Sustainable cities can adapt to and recover from the acute shocks and chronic stresses of climate change, aging infrastructure, fluctuating populations and unstable political conditions and financial markets. A productive relationship with water is an essential characteristic of cities with strong social, environmental and economic structures that can provide stability in times of tension and promote growth in competitive markets. Cultivating this relationship in North America largely falls on the shoulders of water utilities that are responsible for evolving the customer experience, engaging a diverse and dynamic workforce and justifying to numerous stakeholders that they are making the right investments with the right resources at the right time.
As North American water utilities imagine the future of providing on-demand, high-quality, affordable water and sanitation services to the hundreds of millions of customers who depend on them, the question isn’t, whether the water sector needs to innovate, but, rather, what happens if it doesn’t?
Together with the Water Research Foundation (WRF) and the Water Environment & Reuse Foundation (WE&RF), based on a series of collaborative workshops with utility leaders and water professionals from around the world, Arcadis sees a clear path forward for utility-led innovation that can transform their organizational cultures and enhance their ability to meet future challenges.
The Arcadis report, Empowering Water Utility Innovation, highlights the WRF/WE&RF research and innovation framework, which empowers utilities to build and foster environments of creativity, experimentation and incubation to discover new approaches for serving customers, managing assets, financing investments and realizing superior utility performance with the added dividend of enhancing sustainability.
The WRF/WE&RF research team, led by Jason Carter of Arcadis as the Principal Investigator, conducted a water and wastewater utility survey and face-to-face workshops with utility leaders. The research unveiled that of the 423 utility professionals surveyed, more than 90 percent of respondents believe that innovation is critical to the future of their organization. However, only 40 percent believe that they have seen measurable change through innovation.
Overcoming barriers and aligning organizational goals with innovation goals begins by engaging eight key disciplines: visualize, focus, develop, evaluate, engage, reach, communicate and evolve. These eight disciplines can be distilled into three primary elements: Impact, Capability and Engagement (i.e., ICE Utility Innovation Framework). This framework is intended to be a simple and manageable tool that can be used by a wide range of water utilities.
“Utilities that build an engine of innovation can ultimately realize game-changing sustainability dividends such as, greater revenue capture, waste reduction and optimal network continuity.”
—Jason Carter, Innovation & Delivery Lead, Arcadis North America
Utilities that build an Innovation Engine and incorporate innovation into their services, processes, technologies and financial and business models, are more likely to realize sustainability dividends in the areas of water resiliency, efficiency and quality. Explore the three pillars of sustainability to discover examples of sustainability dividends.
All graphs, figures and references to the Water Research Project #4642 were used with consent of the Water Research Foundation. To learn more about WRF and Project #4642, Fostering Innovation Within Water Utilities, please visit www.waterRF.org/FosteringInnovation.
To learn about the Water Environment & Reuse Foundation and LIFT, visit www.werf.org.
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