetting residual emissions.

The net-zero target covers all operational activities, as well as a commitment to cut capital carbon (emissions generated from the construction of a building or infrastructure asset) by 70% against a 2010 baseline. This is a huge step in the fight against climate change and a fundamental part of Anglian Water delivering its core purpose “to bring environmental and social prosperity to the region we serve through our commitment to love every drop”. 

What Anglian Water did

One of the challenges that Anglian Water faces, along with many other businesses, is in connecting its corporate strategy to customers and other stakeholders within the communities it serves. Corporate strategy can often be filled with technical language, commitments surrounded by measures or statistics and references to processes that mean little to those outside of the business or industry. Anglian Water recognised this challenge with the launch of its new Net Zero 2030 Strategy and recently engaged with a diverse group of young voices from across the organisation in a series of facilitated workshops.

Through this piece of work, Anglian Water brought together young and passionate individuals from across the business. It tapped into existing networks (apprentices, graduates and work placement programmes) and drew on other pockets of unheard young voices across the organisation (for example, customer service agents).

“Thank you so much for the session. I left feeling empowered and it has definitely encouraged me to make changes to my lifestyle and also taught me ways to educate and communicate this topic to others.”

Anya Newell, Extra Care Team Member at Anglian Water.

Anglian Water recognises that inclusion is vital to the success of the organisation. Engaging people from different backgrounds with different experiences to those traditionally involved in corporate strategy work introduces new ways of thinking. This helps to drives the business to continually improve. It also means it can better reflect the region, the customers and the communities that it serves every single day. The sessions were designed and arranged by Lewis Knights, Relationship and Workload Manager (Asset Intelligence) at Anglian Water and member of BITC’s Future Leaders Board. They were facilitated by Rosie Cooper, People Development Manager, with support and attendance from David Riley, Head of Carbon Neutrality, Richard Buckingham, Climate Change and Carbon Manager, and Andy Brown, Head of Sustainability at Anglian Water.

The sessions created an invaluable opportunity for the individuals involved to engage with a breadth of colleagues from across the business and to learn more about Anglian Water’s net zero, climate change and responsible business ambitions. They also provided a platform for participants to share ideas, challenges and opportunities from their perspective.

Impacts and outcomes

The sessions generated ideas that are now being explored further. Some of these sit with the workshop attendees to develop in detail, others have been agreed as agenda items for the Anglian Water’s Carbon Neutrality Steering Group to review and action.

“This was a great opportunity to engage a diversity of views in challenging and promoting our transition to net zero.”

David Riley, Head of Carbon Neutrality at Anglian Water.

The process established an informal network of advocates spread across the business who are committed to having repeated conversations about the strategy with their colleagues. They have been tasked with designing a presentation to engage and challenge their business areas with respect to the Net Zero Carbon Strategy. Finally, this piece of work has also allowed Anglian Water to test an approach to getting previously unheard voices more involved in corporate strategy. It has created an opportunity to explore this on a greater scale in other strategic areas.

Anglian Water gained greater understanding of why this topic is so important to young people, and the reasons that they believe businesses should be taking action. The sessions provided an opportunity to understand alternative views on

  • better engaging with customers and communities. (for example through new infographics in customer web portals)
  • translating corporate dialogue into something meaningful and relatable (for example by talking about carbon facts in terms of chocolate bars and cars rather than grams and tonnes)
  • the importance of brand. A number of opportunities were identified in this area (such as how to effectively communicate carbon and climate action messaging in digital and social media).

Other themes picked up through the discussions included innovative communication approaches, behaviour change, education, culture, and purpose. Over 20 young previously unheard voices were engaged through the process, covering multiple business units and perspectives, along with the involvement of senior leaders in carbon neutrality, climate change and sustainability.

Consulting a younger audience provided a diverse and alternative viewpoint to those traditionally engaged in corporate strategy work. This helped to generate some real challenges to existing assumptions and delivered some ‘out of the box’ thinking, drawing on inspiration from other industries and backgrounds. It also allowed Anglian Water to harness participants’ passion, which will create further ripples out into the business.

Next steps for Anglian Water

Anglian Water leaders have already reviewed a summary of discussion points and ideas from the workshops and a number of follow up actions have been agreed, including

  • workshop attendees developing a more detailed proposal around a specific idea to be raised for review at upcoming Anglian Water Carbon Neutrality Steering Group meetings.
  • workshop attendees designing a presentation to engage and actively challenge their areas of the business with respect to the Net-Zero Carbon Strategy
  • a number of suggestions around branding and communication of strategy that were raised through the sessions are being tabled at upcoming Carbon Neutrality Steering Group meetings.

There is now an opportunity to explore further engagement with this group in other areas of corporate strategy.

Business in the Community and climate action

Every single business in the UK must take action to avert the climate crisis. BITC’s network of hundreds of businesses is working with us right now to make the climate crisis history. What we do is important, but how we do it is equally critical. We must make sure the transition to a resilient, net-zero UK is fair and just, truly enabling people and nature to thrive.

By joining the hundreds of other businesses in the Prince’s Responsible Business Network, you can accelerate progress, maximise business opportunities and enable the communities you serve to thrive.

Find out how BITC is helping organisations take climate action.