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Thinking in Parallel: Sustainability and Resilience

Thinking in Parallel: Sustainability and Resilience

Cindy Wallis-Lage is an executive director at Black & Veatch and is focused on client enterprise- and community-wide sustainability and resilience.

Sustainability, once a trendy buzzword, has evolved to become a core tenet of companies’ business practices. According to the nonprofit CDP, more than 9,600 global companies currently disclose their environmental goals and performance.

The 2022 Megatrends in Power report survey, a joint effort between Black & Veatch and Clarion Energy, polled more than 200 players in the electric industry to discover that 65 percent of respondents have greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions reduction or clean energy goals in place. This suggests that organizations are not only considering how to better operate in the environmental, social and economic settings, they are looking to leverage these areas to create long-term value.

To be successful, the global power industry needs to accelerate the path to net zero and continue to embrace clean fuel and low-carbon technologies for power generation. And the water industry needs to seek low-carbon energy sources and integrate water management approaches that prioritize water security in the face of climate change.

Parallel Paths

So how do we get there? We must think in parallel paths of sustainability – creating solutions that meet today's needs without hurting future generations – and resilience – the capacity to adapt to change and continue to develop and grow. To navigate these parallel paths, requires awareness and intention.  

  • Focus on awareness. Our clients are all on different journeys toward sustainability and resilience. Our role is to engage and share our insights with clients such that we create an awareness of the possible solutions and pathways that align with their goals. To do that, we must seek to understand the outcome our clients are trying to achieve, the commitments they have made and achievements to date. Then we can help them successfully achieve their full ESG commitments.
  • Work with intention. As a company, Black & Veatch must be intentional to include sustainability and resilience in the way we think and act. This begins with the services we offer followed by adapting our design processes, our construction practices and long term operation and maintenance. We must walk our own talk and do our part in addressing the climate crisis challenge while adding value for our clients as part of their value chain. Externally, we are compelled to help our clients do the same and be intentional when setting pathways to achieve their goals.

When it comes to how we are walking our own talk, Black & Veatch outlined its own corporate sustainability pledges in our 2020-2023 Sustainability Strategy. We anticipate delivering an updated report this summer to highlight the progress we have made and continue to showcase Black & Veatch’s commitment to sustainability.

By 2023, we have committed to reducing our Scope 1 and Scope 2 emissions by 40 percent and overall GHG emissions (Scope 1, Scope 2 and Scope 3 business travel and teleworking) by 20 percent over 2019 numbers. We aim to be net zero by 2025.

In 2021, we conducted a water use assessment for our operations to better manage direct and indirect water use in offices, construction sites and in our supply chain. We also conducted water use assessments for the infrastructure projects we work on. The results of these assessments will be published in this summer’s report.

Water Security Takes a Holistic Approach

According to our 2021 Water Report, utilities are most concerned about climate-related issues: catastrophic infrastructure failure, natural or manmade disaster, extended drought/supply and impacts from climate change rank in the top five responses.

Every organization needs increased system resilience against these impacts – ­not just utilities. To get there, we should approach resilience from a holistic perspective that focuses on long-range planning, the implementation of sustainable water use, innovative engineering and nature-based approaches.

In my short Sidebar interview with Greenbiz Media, I talk about the need to increase water reuse as part of the water scarcity solution and the role it plays in achieving water security. Key to truly adopting reuse is shifting our perspective. As a society, we tend to judge every drop of water by its history instead of its potential: reuse is all about potential. Rather than qualify every drop by its history, i.e. wastewater, stormwater, groundwater, seawater, etc., we should focus on the potential of the drop and adopt One Water planning. We have the technology to deliver the required quality of water regardless of the source; thus, we need to focus on potential.

Strategies to Achieve Sustainability

The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) will allocate billions of dollars to improve water infrastructure, decarbonize transportation and increase the use of renewable energy. This provides a tremendous opportunity to incorporate sustainability through this investment to the country’s critical infrastructure. The challenge isn’t the desire to do so but rather the bespoke approach required for organizations to achieve their goals.

To achieve long-term goals, organizations must develop roadmaps that define their current position and the key strategies to reach their sustainability destination. With the volatility of political, economic and environmental influences, roadmaps should accommodate various scenarios and incorporate “crawl, walk or run” strategies based on signposts.

Integral to a successful roadmap is technology, both existing and new, which drives efficiency, reduces carbon and promotes water security. Technology also includes digital tools that allow the collection and analysis of vast amounts of data which in turn provides intelligence around the real-time “health” of our power and water infrastructure. This real-time analysis provides the opportunity to accelerate the confidence around adopting new technology, assess performance of existing infrastructure, proactively identify O&M needs, and manage extreme events more effectively.

It is time to ACT

Climate change impacts require a shift in our thinking and our actions to create sustainable and resilient communities. Now is the time to ACT.

  • Anticipate the various event types, predictability, and severity associated with future climate change scenarios along with the potential impact on operating conditions. This requires collaboration between engineers, climate scientists, climate modelers, researchers, and utilities to gather insight for a given community. There is no one-size-fits-all methodology; thus, anticipating various conditions requires insights from a broad group.
  • Create roadmaps that build forward based on scenario planning. Specific signpost-driven insights can be used to drive timely investment as certainty is gained. Inherent to the success of the roadmap is leadership commitment to follow the roadmap and to invest.
  • Transform historical thinking and challenge conventional paradigms of doing just enough to get by or repeating past approaches. To achieve resilience in our communities we need to move from siloed thinking to systems thinking and consider the connection between energy, water, communications and transportation infrastructure and how they operate together in response to changing conditions.

Black & Veatch is committed to supporting our clients’ journeys toward increased sustainability and resilience. Inherent in that journey is navigating an energy transition to renewable energy and holistic water planning to achieve water security.  We are a strategic partner who can supply the necessary consulting and relevant technology solutions.

It’s time for the world to navigate the shift toward a more sustainable and resilient future. Future generations depend on the actions we take today.

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