What leaders think
What have been some of the key learnings for you since the UK fully re-opened over the summer?
For me, one of the biggest areas of learning has been how quickly we have all adapted to the new normal. As rules have relaxed and we have gone back into offices and got back onto planes, confidence is returning and we owe that to our amazing scientists and their pioneering work to develop vaccines. I have a quote on my office wall that reads “None of us is as powerful as all of us are together” and how true that is right now. By collaborating, sharing and innovating together, we now have five lifesaving vaccines -some of them developed by female scientists providing brilliant female role models to attract women into Science based subjects and careers – a great opportunity that we need to capitalise on.
As we move forward from the pandemic and look to the future, what business opportunity most excites you?
The pandemic has been a real test for so many but it has brought into sharp focus how precious and fragile society and the environment are. COP 26 is a really exciting opportunity for us all to come together and collectively address the environmental challenges that we all face and gain commitment from all the world’s leaders for a better future. With that comes the need for all businesses, big or small, to change how they operate and how they deliver to enable Net Zero obligations. I think the level of innovation we all need to harness to deliver a better future is what excites me most.
Given the important part that technology has played in all sectors during the pandemic, how do you envisage technology developing in your organisation going forward?
We have all become much more tech savvy through the last 18 months. From how we interact with service providers, to how we can now access medical information on apps with copies of our vaccinations – we have all had to evolve. One of the most positive legacies from the pandemic has been the advancement of digitisation and more importantly our practical use and interaction with technology on a day to day basis. United Utilities is no different. We have seen great growth rates in our digital channels and seamless interaction across these channels as customers move from video calls to social media, to apps. But for me, it’s not just about technology, it is the benefit of having, understanding and utilising data and the benefits that companies can drive in communities by providing open data.
Water companies have played a leading role with Public Health, tracing levels of Covid in the sewerage system across the country. We can see two weeks ahead of Covid levels spiking in a particular community by assessing what the levels of Covid are purely by what is passing through our bodies and ending up at the sewerage works. By testing and understanding the sewerage that arrives, we can understand the levels of Covid and the type in a particular geography including those that are not even systematic. By making this data and information public, we can share vital public health information enabling the right decisions to be made. It’s not just about technology, it’s about data. If we can collaborate and share data going forward, we can find new uses and applications for information, which I think is really exciting.
With sustainability and ESG being more prevalent on the Board agenda, what is your business doing to meet net zero carbon emission targets by 2050, if not earlier?
We’re proud to be signatories to the UN Race to Zero campaign. We are actively contributing to the UK water industry’s commitment to be net zero from 2030.
As part of our route to net zero, in 2020 we made six carbon pledges including our:
- Tree pledge – we’ll plant one million trees and create 550 hectares of woodland.
- Renewables pledge – delivering all your water and wastewater services, will use only green electricity by the end of 2021.
- Green fleet pledge – all of our vehicles will be powered by electricity or alternative fuel by 2028.
- Peat pledge – we’re going to restore 1,000 hectares of peat – peat’s perfect for capturing carbon.
- Emissions pledge – meeting science-based emissions targets in line with what the latest climate science says is needed to prevent the worst impacts of climate change.
- Partnership pledge – we’re working together with our suppliers and employees to prevent the worst impacts of climate change.
How has your business changed in its approach to employee wellbeing during the pandemic and what will it continue to do more of in the future?
The great thing about my job is that I focus on the needs of employees and customers and often those needs are the same. The North West has been hit really hard with Covid and our employees also felt those challenges – either themselves personally or through their friends and families.
Although we didn’t make anyone redundant or make use of the furlough scheme we recognised that colleagues’ families were impacted. To help, we launched our Staff Outreach Scheme (UU SOS), a fund which an employee could apply for to receive a one-off payment of up to £5,000 to help ease some of the significant financial burden they and their family experienced because of the effect of Covid. Over 150 colleagues benefited from this much needed financial support.
Senior Directors also sacrificed some of their salary to enable over 150,000 meals to be provided to the food bank to help customers in the North West who were struggling financially too but it’s not just about financial support.
The impacts for Covid will be faced for many years to come and for many the mental health challenges associated with grief, loneliness and fear are significant. We stepped up our mental health support during the pandemic, equipping managers with the tools they needed to continue the conversations about mental health and their wellbeing, albeit virtually.
In partnership with the MIND charity, we have also launched two e-learning packages to complement the existing training, support and resources. These courses help our employees to identify signs of poor mental health in themselves and others, and providing them with the additional support and resource they may need to support good mental health.
Our mental health support and provision has increased significantly over the last couple of months, and this is something we are committed to continuing.
Who or what has inspired you recently? (They don’t need to be famous)
Emma Raducanu – super cool, calm and collected and what a performance! There is something about the lack of fear from youth we can all learn from. Sometimes if we have the courage to try we can win as she so brilliantly proved.
Hopefully you managed to have break over the summer, either abroad or a ‘stay cation’ – what was the highlight?
Greece – travelling again with my husband and just experiencing the joy of another country, different people and the joy of getting on a plane again. It was absolute bliss!
Which book have you read recently and why would you recommend it?
Going to be controversial and not recommend a book – I got introduced recently to the back catalogue of desert island discs. Absolutely brilliant! 30 minutes of some great people sharing their life stories and the music that’s important to them. Scientists, Public Servants, Medics, Journalists, Politicians the list is endless and if you steer away from the obviously famous, there are some amazing stories and words of wisdom. They are bitesize and great to listen to in the car or the train too.
What are you most looking forward to doing in 2022?
Connecting with colleagues, friends and family. We have lived our lives on Zoom for too long and we need to reconnect, refresh and respond to the infinite challenges that 2022 brings. What I do know is that we are more resilient and resourceful than we ever thought we were and, if we can channel that energy and innovation, there are some huge opportunities to seize.
Any words of wisdom?
“If you want rainbows sometimes you need to dance in the rain” – right now I am optimistic about the rainbows!