Hi all, I’m thrilled to have the opportunity to Chair WSAA and I look forward to working with the Board, the WSAA team and all our members over the next two years as we continue to take ground on our vision of ‘customer driven, enriching life’.
I believe our sector provides the most essential of essential services, and we have a tremendous responsibility to support productive, thriving communities. WSAA helps deliver on that responsibility through its members’ spirit of collaboration and generosity in contributing to each other’s success.
No doubt we have our challenges such as dealing with climate change, the affordability of our services and, in many areas of Australia, rapid population growth. These challenges also provide our sector with great opportunities to reconsider the role we play and to ensure we continue to meet the needs of the communities we serve.
A useful lens in which to consider our future is through the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. In November 2015, UN member states (including Australia) adopted the SDGs, which describe 17 global priorities to meet by 2030 in order to combat the challenges currently facing our planet and society. Each SDG has a series of supporting targets – specific, actionable objectives that must be achieved to meet the goal. Together, the goals and targets provide a detailed framework and common language that governments and organisations all over the world can use to talk about sustainable development.
Since their adoption in November 2015, there has been a growing momentum around the SDGs - how they will be used by different sectors in society and what opportunities they present. The goals are ambitious, interconnected and complex - they require breakthrough thinking and a commitment to the collaborative approach.
For water utilities, the SDGs broaden the way many of us have traditionally viewed sustainability — from environmental stewardship to now also include economic prosperity and social inclusion.
From an initial focus on a few goals that appeared most relevant, there is a growing realisation of the broad and interconnected contribution we can have across the priority areas outlined by the goals. While some goals and targets are more immediately relevant to us and we have a greater opportunity to influence (such as Goal 6 Clean Water and Sanitation), our activities contribute right across the spectrum in our roles as a service provider, employer, community partner, procurer of goods and services and manager of critical assets.
The index and dashboard developed by the Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN) and Bertelsmann Stiftung showing country performance, highlights that there are still many challenges facing Australia in meeting these goals, in areas such as renewable energy, adult obesity, women’s representation at senior levels, climate change vulnerability and waste management. These are areas where the broader water industry plays a role and we need to recognise our impacts both positive and negative in these areas. We can also demonstrate leadership in these realms.
Finally, the SDGs call for a bigger shift in mindsets than initially apparent, because they imply shifting our focus from minimising negative impacts to the deliberate generation of positive benefits. For example, what might the water sector do to find affordable solutions to the climate and health concerns in the SDGs to generate new products and services?
We’ve responded very well across Australia to previous challenges such as extreme drought. The SDGs, which have been described as a “purchase order from the future”, now call for a new proactive approach – building on the fundamental role we already play in contributing to the health and well-being of communities.