Leadership and skills – embarking on the low carbon journey

Anglian Water is aiming to reduce carbon from new facilities by 50%

David Riley, carbon manager, Anglian Water and member of the Green Construction Board’s Infrastructure Working Group has seven steps for making a difference.

Anglian Water’s carbon reduction initiative has its origins in a board-level decision, but it has been spread across the business and turned into a success by tapping into the leadership potential of our staff and suppliers. Carbon reduction is now embedded in all Anglian Water projects.

In 2006 our then CEO identified climate change and population growth as the most pressing issues Anglian Water would face over the coming 25 years. Against a backdrop of increasing water scarcity, global demand for fresh water was predicted to grow 30% by 2030. We needed strategies to meet those challenges in an affordable way. As a result, in 2010 we launched a set of 10 ambitious targets to transform our business into a water company for the 21st century.

Two of these targets related directly to carbon: To reduce our operational carbon emissions by 10% in real terms and our capital carbon by 50% by 2015, measured against a 2010 baseline. (Our target for the next five years is to cut capital carbon by 60%, measured against the 2010 baseline).

We were sure that the skills and ingenuity to deliver these targets existed, but – as the Infrastructure Carbon Review makes clear – circumstantial barriers were preventing solutions from being released. Providing and encouraging leadership was one of the strategies we used to change that. We learned that leaders can come from anywhere, if the right opportunities and encouragements exist to draw them out.

Seven steps for fostering carbon leadership

1.  Set targets worthy of an industry leader

Establishing truly ambitious goals was Anglian Water’s first act of carbon reduction leadership. Aiming to reduce carbon by 10% or 20% does not create significant movement away from ‘business as usual’ – real step change requires disruptive targets. Striving for carbon reductions of 50% or 60% can be daunting, but the challenge of meeting these intimidating goals is what forces real innovation to happen.

2. Reward carbon-cutting behaviours

Anglian Water took steps to reward the behaviours it wanted to see from its own staff, for example by establishing awards schemes which recognised achievements in carbon reduction. Although many companies have internal award schemes, few have seized their potential to formally acknowledge and incentivise carbon-cutting behaviours.


3. Lead through project governance

Carbon reduction has been incorporated into project governance structures: Engineers are forced to address carbon as projects must hit defined targets in order to pass certain gateways. Governance processes have been imposed from above, but they also give engineers the opportunity and the permission to provide ‘bottom-up’ leadership by putting forward their innovative ideas.


4.  Develop essential expertise and skills

Leaders have to understand carbon – and help others to understand it too. Internal master classes for staff, and external workshops across the supply chain, were held to build understanding and to stimulate thinking about carbon reduction, getting current leaders up to speed and incubate low carbon leadership among staff and delivery partners.


5.  Empower early adopters

Turn people who are passionate about carbon into champions for the cause. People who are enthusiastic naturally lead by example, inspiring the ‘early followers’ around them to replicate their efforts to reduce carbon. Persuading naysayers to embrace new ideas requires massive effort for relatively small gain, whereas recognising and empowering people who are natural carbon leaders can expedite culture change. Eventually, everyone will get the message.


6.  Communicate your aims and give permission

Innovation within the supply chain needs to be invited and rewarded. It is not obvious to everyone that innovation is welcome – an issue highlighted in the ICR, with suppliers saying they don’t know how to put innovations forward for consideration by those higher up the food chain, or feeling that suggestions will be rebuffed. Intentions and opportunities to create change must be clearly communicated by clients to their service and product suppliers, and from senior to junior staff.


7.   Challenge your specifications

If you’re inviting innovation it is important that suppliers are able to challenge your specifications. Specifications exist to assure compliance, but they can act as constraints as well as safeguards. Anglian Water has created a culture, supported by effective governance, that enables suppliers to rethink standard products. On one occasion, separate product suppliers repeatedly competed to outdo each other by producing solutions with ever lower carbon and cost.

It has become clear that, when strong, clear leadership is provided and given the correct support, it is possible to push the limits repeatedly, cutting carbon and cost without damaging revenue or profit.

Measure, manage and reduce 

Carbon modelling has been invaluable for informing our reduction plans and tracking progress. Operational carbon modelling is common, but leading organisations also measure capital (also known as embodied) carbon. This can be more complex, but the additional value gained makes it well worth pursuing. 

For example, prior to modelling capital carbon, we would have assumed that greatest impact on the capital carbon footprint of a water main was the choice of materials used for the pipeline. However, our carbon models revealed that only up to 11% of capital carbon was in a pipeline itself, while 89% was associated with the excavation, laying and backfill activities during installation. This information showed us where to focus our attention to make the greatest strides in carbon reduction.

For more on crunching carbon, cutting cost talk to Davide Stronati, Mott MacDonald Group sustainability manager. 


Leadership is a wide term under which we are able to build a strong personality. Every human being needs a great leadership power; therefore in every organization we need a strong leader who is capable to handle different types of odd situations. So the importance of leadership is quite essential for every organization.