The meaning of life… for a water company

Have you ever thought about the meaning of life, what we are here to do? I know I have; for me it’s part of trying to make sense of juggling work and family commitments and to stay focussed on what matters. Here at Bristol Water we’ve also been thinking about the meaning of life for the company. We’ve talked to our customers, stakeholders and employees about the role of the company – its purpose, its role in society. Just like in our personal lives, the purpose of the company helps to keep us focussed on what matters in our working day. An analogy I’ve seen used is that a company without purpose is like a ship without a rudder. The engines may run smoothly and efficiently and the crew can be working at top capacity, but without a rudder the ship is directionless and despite huge effort and good intentions, the ship cannot reach its destination. In Bristol Water’s case, our destination is our long term vision. Our purpose is our reason for being, a single statement of intent which unifies our employees and our stakeholders and empowers us to deliver our vision. We have also set out our company values, which to continue the analogy, act as a moral compass in how we travel to reach our destination. Your initial reaction may well be that the role of a water company is simple – to provide a safe and reliable supply of water to its customers, together with great customer service at a reasonable price. But what about its wider role in society? Bristol Water has existed as a privately owned essential service provider for over 170 years. The secret of its success is that its ambition has never been limited to the ‘transaction’ of providing water to customers in exchange for payment. Since the very beginning, the mind-set of the company has been that the purpose of the company is to contribute to the wellbeing of its communities and the environment. This is reflected in our purpose today:


To have a positive impact on the lives of our customers, our communities, our colleagues and the environment beyond the delivery of pure and reliable water


This isn’t an act of philanthropy or even corporate social responsibility. As an essential service provider, we recognise the interaction between the wellbeing of society and the long-term success of the company. Societal wellbeing not only affects our staff (who are, after all our customers and members of our communities too), but also our ability to maintain a safe and reliable supply of water in the future. For example, we need our communities to be mindful of their consumption and environmental impacts. For this to be a priority for our customers, they have to recognise the value of water and the water environment and also have the foundation of financial stability, physical and mental wellbeing and free time. Bristol Water’s social purpose recognises that as an organisation, we need to contribute to resolving the social wellbeing challenges which face as society. We expect to be accountable for delivering our purpose, in both the short and long-term and we have set out social contract as a means of holding us to account. It is not a challenge which we will face alone. Our purpose is after all, the single statement of intent which unifies the passion of our employees and our stakeholders and provides the basis for collective action to benefit the wellbeing of our communities.


If you are looking for a good example of our social purpose in action, look no further than our programme of water fountains which we are rolling out across Bristol as part of the Refill scheme. This programme has all the right ingredients of our employees’ personal passion to deliver to our wider social purpose, combined with equal drive and passion from our stakeholders such as City to Sea, the City Council and Bristol Waste. With this shared purpose, we are all delivering something amazing to enhance the wellbeing of our communities. You can find many more examples of the delivery of our social purpose within our education, community, environment, recreation and inclusive service programmes – to name just a few.


Michelle Davies is our Head of Strategy here at Bristol Water. She spends much of her time working on the company’s social contract and is passionate about delivering our social purpose. Michelle has over 15 years of experience in the water industry, and joined Bristol Water 18 months ago. We have now completed her education by introducing her to terms such as ‘gert lush’ and ‘me lover’.