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MPhil in Engineering for Sustainable Development

global challenges, engineering solutions

Studying at Cambridge

Winston Tan

Footprinting: A Decision-Making Tool for UK Water Industry?

The UK Water Industry comprise of 12 water and sewerage service providers and 13 water suppliers. According to WaterUK (2006) the industry collects, treats and then supplies over 16 billion litres of water per day to domestic and commercial customers. Subsequently it collects and treats over 10 billion litres of the resulting wastewater before returning it safely to the environment. Approximately £4billion is invested annually to improve water supply and sewerage services.

The industry’s operations are heavily regulated, both from the environmental and the economic perspectives. In the last decade, sustainable development in the industry gained prominence over these aspects and was beginning to fall within the regulating frameworks. However, the aspiration for sustainability extends beyond the regulatory setting; to industry members, politicians and members of the public. Although the industry is committed towards sustainability, it still lacks an incisive understanding of how best to steer themselves towards that direction.

Many measures of sustainability for the water industry exist.  However most are considered as sustainability ‘framework’, ‘guidance’ or ‘criteria’, and existing ‘tools’ are mostly biased towards environmental management and compliance rather than as decision making tools to influence project development during optioneering stage. Decision making processes in the industry is still very much conventional, based on a relatively narrow set of economic and technical criteria.

Anglian Water Services first explored the possibility of ecological footprint as an eco-efficiency indicator for its business operations and later attempting to implement the principles in project planning and option appraisal. Sydney Water Corporation made similar attempts.

The industry indirectly measures its carbon footprint from energy use and greenhouse gas emissions but mainly for the purposes of reporting and benchmarking, and had not been widely implemented to influence project development. As carbon metric is beginning to take eminence in project economic analysis in other industries, the proposal to integrate carbon footprint into project decision making is considered forward looking.   

In the context of the UK water industry, the main objectives of this dissertation are:

• To critically assess ecological and carbon footprint methods as sustainability indicators and environmental accounting measures;
• To explore and understand the value of ecological and carbon footprint methods as an early stage decision making tool for investment planning and asset management based on a case study of a wastewater treatment upgrade proposal; and
• To assess and compare footprinting methods based on commercially available life-cycle analysis software, GaBi and material and process selection database, CES