Making sustainability a utility’s asset

Goulburn Valley Water (GVW) faced numerous changes in its business conditions, including an expectation from government to address sustainability. What did it mean, was it relevant or a passing fad, and how would it impact daily operations? GVW answered these questions in a way that delivered real business performance improvements.

Making sustainability a utility's asset

What was the opportunity?

Like many businesses, GVW’s Board and executives faced the challenge of differing interpretations of sustainability and what it meant for their business. Recent drought conditions, customer pressures, daily operational demands and government expectations presented enough challenges. “Isn’t sustainability just an unwanted distraction?” was the question on the minds of some. This presented an opportunity to answer this question in a way that was clarifying, engaging and value creating.

How did we tackle the challenge?

Workshops were conducted with the Board and executive team and, over time, operations teams as well. The workshops were organised around carefully crafted questions that sought to discover the factors that had shaped the organisation in the past and were likely to shape its success in future.

People discovered the inter-related mix of economic, social, customer, political and environmental issues were expressions of sustainability. Furthermore, these aspects of sustainability were entirely relevant and even personal, given that GVW’s success was intertwined with the region’s prosperity, a region where their families had lived for generations.

During the course of the 1-day workshop with the Board and executive, we asked how a sustainability strategy for GVW would differ from the business strategy. The then CFO answered, “(I now recognise) there is no difference. What’s more, I think we’ve been overlooking key strategic issues for a decade!”

This was a substantial breakthrough. In the space of a day, directors and executives had shifted from heated debate to shared consensus on the meaning and importance of sustainability to their work and business.

What were the results and their impact?

With the new understanding and commitment to a sustainable region and business, GVW first developed a sustainability implementation plan. This subsequently became woven into the fabric of their corporate strategy and plan.

Each operations team was then supported to identify the ways in which they could tangibly contribute to GVW’s overarching goals and targets. People now saw their purpose and role in the wider business success.

This facilitated approach to strategy development and, in particular, engagement of the operations teams was novel. The question-led approach was particularly important and spurred other award-winning projects.

While not specifically measured, the client also felt certain they were realising a material financial return. “We are seeing much more team-work and less re-work. I’m seeing staff effort and ideas that we’ve not witnessed before. This includes smarter, lower cost maintenance actions” reported Bruce, Manager of Technical Services. “We’ve also translated this integrated, systems-based approach to thinking into our operations. We call it our Sustainable Business Framework, giving a supplier-customer view to everything we do.”

A director of the Board echoed this sentiment, also reporting “For the first time I feel a real purpose to my role with GVW. It’s about creating success in our region as much as it is about success for the business.”

Note: This project was led by Nick Fleming of Innergise with Peta Maddy while working with SKM.

This and other infrastructure and organisational sustainability examples are contained in Insight Trading – Collaborating to transform the infrastructure that shapes society, co-authored by Nick Fleming.