Start your Innovation Engine and Start Producing Sustainability Dividends

Guest blog by Jason Carter, Delivery & Innovation Lead, Arcadis North America

The water industry is at an important crossroad. After years of building on principles of reliability and quality, water utilities can be proud of delivering on levels of service. However, every day, that delivery faces major threats, from drought to infrastructure failures to customer push-back on rates.

Leaders in the water industry know that innovation is important to meeting these challenges. In serving as principal investigator for a Water Research Foundation (WRF) project, Fostering Innovation in Water Utilities, it was exciting to see some of the creative ways utilities are making innovation part of the way they perform every day. As a follow-on to this work, we recently surveyed 423 utility professionals on the topic. Ninety percent said that innovation is critical to the future of their utility. But in day-to-day operations? Only 40 percent are engaging innovation as a business practice.

Those who have embraced innovation have powerful stories to tell and ideas to share. Their experience is proof that making innovation a key organizational value actually delivers sustainability dividends and measurable return on the investment of time and energy. The social, environmental and even economic benefits of innovation strengthen a utility’s brand, bottom line and satisfaction ratings, and contribute to the higher goal of improving the quality of life for customers.

In other words, innovation programs are not just for bragging rights. The results are real and even starting with the basics can bring tremendous results. Our studies of hundreds of utilities worldwide showed how innovations such as stormwater harvesting, advanced metering and real-time system monitoring can lead to sustainable dividends in the form of greater revenue capture, improved demand management, waste reduction or increased asset longevity, to name just a few.

In our paper, “Empowering Water Utility Innovation,” Arcadis shows that by building a culture of creativity, investment, experimentation and incubation, utilities can deploy innovations to foster new approaches to serving customers, managing facilities and funding infrastructure improvements.

That said, transforming organizational culture is a process, not a weekend webinar. We have identified the steps to make innovation a business practice to help utility leaders initiate a culture of innovation.

Building this engine of innovation enables utilities to effectively engage internal and external resources to continuously improve operations and increase value for their customers through improved system resiliency, efficiency and quality, the three elements of water sustainability.

From there, the actual innovative practices become second nature, no matter what the need. These include resilience efforts to address water stress or flood risk; efficiency initiatives, such as waste reduction or building intelligent networks; or quality goals in the form of fewer pollution events, or building a truly agile and resilient treatment process.

Engaging in innovation initiatives in turn helps 1) articulate new values, 2) bring needed investment in new processes and 3) most importantly, connect to more ways to see yourself as the agent of change.

Visit to learn what kind of innovator you are and how Arcadis is promoting #utilityinnovation at the American Water Works Association’s Annual Conference & Exposition (ACE17).