Interviews

Regional Government Initiatives Are Encouraging Companies to Join the Sustainability Wave

Naji Skaf, the Managing Director for Xylem Middle East and Turkey, speaks about the potential of technology to achieve sustainability

How does technology contribute to sustainability?
Technology has the potential to achieve sustainability at a large scale and over long periods. Speaking of the water industry in particular, we’ve seen the wide-reach impact of applying advanced data analytics, AI to digital control systems, and machine learning.

Utility companies that have taken the leap and actively adopted these tools have not only generated huge water, energy, and cost savings but have also been at the forefront of intelligent decision-making and sustainable operations in the region.

What sort of sustainability efforts does your company practice? 
As a company, Sustainability is at the core of everything we do — not just externally for our clients but internally as well. Over the years, we’ve worked hard to operationalize sustainability across our own company.

Xylem’s sustainability goals can be mapped out into three main pillars: customers, the company, and communities. All our efforts are directed towards positively impacting environmental and social outcomes in these three streams.

Within these three key areas of focus — we identified three critical, interconnected water challenges the global community is facing and we believe will be felt across our value chain: decarbonization, watershed resiliency and stewardship, and equity.

We are decarbonizing the water sector and mitigating future climate impacts by reducing Greenhouse Gas (GHG) released across our value chain and that of our customers. Within Xylem, we aim to achieve Net-Zero before 2050 across our value chain. We also help our customers reduce their carbon footprint with Xylem-curated solutions and we are empowering communities by aligning philanthropic partnerships to decarbonization, including nature-based climate solutions.

In the context of stewardship, Xylem is partnering on and providing innovative solutions to address water challenges already threatening the health of watersheds around the world. When it comes to equity, we strive for all people to have equitable access to water and sanitation services and to have a voice in the design and management of those services. Additionally, lead by example by creating an organization centered on diverse representation and inclusivity. To this end, we are committing 1 percent of our profits every year towards being sustainable and 1 percent of our employees’ time towards contributing to sustainability.

How can companies reduce their carbon footprint? Are there local or regional initiatives that encourage companies to adopt best practices?
Regionally, we’ve seen several government initiatives come into play to encourage companies to join the sustainability wave. However, there needs to be a top-down approach toward sustainability in companies. Instead of viewing sustainability measures as a cost centre, leaders must look at it as an opportunity to do good and meet the needs of the customer and the community.

In the water management sector, utilities need to look at their operations in a broader sense. At present, there is a lot of technology already available that can help lower emissions and drive more sustainable operations through high-quality water management. And through our products and services, we at Xylem are reaching both the water and the wastewater companies to ensure that they have to opportunity to ride the wave of breakthrough innovation and sustainability, through increasingly inter-operable solutions.

What challenges do companies face today in their journey toward net zero and how can technology help solve those issues?
For water utilities, reaching net zero will be a challenge. Water infrastructure accounts for about 2% of Green House Gas emissions – the same as the global shipping industry. Unlike most businesses, utilities aren’t just required to deliver on financial metrics. They must meet their communities’ needs for safe, affordable water and sanitation, while also complying with myriad regulatory requirements.

Those imperatives don’t pause for emissions reduction and they don’t have to. Utilities can reduce emissions quickly and affordably. With the right approaches and proven technologies, net zero is possible. Already, more than 80 water and wastewater utilities with have explicit net-zero and climate-neutrality targets, and of these, 26 have already joined the UN Race to Zero.

What factors can help companies advance toward their sustainability goals?
I think the first and most important factor is a change in the way sustainability is perceived. Once leaders understand how important sustainability goals are, it is easier for them to trickle through the entire organization.

Besides that, the adoption of technology is another important step on the road to sustainability. If we look at the energy sector or water management, technology is the only way you can improve operations and ensure that you’re running your business efficiently.

With the adoption of the right technology, companies also need to invest in monitoring/assessment tools that can offer an in-depth analysis of how each function is performing. This can help companies trim any unnecessary excesses and make their operations even more efficient and sustainable.

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