HomeInterviewHenry Badman, Thames Water: Change Takes Time, But It Starts With A Vision

Henry Badman, Thames Water: Change Takes Time, But It Starts With A Vision

Henry Badman, the Public Value Manager of Thames Water, talks about CSR and sustainability practices at Thames Water. With nearly 10 years of work experience in the environment and sustainability field, Badman has a lot to share on how companies can integrate CSR effectively in their work culture.

What are some of the steps every business should take to become more sustainable?

Henry Badman: I would always start with a clear idea of your motivation – why are you interested in sustainability? Whether it is to respond to PR-type pressure or a desire to truly change things, to save money, to better serve customers, whatever the motivation is, it will set the scale of your ambition. All answers are valid, but it’s important to be clear as change takes time and you may need to return to the vision. In the current lexicon, I guess you’d say this is the ‘start with your why’ idea or being ‘purpose-led’. This will make communication and buy-in from your internal stakeholders a lot easier as you can sell them a clear vision.

In terms of actions, the first and often most complex step is to understand what you’re currently doing. This is not always a simple thing to understand, particularly if you have extended supply chains or a big spread of core functions.

If a medium to large company were to start on that journey today, how long would you expect such a process to take and what are the things to consider in today’s environment?

Henry Badman: There is no set time frame and I think you need to be prepared for this to take time. The good news is that most companies are not starting from scratch – even if they don’t realise it. Audits can be done quickly in weeks or months. But agreeing on actions and then doing them can take years. In large part due to supply chain contracts – these can take time to amend.

What are some of the steps that Thames Water is taking and what is the impact you have seen?

Henry Badman: Operating in a regulated industry where you rely on the environment for your core business activity presents both challenges and opportunities. What we do have are fairly instant cues as to whether we’re operating sustainable – i.e. is the reservoir full, is the river flow low, are we keeping our people happy and safe, have we got the funds to deliver our plans, etc.

In practical terms, we’ve done a lot of work on our supply chain to make reporting of carbon emissions, etc a requirement. We’re on a journey to reduce single-use plastic across the business – this includes in our own offices. We’ve renewed our IT and with this comes a better recycling programme.

What are the 3-5 lessons you would like to share in the space of sustainability?

Henry Badman: Get senior manager buy-in. Identify champions. Make it real to the business – in my experience, the best sustainability agendas are those that are delivered as part of the business core function. Ideally, as sustainability practitioners, our aim should be to make ourselves redundant because if we’ve done our job right then the business becomes sustainable, diverse and inclusive as part of its BAU.

What would you say are the main pillars of sustainability in the UK, where are we lagging behind and what are we doing well?

Henry Badman: We have a good track record at leading at an international scale and have a lot of expertise in the UK. We also have a growing weight of public support for social and environmental issues. The scale of ambition of the government has sometimes lagged behind, for instance with:

  • plastic recycling schemes;
  • electric charging point roll-out;
  • greywater harvesting;
  • SuDS adoption;
  • circular economy thinking.

… but this seems to be shifting. Recently, we have seen a flurry of seemingly ambitious government announcements but a lack of clarity on how these will be delivered – for instance on net-zero carbon.

I think the UK has lagged behind in this area and maintained a business as usual approach to the big sustainability questions. I think the UK is due a shock when the impact of these policy announcements begins to bite – illustrated well by the recent challenge to the Heathrow expansion. Will we be seeing more interventions like this in the future – watch this space…

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