This article was originally published on the World Forum on Natural Capital


“Yorkshire Water is one of the UK’s largest water companies, providing 5 million domestic customers and 140,000 businesses with 1.3 billion litres of clean water every day. To do this, it’s vital that we manage our 671 treatment works, 83,000km of pipework and 28,000 ha land sustainably: ensuring that the region can always rely on a supply of safe water and reliable waste water management at an affordable price, despite the pressures of climate change and a growing population.

Managing this amount of land and infrastructure requires constant decision-making, choosing between large numbers of potential options to deliver solutions which maintain our service levels and represent value for customers, without degrading the natural environment or the communities in which we operate and on which we depend. To ensure that we’re making the most of opportunities for innovation and improvement, and to make sure societal value and the natural world are at the heart of everything we do, we have adopted a Capitals model, embedding assessments of natural, social, human and intellectual, financial and manufactured capitals into our strategic planning and decision-making. As part of our new focus on the Capitals, we have been working on sustainable accounting methods: quantifying and, where possible and appropriate, monetising, our impacts on the environment and society. On our journey towards an integrated ‘total value’ accounting and reporting system, the Natural Capital Protocol has been an essential resource: helping us to understand the importance of natural capital and to structure our approach to managing it.

 

In 2016 we were one of about 50 companies globally to pilot the draft Natural Capital Protocol (NCP), working with AECOM and using the NCP to frame an evaluation of alternative options for enhancing capacity at our Rivelin water treatment works. The biggest challenge here was collating the information needed to apply the Protocol, both internally and externally, and finding appropriate and robust value estimates from other cases that could be applied in the Rivelin context.  However, through this case study, we have collated a body of valuation evidence that we can draw on for other projects; and have developed a better understanding of how the Protocol can guide natural capital assessments.

Earlier this year we applied the Protocol to a land management opportunity: working with Arup to quantify the environmental and social costs and benefits of different development options for a sludge landfill site at Burnby Lane. This presented a new set of challenges and opportunities, including using the Protocol to evaluate a less constrained set of options, and considering how to set spatial boundaries without disregarding geographical context.

Following the success of these two studies, we embarked on our most ambitious project yet: investigating how the Capitals approach could help us with formulating a recreation strategy in the Little Don area in the Peak District. The Little Don area includes the Langsett, Midhope and Underbank reservoirs, and is a popular site for both local visitors and tourists. Yorkshire Water’s Little Don Recreation Plan aims to promote health, fitness, and wellbeing by creating opportunities for outdoor recreation that is inclusive and open to all. We worked with AECOM to create a model to compare options for the area. The model goes beyond financial considerations to value impacts on people’s health and well-being, job creation, the local economy, and the natural environment. Having created this capitals valuation model for Little Don, we are now using it in other areas of the business, including to investigate land management options for some of our operational sites.  The process of valuing natural, social and human capital flows in monetary terms can be resource intensive and challenging, but it brings the environment and society to the forefront of decision-making, illuminating the scale of costs and benefits and revealing the nature and significance of trade-offs in a universally understood language…”

Read on at: World Forum on Natural Capital.