After a roundtable discussion hosted by Business in the Community, I sat down with Collette Parker of Anglian Water’s customer engagement program to find out more about the opportunities and challenges facing this UK water utility service.
New at SB London this year was the Activation Hub — a dedicated space where attendees can come together to discuss themes from the conference, share knowledge, ask questions and get involved in deeper conversations on pressing business issues. After a roundtable discussion hosted by Business in the Community, I sat down with Collette Parker of Anglian Water’s customer engagement program to find out more about the opportunities and challenges facing this UK water utility service.
Why does Anglian Water need an engagement program?
Anglian Water manages over 47,000 miles of sewers and every year we spend around £7 million unblocking pipes. Two-thirds of these blockages are caused by human actions — things like people flushing non-biodegradable wipes down the toilet, or emptying cooking fat down the drain. Our ‘Keep It Clear’ campaign is designed to help our customers understand and appreciate these issues. It helps them avoid the misery of blocked drains, prevents situations in which untreated water can escape into the environment and enables us to reduce our expenditure on keeping pipes clean.
How does ‘Keep It Clear’ work?
Keep it Clear works by making information on the issues easily accessible to customers and by engaging directly with local communities to ensure that everybody has access to knowledge on how to use their sinks and toilets responsibly.
Our website is a one-stop shop for wastewater information. A personalised app provides simple and easy-to-follow tips on how to best use drainage systems in your home or at work; we provide information on local facilities that accept waste such as cooking oil; and we enable customers to order free blockage-prevention tools such as sink strainers and gunk pots. We also go out into the community and work with local authorities and groups to train environment champions. These are members of the local community who can communicate and spread the Keep it Clear campaign in surrounding neighbourhoods.
What have been the impacts of the campaign?
We use historical data to target the areas with the highest rate of blockages and ensure that the campaign has the greatest impact for our customers, the environment and our business. In areas where we’ve been working, sewer blockages have gone down by an average of 30 percent. In some areas such as Peterborough, blockages have been reduced by up to 88 percent!
Is it cost-effective?
It is not a short-term investment , but at the moment the campaign saves at least as much as it spends. However, in the future we expect these savings to grow as the demands on our business change. At present we recover enough solid waste from our pipes every year to build a tower of skips taller than Everest. If legislation were to increase the cost of sending those skips to landfill in the future, it would raise the running costs our network. Additionally, much of our national sewer infrastructure was not designed to cope with the increasing frequency of severe weather. By undertaking preventative measures to reduce blockages and maintain the capacity of the network, we can avoid costly remedial work that would be necessary if sections of the system were to be overwhelmed.
How do you see Anglian Water’s business evolving in the future?
We already treat water as a reusable resource and we’re asking, why not treat the other materials in our system the same way? Our ultimate aim is to send zero waste to landfill, so at our water treatment plant in Great Billing we’ve started turning sewage sludge into bio-solids that can be used to fertilize agricultural land. We’ve also started using the biogas from the digestion process to power the plant, with enough left over to put back into the national grid. We see this kind of innovation as key to Anglian Water’s future business and we will continue to work with our customers and employees in ways that inspire them to help us make a difference.