Sydney Water serves more than five million customers every day using a water and wastewater network of more than 47,000 km in total length.
And operating such a complex network, said Sydney Water Managing Director Roch Cheroux, requires a network of collaborative partnerships focusing on sustainable engineering, excellence in service delivery for customers, and environmental impact.
Speaking on the second day of Engineers Australia’s Climate Smart Engineering 2021 conference this month, Cheroux said partnerships with Indigenous groups and communities were particularly important to its service delivery.
“It’s important that all our projects embrace this perspective from a very early planning stage,” he said.
“This is important to ensure that our projects and the outcomes that we want to deliver to our customers … benefit from the knowledge, skills and the culture of Traditional Custodians.”
In addition to its reconciliation action plan, Cheroux said Sydney Water had set targets to create and improve economic and social outcomes for First Nations people, including around procurement.
“This plan helps us to meet our targets with regards to our business and supply chain,” he said.
“By 31st of December 23, we have committed to at least direct two per cent of our addressable spend to Aboriginal-owned businesses, or three per cent of our total number of goods and services contracts within our spend to Aboriginal-owned business.”
Cheroux said that means that through its procurement activities, Sydney Water supports hundreds of full-time employment opportunities for Aboriginal people — both directly and through its contractors. The utility also has internal employment targets for First Nations people.
One way Sydney Water was able to develop these partnerships, Cheroux said, was through the organisation Supply Nation, which works with its corporate and government members to build a prosperous, vibrant and sustainable Indigenous business sector.
“Supply Nation confirms that its registered businesses are owned by Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander people and they do regularly audit these businesses for any change in structure of ownership so that you can ensure that the First Nations people link is owned and solid,” he said.
“Through our membership, we can expand the number of First Nation owned businesses in our supply chain and, importantly, we can increase our annual spending.”
One example of how Sydney Water had benefited from this relationship was in its procurement of engineering services.
“We’re very proud to have been partnering with these First Nation business owners for some time. That includes the Brolton Group, with whom we celebrate a remarkable 20 years of successful partnership,” Cheroux said.
“They provide everything from civil works and industrial cleaning to traditional mechanical skills for our wastewater treatment plants and pumping stations.”
As well as using the industrial engineering services provided by Brolton Group, Cheroux said Sydney Water had partnered through Supply Nation with K.J. Scaffolding for 11 years.
“First Nations partnership is … really important because there’s a lot of knowledge here, and this knowledge is really critical in terms of climate change and how we adapt what we’re doing to the environment that we live in,” Cheroux said.
“Partnership with First Nations people is really critical, but partnership for us is a mindset, and we know that we don’t know everything at Sydney Water, and that’s why we are really opening our doors to partnership.”
Think globally, act locally
And while many of these partnerships operate on a local scale, Sydney Water has its sights on the impact of climate on the entire planet.
“We often hear the expression think globally and act locally,” Cheroux said.
“Sydney Water signed the United Nations global compact to fight climate change and other world challenges through the adoption of the compact’s Sustainable Development Goals. Our strategy completely aligned our projects and activities with these goals.”
These goals include not only addressing climate change, but also reducing inequality, creating sustainable cities, and providing clean water and sanitation.
“Sydney Water has also joined other Australian and New Zealand water utilities [and] with Water Services Association of Australia, and we have signed the Race to Zero commitment which was promoted quite a lot last week at COP26,” Cheroux said.
“This is a UN-backed global campaign, but it’s supported by a number of industries around the world that are all committed to reach net-zero emissions by 2050 or earlier. For us, it’s 2030.”
Sydney Water would need to work with partners to sustainably manage resources and improve communities for the future, he said.
“We welcome you to join us in delivering our vision — which is to create a better life.”