Intellectual capital

Industry-leading thinking and processes

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Our aspiration is to be a utility of the future – one that leverages technology and data to work smarter and serve our customers and communities better. As a result of COVID-19, we moved closer to our goal of using technology more effectively.

Back in March 2020, as COVID-19 cases in New Zealand began to increase, it became critical for our teams to be properly equipped to work remotely.

While there was a programme under development to enable this, it was scheduled to be implemented over months, not days. But with a nationwide lockdown looming, the priority for our business was to ensure the continuity of critical water and wastewater services to Aucklanders during the pandemic.

We needed to equip more than two-thirds of our staff to work from home, and to continue to support the remaining essential workers who needed to be physically running our plants and other sites.

Through a super-accelerated programme, new laptops were provided to staff with some basic self-service instructions. Hundreds of laptops were deployed within a matter of days.

Like many businesses in New Zealand, Watercare was not set up to cope with such a high volume of users working remotely within a short space of time. This necessitated a quick change to increase network bandwidth. Security was an important consideration too, with the increased risk of cyber threats in light of the uncertainty caused by COVID-19.

Having sorted infrastructure, security and bandwidth, we focused on training and communication.

For many of our people, working remotely was a completely new proposition and they needed the right platform to communicate, to check in with each other and collaborate remotely.

We introduced Microsoft Teams to all staff and commenced a company-wide daily online education series to promote the tools.

The almost-overnight transition required people who would normally be hesitant with new technology and change to roll up their sleeves and dive in. It has been challenging, but we have seen our people embrace these changes with enthusiasm.

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Beyond the increased use of technology, the past year also saw the business demonstrate best practice and leadership in several areas:

  • We were commended for our transformational efforts in the sustainability and resource recovery area and recognised as a ‘Utility of the Future Today’, a global programme now in its fourth year.
    Utility of the Future Today celebrates the achievements of water utilities that are making the shift from a traditional wastewater treatment system to a resource recovery centre and leading the overall sustainability and resilience of the communities they serve. This initiative was launched by four global water sector organisations—the National Association of Clean Water Agencies (NACWA), the Water Environment Federation (WEF), the Water Research Foundation (WRF) and the WaterReuse Association, with input from the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
    We were one of the 43 water utilities that have been recognised and the only one in the list outside the US.
  • Our $2.4 billion Enterprise Model construction partnership has been chosen as the first ‘Beacon Project’ by the Construction Sector Accord. The accord is a joint commitment from government and industry to work together to create a high performing construction sector for a better New Zealand. (Read the case study on page 44 to learn more about this partnership and its objectives)
  • The Central Interceptor Wastewater Tunnel is New Zealand’s largest environmental project underway at this time. When complete, it will increase network resilience, accommodate Auckland’s growth and deliver improved environmental outcomes. Along with these positive environmental outcomes, it is also being delivered in a sustainable way.
  • In June 2020, the project was awarded a “leading” rating for sustainable design – the highest possible rating for a project – by the Infrastructure Sustainability Council of Australia (ISCA). The rating covered six main themes: management and governance, using resources, emissions, pollution and waste, ecology, people and place, and innovation.

In particular, the Central Interceptor scored highly in the area of innovation due to the following initiatives:

  • piloting wastewater reuse for the operation of the tunnel-boring machine (TBM), reducing the need for potable water
  • contributing to the rehabilitation of Puketutu Island, by reusing the tunnel spoil as cover and reducing the need for imported fill
  • building a dedicated training centre for the project, which includes a life-sized TBM cutterhead
  • developing a new methodology for assessing ecological enhancement
  • using a single-pass tunnel-lining methodology.
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Case study

Reducing infrastructure carbon through collaboration

In September 2019, Watercare signed a $2.4 billion construction partnership with Fulton Hogan and Fletcher Construction for the delivery of water and wastewater infrastructure for Auckland over the next 10 years.

With this partnership, we are seeking to address many of the challenges faced by the construction industry, while also achieving our ambitious sustainability, cost-efficiency and well-being targets (40% reduction in “build carbon”, 20% reduction in cost and 20% improvement in health, safety and well-being outcomes).

Historically, Watercare has delivered on its large infrastructure programme on a project-by-project basis. With this new long-term partnership, we aim to leverage the scale of the works to incentivise innovation and deliver a programme of work – rather than discrete projects – to drive greater cost-efficiency and, more importantly, create sustainable infrastructure. This approach is a first for New Zealand and combines many of the most successful infrastructure delivery learnings from around the world, with our local adaptations.

In its first year, the Enterprise Model has identified four key steps – commit to action, understand our carbon footprint, build our internal processes and review our approach to procurement – to achieve a step-change reduction in carbon in infrastructure construction.

At the end of 2019/20, the Enterprise Model team had:

  • created a toolkit which encompasses all elements necessary for successful ‘programme first’ delivery, e.g. governance, processes, procurement, ways of working and technical solutions
  • strengthened the business case process to ensure that carbon reduction targets must be addressed, including a challenge to preexisting business cases, within the design options
  • initiated carbon reduction outcome expectations within the upstream supply chain
  • included dashboard reporting on carbon and cost reductions on the contract to incentivise performance
  • began embedding culture and mindset behavioural change expectations and methods to measure realised change.

An infrastructure carbon baseline was developed to provide insights into estimated carbon emissions for Watercare’s capital works programme under the Enterprise Model. Key insights include:

  • The carbon emissions for these projects is more than Watercare’s expected operational emissions over the same period of time.
  • Most of the capital carbon occurs in networks and transmission, as opposed to treatment infrastructure.
  • Concrete and steel make up a large percentage of the baseline.

This baseline, at a programme-wide level, is believed to be the first in Australasia. Now with a clear understanding of the capital carbon involved in our planned programme of works, we are starting to apply a carbon reduction hierarchy to achieve potential carbon savings. We are challenging the root cause of infrastructure as well as our standard designs and approaches, with an early focus on concrete, pipe material and low-carbon construction techniques.