Yorkshire Water is one of the largest regulated water and waste water companies in the UK, supplying five million domestic customers in 2.1million properties and 140,000 business premises.

The utility company provides some of life’s most essential services to the people and businesses of the Yorkshire and Humberside region. In doing so, they play a key role in the region’s health, wellbeing and prosperity.

Yorkshire Water became a Sustainable Futures Partner in 2016 with the aim to build relationships with the supply chain and share their knowledge of water management and sustainable cultivation techniques with farmers growing raw materials.

We interviewed Andrew Walker about his role as Catchment Strategy Manager and Yorkshire Water’s experience of being a Sustainable Futures Partner.


Please describe your role as Catchment Strategy Manager within the business.

My job is to identify, develop and implement catchment-based solutions to stabilise or improve water quality at the source, in order to minimise our customers’ bills. This involves working with multiple stakeholders who may have conflicting priorities and I work to break down those barriers and identify solutions that will benefit stakeholders and Yorkshire Water customers alike.


Why did your business choose to become a partner of Sustainable Futures?

The Sustainable Futures programme has given Yorkshire Water a unique opportunity to engage with, and influence, a sector that has a significant impact on how Yorkshire farmland is managed. Over the last 3 years, Yorkshire Water has made tremendous progress in breaking down perceptions over how the Upland landscapes are managed, which led to the production of the Government’s Blanket Bog Restoration strategy. We believe the Sustainable Futures initiative will initiate the replication of that process in the Lowland landscapes to protect and enhance farmland soils.


Which Sustainable Futures Activities have you been involved in and how have they informed you and your business?

I have spoken at several Sustainable Futures events, including the Sustainable Futures Conference 2017, about sustainability challenges that surround water and land management. In autumn of 2017, we are hosting Sustainable Futures events at a Yorkshire Water water treatment works near York. At the event, we will demonstrate the processes that Yorkshire Water uses to remove  23,000 tonnes of sediment from the Ouse and Derwent rivers each year, which equates to 11 Ha of farmland being washed away each year. The Sustainable Futures partners will discuss and identify potential solutions to reduce the amount of farmland that is being lost.


Can you explain why investing in supply chain sustainably is important for growing your business?

From a business perspective, we supply a lot of the supply chain with water and wastewater services. Yorkshire Water work to support our supply chain customers in becoming more sustainable and Sustainable Futures is helping us build links with the supply chain to do this. Additionally, we want to work with the supply chain to help society recognise the services that the environment provides in the United Kingdom and invests back into the environment so that it can deliver those services for generations to come.


What are the benefits to your business of working collaboratively at a pre-competitive level with other brands on topics relating to supply chain sustainability?

Through the work Yorkshire Water has undertaken in the Uplands, we have shown that collaborative and open partnerships can deliver for everyone. By educating key stakeholders on the impacts agriculture can have on Lowland soils, and working together to implement measures to improve the sustainability of land management, we can make farming more profitable, make the supply chain more sustainable, and ensure better quality water in our rivers and aquifers.


Has your business met goals as a result of being a partner of Sustainable Futures? If so, can you tell us about them?

Being a partner of Sustainable Futures has helped build our engagement opportunities with the agricultural sector on a landscape scale.  Working together to promote and implement best farming practice is already making a positive difference to the farmland of Yorkshire. This now needs to be rolled out over a large area to have a significant impact and develop long-term benefits. Sustainable Futures is making this happen.


Looking to the future, describe 3 areas of supply chain activity which you think can be improved or changed to increase sustainability?

A. The supply chain needs to improve its awareness and knowledge of the effect that food and drink production have on the environment. We need to encourage supply chain partners to invest back into the landscape and the farmers who provide their raw materials.

B. There is a need to be more innovative around supporting the agricultural community in farming more sustainably. Maybe an eco-credits system would work within the supply chain, for example by offering interest-free loans for farmers to invest in better machinery. Or possibly by rewarding sustainable land management operations through business tax relief.

C. Create partnerships across the whole landscape and supply chain to share resources and, in turn, reduce costs.  Specifically, I would like to see a better link between the Uplands and the Lowlands. For example, proactive off wintering programmes for upland sheep on lowland cover crops which would be beneficial for all concerned.


What other areas of your business have you reviewed in an effort to be more sustainable?

We have embraced the Natural Capital approach to valuing our activities. For example, we are building a new treatment works near Sheffield which will have a living green roof. It will not only be visually attractive but also support pollinator species in the local area.  We have also taken a new approach to managing our Rural Estate – we’ve called it Beyond Nature, and the aim of it reflects the outcomes approach we developed in the Uplands, whereby we will seek to optimise the specific outcomes identified for each location.


What is your personal motive to be part of a more sustainable food and drinks industry?

I consider myself extremely lucky to have played a role in shaping a more sustainable future for the Uplands, where everybody – including internationally important habitats – wins. The pressures that are put on the landscape by some agricultural practices and development has resulted in soil quality depletion, however, with new innovations and education, we can improve the management of the landscape to benefit people and the environment. Together, businesses, organisation, farmers and consumers can make a difference, and I would like to play a role in shaping a future where the value of farmers and the goods they produce is recognised, as is the importance of the soils that grow these crops.