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MPhil in Engineering for Sustainable Development

global challenges, engineering solutions

Sustainability and high-level asset investment in the UK water industry

Amy Embury Jones Satrom

Sustainability and high-level asset investment in the UK water industry

Scoping the Problem
Over the last ten years, urban water and wastewater systems have been
increasingly criticized from a sustainability standpoint. Common criticisms in the UK
Water Industry have been that sustainability issues are not properly reflected in the way
performance targets are set and that financial determinations allow only for the
achievement of current performance standards within short time scales (5 years).
Accordingly, quite a lot of work has been dedicated to developing sustainability
indicators as a tool for the assessment of sustainable development in the water industry.
Regardless, the ability to make sustainability inherent in decision-making remains a
challenge amid the complex business and regulatory context of the UK Water Industry.
In an effort to improve high-level investment decisions at the Water and Sewerage
Company Level, this research endeavors to explore various frameworks for uniting
business priorities, regulatory mandates, and sustainable development in order to
maintain a serviceable and sustainable urban water and wastewater system.

The Research
Working in conjunction with Southern Water, I initially set out to understand the
current investment structure and the business processes for making investment decisions.
The research revealed that investment decisions at Southern Water are largely dissociated
by asset category and incorporate large amounts of expert knowledge. In an effort to
create a unified asset management plan that handles high-level asset investment, I looked
at three different priority-ranking methods: Southern Water's Priority Scoring Method
(which is currently under development), the Risk Based Priority Model (a model adopted
from the U.S. Department of Energy), and a Complex Adaptive Systems approach
(pioneered as part of the Swedish sustainable urban water program, MISTRA). The
result each of these models produces contributes toward understanding the influence
different aspects of the UK Water Industry has on asset investment. Ultimately, through
comparison, the goal is to construct a more sustainable investment decision framework
for high-level asset investment, capable of bringing together various projects, drivers, and
social, economic and environmental issues.


Course Overview


The need to engage in better problem definition through careful dialogue with all stakeholder groups and a proper recognition of context.


An ability to work with specialists from other disciplines and professional groups acknowledging that technical innovation and business skills also must be understood, nurtured and combined as precursors to the successful implementation of sustainable solutions.


An understanding of mechanisms for managing change in organisations so future engineers are equipped to play a leadership role.


An awareness of a range of assessment frameworks, sustainability metrics and methodologies such as Life Cycle Analysis, Systems Dynamics, Multi-Criteria Decision making and Impact Assessment.