Water, economics – yawn…

Iain McGuffog, Director of Strategy and Regulation

Do the ambitious, the curious, the innovative and the creative come and work in the water industry?  It may be the perception that they don’t. And I can’t claim that I do a great job of getting my friends or family excited about the water industry too often and certainly not if I start to talk about water, economics or regulation! I thought I’d give it a go anyway…

Ben Newby’s amazing blog about the importance of time and space for creative thinking, inspired by the structured approach of Gilbert and George, started me….well, thinking. What happens when you are busy, too busy to look ahead or at the world around us? We know the water industry has long-term assets like reservoirs, and our drinking water relies on looking after the environment that can easily be harmed, and take a long time to recover. And when water supplies do occasionally go wrong, the value of our service quickly becomes more obvious. As expectations rise, we have to deal with greater complexity, those nuances of how water gets to customers that helps to make a low risk of failure even lower.

The water industry is full of passionate, committed experts, who deal with complex and important topics to keep services on track. But thinking about it, the experts who take their passion and commitment and distill complex issues down, so they can be shared with others are often the most innovative and creative.

Taking complexity and distilling it down so you can collaborate with others to find a better, more innovative solution should keep us busy, and create time for creativity (even in regulation and economics). I realised that the developments I’ve come across in the water industry that have captured my interest the most have all come down to working with other water companies, other businesses, regulators, social enterprises, government and customers to try and create a better future:

  • Developing catchment management partnerships, including how to take into account the long-term value of water
  • Working with other firms across a number of sectors to share ideas on how to deal with uncertainty and how to value social and natural capital through Accounting for Sustainability.
  • Creating better social tariffs and working with community organisations so help can be targeted in the best way at the right time.
  • The Refill campaign, reducing single-use plastic bottles by boosting public awareness and access to high quality drinking water.

Here at Bristol Water, we’ve been busy thinking about the factors that will affect us now and what might happen in the future. We realised that in an increasingly complex world, we had to put the wellbeing of society at the heart of our role – it was the factor that drove us to shape the future that we most shared with our stakeholders. And by collaborating, it focused our minds at distilling the challenge down; simplifying it to allow the creativity and innovation we were seeking. As an economist, understanding the value of the wider, long-term impacts of the decisions we make today helps with this process on focusing on what really matters.

So, without quite create something as artistic as Gilbert & George, we managed to summarise our story as a picture, to capture some of our favourite thoughts and ideas

We’ve set our long term ambitions down in Bristol Water…Clearly, and we would love to know what you think, particularly if it inspires you to work with us. Join in our conversation on @BristolWater  #bristolwaterclearly or on Linkedin.

Iain McGuffog, Director of Strategy and Regulation

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