Meet the Sustainability Leader: Wessex Water Services – Water Management 2018

With entries now open for edie's revamped 2019 Sustainability Leaders Awards, this new feature series will showcase the achievements of the 2018 winners, revealing their secrets to success. Up next: our 2018 Water Management winners, Wessex Water Services.

Wessex Water Services has created a groundbreaking platform which has the potential to bring about a major change in the way water quality is managed in the UK.

As it stands, the UK has a segregated system for environmental improvements. Water environment regulations have led to water companies focusing on the creation of physical assets to meet end-of-pipe standards. Meanwhile, the Government pays farmers subsidies to carry out agri-environment measures. Until now, the two haven’t been joined together.

EnTrade is a tool to consider catchment management measures as a whole. It is an online auction platform for reducing diffuse pollution – a first of its kind in the UK. The system allows farmers to bid to put in nitrate-reducing measures, such as growing cover crops on fields that would otherwise be bare. The platform calculates savings based on details entered by the farmer and gives real-time results from the auction. The institutions that require environmental benefits and those who can put them in place stand to benefit greatly.

EnTrade was devised to help reduce nutrients in Poole Harbour, an internationally important bird habitat. The alternative was to build a new treatment plant, which would have cost £6m and had a high operational carbon impact. EnTrade is a cheaper, more efficient and more sustainable option than a standard capital approach. It delivers nutrient savings for a quarter of the cost of an asset solution and can change the shape of catchment management.

“The edie Sustainable Leaders award really helped raise the profile of EnTrade, both in the water industry and elsewhere. We were targeting these awards as we regarded them as the most prestigious in the industry,” a spokesperson told edie.

“We received lots of coverage in industry magazines, and has helped our reputation with new customers, on what is a new product in a new market. Off the back of the edie award we recently won a rising star award at the European Business Awards for the Environment – so the edie award really helped us to start on our journey to become international.”

Water companies are experiencing increased levels of pollution in water sources, and sewage discharges are facing tighter restrictions to meet higher environmental standards. The water industry has historically focused on capital solutions to water quality problems. The UK spends more than £13bn on catchments each year to improve the natural environment. This money is allocated inefficiently, with little or no consideration for the greatest saving for each pound spent.

By contrast, the market-based system employed by EnTrade enables a market price to be found for catchment management measures, rather than arbitrarily being set by the buyer or seller. It has been shown to reduce nitrogen costs by 30% when compared with a ‘take it or leave it’ approach to funding cover crops. It is also a much fairer way of allocating resources in an oversubscribed market.

Along with the financial savings, EnTrade helps reduce the admin burden on farmers and Wessex Water. The system also helps to show farmers how their actions benefit the environment and by how much, so the system can be used as an important educational tool. EnTrade could be used for other agri-environmental support, in particular, post-Brexit, with Natural England interested in its applications.

Moving to a new approach risked the relationships that Wessex Water had built with farmers over the past 10 years, meaning it was important to get the delivery of the platform right first time. The platform moved from initial idea to full online trial in six months. Working quickly with live auctions and updating the system in real-time has inevitably led to some challenges, but Wessex Water has gained a huge amount of information on what works and what doesn’t.

Since the initial auction in June 2016, six auctions have been run through EnTrade with Wessex Water, United Utilities and Natural England, with improvements made each time. The majority of auctions have been oversubscribed; the first auction saw Wessex more than double its target saving.

EnTrade brings together simple offset and reverse auction systems together, making it one of the most innovative and exciting developments in catchment management today. It has the potential to offset billions of pounds in capital assets as water quality requirements increase. Although so far used for nitrate reduction, the tool is being developed in other catchment management measures such as phosphorous, pesticides, biodiversity and flood protection.

This is the first time use of an online auction has been shown to work in the UK. Indeed, it is thought to be the most sophisticated tool for an auction approach to catchments in the world. It is now helping to make Poole Harbour a good status water body, and provides an important winter habitat for birds.

Outside the organisation, the platform has received a large amount of coverage on media platforms such as Radio 4’s Today programme and Farmers Weekly. It is attracting great interest from water companies, regulatory bodies and in waste management.

What the judges said: “Wessex has set up an online auction platform where farmers can bid for funding to improve water quality which has driven reductions four times over their targets. It’s innovative, it’s replicable, it’s a winner.”

edie’s 2019 Sustainability Leaders Award

Now in their 12th year, the RSA-accredited Sustainability Leaders Awards have undergone a major revamp, with a host of new categories and judges, a new Awards venue, and a new Mission Possible theme – making 6 February 2019 the biggest night of the sustainable business calendar.

The entry deadline for the 2019 Sustainability Leaders Awards is Friday, 14 September 2018. The Awards will then take place on the night of 6 February 2019 at the Park Plaza London, Westminster. 


Matt Mace

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