Environment Climate change Environmental management Waste management Conservation Integrated water cycle management

Climate change

Climate change is a significant issue in the South East because global warming could lead to changes in our weather with an increased threat of droughts and flooding.

Southern Water - Bewl Water, Kent

The Met Office has stated that the first decade of the 21st century was the warmest on record. Monthly average atmospheric levels of carbon dioxide topped 400 parts per million for the first time in April 2014.

The sea is predicted to rise by one metre this century, exposing millions more people to flooding, and, by 2080, annual rainfall in the South East could drop by half.

We're making plans to cope with the increased threat of droughts and flooding to ensure there are sufficient water supplies to go round and reduce the risk of sewer flooding to homes and gardens.

Water industry

The water industry accounts for nearly 1% of the UK greenhouse gas emissions and has an important role to play in reducing emissions in order to meet the UK target of reducing greenhouse gases by 80% by 2050.

The publication of the Climate Change Act in 2008 requires all water companies to adapt to ensure water supplies are maintained and sewer networks are robust.

We're working hard to minimise our carbon production by investing in our current operations and in renewable forms of energy.

We're one of the largest users of energy in the South East due to the significant amounts of energy needed to pump water and wastewater around the region and treat it to the high standards for our customers.

During 2016–17, we produced 245 kilotonnes of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. This is our lowest level in five consecutive years and is due to:

  • Our energy efficiency measures,
  • The generation of renewable energy on our sites for our use  
  • Cleaner power from the National Grid 

Our carbon emissions target for 2015 to 2020 is, as a minimum, not to exceed 2015 emission levels despite population growth and increased treatment standards.

This target was developed after listening to what our customers wanted in our 2015-20 business plan.

Our approach is to counteract increases in energy demand by focusing on energy efficiency and increasing renewable energy generation. Our 2015 emissions were 281 kilotonnes of CO2e (carbon dioxide equivalent). The chart below shows a breakdown of our emissions for 2016-17. The reported emissions covers all our offices and operational sites in Kent, Sussex, Hampshire and the Isle of Wight for the 12 months from April 2016 to March 2017.

Emission sourceKilotonnes CO2e (carbon dioxide equivalent)
On site fossil fuel combustion 3
Process emissions 62
Owned transport 4
Grid electricity 154
Business travel 0.5
Outsourced activities 13
Gross emissions 251
Renewable energy exported to grid 6
Net emissions 245

Reducing our carbon footprint

We are undertaking multi-million pound investments in carbon offsetting and energy efficiency schemes between 2015 and 2020 to help manage our carbon footprint.

CHP units take biogas created during the digestion stage of the wastewater treatment process and use it to provide 80% of the power used on site. Any surplus is exported to the National Grid.

We have replaced three CHP units with larger more efficient ones and added two new CHP engines in 2017. This allows us to generate more renewable energy and use less electricity from the National Grid.

As a result, we now produce approximately 75 million kilowatt hours of electricity and save approximately 33,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent each year.

We're increasing our generation of renewable energy and recoverable energy to offset our overall energy use

In 2016-17 we generated 17% of our power from renewable energy by using gas generated from wastewater treatment. This meant we have met and exceeded our customer promise and target of 16.3% renewables for the year.

We’re reducing our heavy vehicle movements

A key component of waste water treatment is removing solid material from sewage. We transport separated solids from rural Waste Water Treatment Works to regional Recycling Centres by road, where they are processed to release methane gas which we use as a renewable energy source. Moving solids around the Southern Water region is one of our core business activities and results in numerous heavy vehicle movements.

We take every opportunity to increase the dry solid content of transported material by optimising processes at source – this in turn reduces the volume of material that requires transportation. Successful thickening schemes in 2016 helped to avoid 22,000 miles of heavy vehicle movements across our region. This is equivalent to approximately 30 tonnes of CO2 and has the same greenhouse emissions impact of an average UK passenger vehicle driving for 69,000 miles.

Please email us at optimisation@southernwater.co.uk to find out more about how we’re putting our ongoing commitment to sustainability into practice.

Carbon Trust Standard

We were awarded the Carbon Trust Standard in November 2017, acknowledging our achievement in reducing our carbon emissions.

Southern Water - Carbon Trust Standard awardWe've earned the Carbon Trust Standard four times, recognising our on-going efforts to reduce our impact on the environment.

The Carbon Trust Standard certifies that an organisation has genuinely reduced its carbon emissions and is committed to making further reductions year on year.

Reporting emissions

We are a participant in the CRC Energy Efficiency Scheme, a government initiative which encourages industry in the UK to cut emissions and reduce energy consumption.

In total, 2,800 companies are part of the scheme. These organisations are responsible for around 10% of the UK's carbon emissions.

Each year, we report our emissions from fossil fuels to government and purchase around £3.5 million of allowances to cover our emissions. You can find out more about the scheme on the Department for Energy and Climate Change website.

CRC Energy Efficiency Scheme  

Southern Water - pumping station in Brighton

This year we have installed solar power at three of our large water treatment centres. The power we generate from our new solar panels will be used on site in Southern Water's treatment processes. The capacity from all three sites equates to 4 megawatts - the equivalent to providing power for 1,000 homes for an entire year. This will save over 1,900 tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent each year.

We're being more efficient in how we use energy, and embracing innovative technology solutions.

We’re proud to run an annual site energy optimisation programme. Each year we conduct detailed energy assessments at our key energy consuming sites. This process yields fantastic energy saving opportunities: like limiting the run times of certain items of non-critical plant, and identifying where small operational changes can result in big energy savings.

A concentrated effort since 2014 has meant that we have been able to reduce energy consumption at our high consuming sites by an average of 13GWh per year, that’s an energy equivalent of 26 trips to the international space station!

We are also working with our supply chain and infrastructure partners to incorporate more innovative energy-efficient technologies into our business, including increasing biogas and renewable energy yields through additional treatment processes, and using our own assets to help balance the demand on the national grid helping to ensure that our region maintains a reliable and efficient source of power.

Our region received 260% of its historical average rainfall during the winter of 2013–14 after some of the worst weather on record.

Southern Water - flooding in Lewes

During the extreme weather, we had to tanker and pump stormwater to prevent it overwhelming our sewers and people’s homes.

Damage caused by flooding in 2007 cost the UK economy £3.2 billion. Following these floods, Sir Michael Pitt was asked to carry out an independent review by the Government into what happened and what should be done differently in the future.

Surface Water Management Plans

Recommendations from the Pitt Review included the production of Surface Water Management Plans for high risk areas. 

Defra has funded the development of a number of Surface Water Management Plans in our region.

Local authorities

Local authorities are responsible for producing the plans, in collaboration with the Environment Agency and the water industry.

We're currently working with the relevant county councils and unitary authorities to help develop these plans. Read more about those that are under way below.

East Sussex  
Hampshire and Isle of Wight  
West Sussex  

To adapt to changes in the climate, we need to make better use of existing resources and develop new ways of supplying extra water with minimal impact on the environment.

We're closely monitoring weather patterns and water use to ensure the company has sufficient resources to meet the demand for water in the South East.

We do this through our Water Resources Management Plan (WRMP).

The WRMP is a 25-year plan and is updated every five years in coordination with our Business Plan. It includes our plans to secure drinking water and reduce leakage, as well as to meet future challenges, eg:

  • Climate change
  • Population growth
  • New legislation.

We published our WRMP for 2015–40 in October 2014. It underwent public consultation between May and August 2013, during which time we spoke to thousands of customers and community groups.

Download the plan  
Latest water resources information  

Our metering programme

As the population of the South East continues to rise, the amount of water we need to supply will increase even further, placing more pressure on local rivers and the already stressed natural environment.

We installed water meters for the majority of our customers in a five-year programme – an important part of our plans to manage water demand.

By reducing the demand for water, our metering programme is also helping to manage the power consumption of our water treatment works.

People on a meter tend to reduce the amount of water they use by 10%.


Tackling leakage is also a priority. We continue to deliver some of our lowest ever levels of leakage. Find out how leaks occur and who is responsible for repairing them.

Water efficiency

We help customers understand how to save water through our community activities and information on our website.

Check out how to make your home more water efficient.