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Social Purpose: A View from the Supply Chain

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Halfway through the Institute of Water’s Social Purpose week we hear from Lila Thompson, CEO of British Water

As water companies strive to fulfil the commitments of their individual social purpose pledges and the sector-wide Public Interest Commitment, I am seeing positive changes in how they collaborate with the supply chain.

This shift is encouraging but it must continue to build, so that the skills at all levels of our sector are combined and utilised, maximising the benefits for customers, the environment and wider society.

In setting out what public value means, Ofwat said companies should “look for ways to deliver more social and environmental value by conducting their core activities differently”. Its 2019 Time to Act Together report highlighted using nature-based solutions rather than hard infrastructure in water and wastewater treatment processes, as just one example of a new approach that could be taken. Harnessing the expertise of the supply chain in the delivery of such projects is key to driving the creation of a socially purposeful industry.

The supply chain itself will be examining water company social commitments as they look to incorporate similar values into their own organisations if they haven’t already. Speaking at an Indepen 2019 conference about the creation of a social contract for water, I challenged water companies to create space for their staff to think and act differently about how they procured, as a race to the bottom on price was far from the value-based thinking that a public purpose demands. My recent conversations with the supply chain tell me that much still needs to be done in this area and to engage suppliers as early as possible at the design stage and keep them updated on project pipelines.

Seeking to lead by example, British Water is passionate about its inhouse initiatives that positively impact society, including campaigns to support and mentor women in water. Our Women on Water campaign has been running successfully since 2018 and we are proud a partner of the 30% Club cross-company mentoring programme which this year will offer opportunities to those from underrepresented groups under the ‘Mission Include’ programme.

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