Ensuring responsible operations

For us, operating responsibly means engaging positively with our customers and communities and being good neighbours. It also includes supporting the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals and contributing to making the world a more sustainable place by 2030.

The United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) have been developed to make the world more sustainable by 2030 by addressing challenges such as poverty, inequality, climate, environmental degradation, prosperity, peace and justice. The SDGs can only be achieved if governments, businesses, civil society and citizens work together. The United Nations has produced 17 SDGs and 169 targets that describe the road map of ambitions to build a more sustainable future by 2030. The challenge for us at Thames Water is: how can we help to achieve these goals?

Although we fully support the aspiration of all 17 Sustainable Development Goals, we have decided to focus on the four goals where we think we can make a real contribution through what we do every day. We’ve reported on our contribution to the SDGs over the past two years in our CR&S Report and Annual Report (2018/19 page 79).

The four SDGs that we can positively contribute towards are:


Clean Water and Sanitation - We provide safe water and sanitation to 15 million customers 24/7/365, the equivalent of almost 25% of the UK population. Every day we supply 2.7 billion litres of safe clean drinking water and treat around 4.4 billion litres of sewage. Outside the UK, we’re working with WaterAid to help deliver its vision of a world where everyone, everywhere, has access to safe water and sanitation. In 2018/19, our employees raised £269,000 for WaterAid, a charity we’ve supported for 37 years, with a further £24,000 of income pledged. This money will be used as part of our four year ‘Thames loves Malawi’ campaign which aims to build partnerships, share knowledge and empower people in Malawi, particularly local council officers and water board employees, to make a sustainable change in two towns. Through fundraising and capacity development support, we have helped make clean water, decent toilets and good hygiene normal for more people living in Kasungu and Mponela. Read our case study.

Affordable and Clean Energy - We’re working to increase the amount of renewable energy we generate, helping to increasing the share of renewable energy in the UK and global mix. In 2018/19, we generated 22 per cent of our own electricity needs from renewable sources including sludge (281GWh), wind (5GWh) and solar power (12GWh). We have two wind turbines at sites in east London and Solar Panels at 43 sites, including Europe’s largest floating solar panel array at our Queen Elizabeth II Reservoir. Self-generating our own renewable energy reduces our greenhouse gas emissions and avoids the equivalent of around £32 million a year in energy costs.

 Responsible Consumption and Production - We’re working to become more efficient, reduce waste and increase how much we recycle and re-use. Last year, 100 per cent of sewage sludge was put to beneficial use, with treated sludge being applied to agricultural land as fertiliser or used in land restoration/reclamation and incinerator ash being used to create aggregate. We also generated 22% of our own electricity needs from renewable sources. We’re also committed to reducing our reliance on single-use plastic in the business, reducing its impact on the environment as well as helping the UK achieve its target of eliminating all avoidable plastic waste no later than 2042. We’ve been promoting the benefits of consuming our high-quality tap water instead of using water bottled in single-use plastics and will be installing 100 drinking water fountains across the capital in partnership with the Mayor of London.

Climate Action - We’re working to increase our capacity to respond to the impacts of climate change and mitigate our contribution to its causes. We’ve assessed the potential impact on our ability to provide our customers with water and wastewater services and published a report of our findings and our plans to respond. We’ve reduced our greenhouse gas emissions by 0.8% from 277.9 ktCO2e to 275.7 ktCO2e and use 100% renewable electricity. We’ve also set ourselves a very challenging goal to become zero net carbon by 2030 for our operational activities, underlining our commitment to mitigate climate change twenty years ahead of the recently announced Government target. Whilst we haven’t yet identified how we will get to net zero, we will be developing our plan over the next few years to achieve this goal. We believe it is important to set our sights high to help keep global warming below 1.5℃.

We’re committed to doing everything we can to make things easier for our customers while we carry out our essential repair and maintenance programme. With 50% of the pipes laid under roads and verges, our work inevitably causes traffic disruption, particularly in densely populated areas.

In 2018/19 we piloted a scheme with other utility companies to better coordinate our work, and identify opportunities where working together may be possible. Building on our culture of innovation, in October 2018 we introduced a new micro vacuum excavator which reduces the space needed to dig, so work can be done on pavements, rather than in roads.

We’ve also used innovative engineering techniques when we upgraded a Victorian sewer above Baker Street tube station, Kings Scholar Pond sewer. The innovative £20 million-pound project was completed with no disruption to the roads or railways nearby, saving customers from weeks of potential disruption in one of the capital’s busiest areas. To avoid disruption, a stainless-steel bridge and liner were constructed off site, before being dismantled, lowered underground, a single piece at a time, through a narrow manhole and rebuilt inside the sewer. The operational life of the 1850s-built sewer has been extended by 120 years and it remained in full wastewater operation throughout the upgrade.

Many of our sites were originally built well away from residential areas, however population growth has led to housing developments now being much closer to our sewage treatment works. Odour from the wastewater treatment process can understandably be an issue for our customers living nearby. We’re committed to reducing odour for these neighbouring communities and in 2018/19 we delivered odour reduction work at Deephams, Camberley, Bicester and Beddington sewage treatment works. We monitor odour levels from these sites to make sure the investment we’ve made continues to benefit our customers.

We’re passionate about our future customers and are committed to engaging with every school age child in our region to encourage them to consider their role in the water cycle. We provide a range of activities for schools throughout our catchment area, working with young people on key topics such as saving water and helping to avoid sewer abuse by reducing the amount of wet wipes, fat, oil and grease that people put down the drain. We help students to understand our business through visits to our education centres, workshops, talks and hands-on challenges.

Last year, we visited over 120 schools to deliver talks and activities to enhance learning about our business. This year, our long-running education programme saw us engaging with another 24,897 young people, The network challenge, our award-winning engineering exercise, allows children to design, build and test a water network. Last year over 1800 children took part in this challenge.

Our education centres

We host school and community groups at our four education centres at Didcot, Hogsmill, Maple Lodge and Slough sewage treatment works, and at the Angling Academy at our reservoir complex in Walthamstow to provide a fun and informative education experience for school children. We have opened our sixth education centre at Longreach to allow children to see first-hand the sewage treatment process. During their visits, they have the opportunity to carry out water and energy related experiments in our on-site classrooms and take a tour of the operational works. We will be opening another centre at our newly upgraded Deephams sewage treatment works during 2019/20.

At our Walthamstow Angling Academy, we use angling to promote well-being and social inclusion, and teach young people about the environment and sustainable water usage. Our Walthamstow site is a popular fishery, providing an opportunity for experiential learning and engagement with nature in an urban environment. During 2018/19, nearly 1,000 members of the community, including 866 young people between the ages of 4 and 18, took part in school or community group events and family fishing sessions.

Our educational partnerships

Partnership is a key aspect of our Corporate Responsibility Programme, and in particular our education programmes across London and the Thames Valley.

Our charity partners range from environmental to engineering organisations and all help to support our objectives of reaching young people whether it’s by learning outside the school grounds or through an outreach activity within a school. This enhances the next generation’s learning about water and the environment, and inspires them to take more interest in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM).

We’re sponsoring the London Design and Engineering University Technical College, continuing to work closely with both Reading and Swindon University Technical Colleges and developing new partnerships with The Leigh University Technical College and University Technical College Oxfordshire. The growth in STEM skills is crucial to the future of our industry, and we’re also working in primary schools to engage pupils in these core skills.

Our award-winning ‘Give Someone a Start’ programme offers work experience to people who are out of work, and those with mental and physical disabilities who may need extra support in finding a role. We are expanding the programme, running our first successful work experience placement with Lanes, one of our alliance partners in November with more to follow and are working on a placement with another partner, Morrisons, for next year.

We actively seek to understand what our community and stakeholders expect of us and look for opportunities to work in partnership with them. We work collaboratively on community projects that deliver both community and business benefits.

As part of our industry-leading community investment programme we supported eight community projects with an investment of £376,000 in 2018/19. The initiative sees us invest in opportunities to encourage public access to our sites, improve water-related visitor attractions, deliver essential environmental and wildlife improvements and protect cultural heritage.

Walthamstow Wetlands, one of our operational sites and home to Europe’s largest urban wetlands, has seen 544,829 visitors since opening in October 2017, and this year also saw us support the opening of a new wetlands nature reserve at Enfield Lock. During 2018/19 we were proud to be involved in the introduction of a social prescribing initiative, through which local GPs prescribe patients to spend time at our wetlands to improve their wellbeing.

We have an innovative programme of conservation activities and enhancements designed to engage our employees, customers and stakeholders on key environmental issues. Our emphasis is on conserving and improving biodiversity and access to nature for our customers and local communities. We work to protect and enhance wildlife habitats on and around our operational sites and to share them with communities where possible.

We manage 12 Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) which are legally protected wildlife areas. We work hard to look after these special places and the wildlife that flourishes there. Around 99% of our SSSI land area is classified as ‘favourable’ (50.89%) or ‘unfavourable recovering’ by Natural England. We’re working with Natural England and other specialists to understand how we can make further improvements to the condition of the ‘unfavourable recovering’ areas which can be a result of wider population trends rather than specific conditions on site.

In 2018/19 we increased biodiversity at five of our sites, spending £56,500 on five projects including the creation of a wildflower meadow at Hogsmill nature reserve. In our business plan submitted in September 2018, we’ve committed to quantify and report the natural capital stocks of our land holdings during the next regulatory period and increase biodiversity by 5% at 253 of our sites by 2025. The area of land to be improved by this biodiversity programme is c 4,000 hectares (twenty-five times the size of Hyde Park).

With 47 of the UK’s 224 chalk streams in our region we’re committed to protecting these rare and biodiverse sites. One of these streams is Letcombe Brook in Oxfordshire where we’re constructing a £14.5 million, 6km pipe to supply customers from groundwater boreholes rather than the stream to protect some of the most ‘at-risk’ plants and wildlife living in the stream, including brown trout. In advance of the work, our archaeological contractors discovered an Iron Age settlement containing an array of well-preserved artefacts, including 26 human skeletons.

Our sites are home to a wide variety of species of plants, some of which are critically endangered and require protection. Tower Mustard is a tall plant which now only grows at 25 locations in the UK, including Stain Hill Reservoir in Richmond. It is facing high risk of extinction in the wild and is listed as a Priority Species under the UK Biodiversity Action Plan. To protect this rare plant, we have installed special fences and enforced specific mowing regimes to prevent it from being smothered. Our work at the site has maintained the population of this valuable species.

We have more than 100 sites across London and the Thames Valley where we provide access for the community. As part of our ongoing commitment to open up as many of our sites of interest as we can to the public, each year we run London Open House which enables members of the public to catch a rare glimpse inside some of the iconic Thames Water buildings that help to deliver essential water and waste services to millions of people across London and are normally closed to the public. This includes the King George V pumping station in Enfield, Deephams sewage works, the historic Oak Room in Islington, Old Ford water recycling plant in Stratford and our iconic 150 year old pumping station, Abbey Mills. The open days are always very popular and bookable events are sold out extremely quickly, which is why we're looking to increase opportunities for visitors to see how we work over the next five years.

There are a number of sites that are open to the public throughout the year with a range of activities, including fishing at Farmoor reservoir and Walthamstow reservoirs (Europe’s largest urban wetland), enjoying nature in the heart of London at Woodberry Wetlands, bird watching at Kempton Nature Reserve, sailing on the Queen Mary reservoir, and learning about heritage with our partners at the Victorian-era Crossness pumping station.

We offer support to charitable organisations in four main ways:

  • Donations to charitable organisations for projects approved by our Charities Committee
  • Encouraging and supporting our employees' own charitable giving by matching fundraising efforts and offering a payroll giving scheme
  • Our Time to Give employee volunteering scheme
  • A long standing strategic partnership with WaterAid, our principal charity.

Thames Water supports the local community through volunteering events and contributions to community investment funds. We raised £45,266 for other local and national charities through internal fundraising activities and match funded employee fundraising efforts with £31,820.

Our ‘Time to Give’ programme encourages employees to connect with their local communities. In 2018/19, 1,159 of our colleagues spent 7,658 hours taking part in voluntary activities including river restoration projects, painting schools and helping in hospices. It also provides opportunities for personal and professional development, including serving as a school governor.

In 2018/19 we raised £269,000 for WaterAid, a charity we’ve supported for 37 years, with a further £24,000 of income pledged. Our signature campaign, ‘Thames loves Malawi’, uses these funds to work with local communities and share the knowledge and means to make tangible and sustainable improvements in two towns in Malawi. Through fundraising and capacity development support, we have helped make clean water, decent toilets and good hygiene normal for more people living in Kasungu and Mponela. Read our case study.

Over the last year, we’ve helped 2,548 people living in these towns to get access to clean water that they can use every day. Our fundraising has helped with the completion a new water kiosk at Chiteyeye and deliver further Central Region Water Board (CRWB) network extension with new household and institutional network connections. The CRWB visited Thames Water sites and employees who shared their experience and skills to maximise the opportunity for learning.

We also helped 12,341 people gain access to improved sanitation services. Thames loves Malawi has helped provide new toilets for students and teachers at Kasungu Local Education Authority Primary School and rehabilitate the broken sewer systems at the Kasungu District Hospital and Chayamba Secondary School. These projects will improve sanitation for the local community, benefitting the health of teachers, students, staff and patients and reduce ground water contamination.