Festival highlights spirit of environmental innovation

Northumbrian Water Group’s first Innovation Festival proved there’s no shortage of ideas to protect and enhance the environment. Now we need to put the best ones into practice, says Heidi Mottram

As a business that takes its raw material – water – from the water catchments around us and is then responsible for treating the used product and making it suitable for return to the natural world, the environment is at the heart of everything we do.

So, when Nigel Watson, our director of information services, told me about his idea to run a week-long Innovation Festival, it was clear that we could – and should – make the environment central to what we hoped to achieve.

The result was an event that brought together innovation, collaboration and leading edge technology in a global first that left attendees and partners inspired.

We were joined by a wide range of individuals, from some of the world’s best known businesses, academia and our own customers, to tackle a range of issues that affect us all.

These were flooding, water leakage, infrastructure, life and work in 2030, green cities, and mobile workforces. Every one of these impacts on the environment in one way or another.

With more than 25 partner companies getting involved and around 400 attendees per day at the festival to help address these challenges, it is clear that our passion for the environment is matched by many others.

Hundreds of ideas were discussed over the course of the week, with 18 workable projects presented to guests at the end of the festival, to be taken forward and developed with partners.

These included community advocates who can help people to understand the flooding issues relevant to their community, and how they can play their part in reducing flood risk, as well as providing tips for a better response.

Innovation isn’t just about new, shiny technology or faster computers. It is about looking at new ways of doing something, in order to achieve better or different results

We will also be looking at new ways to cut water leakage, through prioritisation of key areas, while the team tackling 21st century infrastructure is looking at developing a number of ways in which we can better understand the networks of utilities beneath the ground, to improve the co-ordination of maintenance and upgrade work.

From our ‘How Green Is Your City?’ team, ideas included the installation of special ‘moss trees’ that absorb pollution, as well as a text message and app system to encourage car sharing and other ways of reducing work-related travel.

Innovation isn’t just about new, shiny technology or faster computers. It is about looking at new ways of doing something, in order to achieve better or different results. Innovative thinking can be applied to almost anything, including the enhancement and protection of the world around us.

So many great things are already being done by the water industry to protect and enrich the environment, such as sustainable drainage techniques, where the natural world is enhanced to divert water away from sewer networks.

However, there is always room to do more. Now, by working with organisations and individuals from outside of the industry, we have brought in new ideas and also spread the benefits of our methods to other sectors.

Now that the festival itself is over, there is a lot of hard work ahead. We are determined to start developing many of these ideas and more, to see which ones can be made to work for the environment and all who live in it.

What was great to hear throughout the festival was that this ambition is shared by those partners involved. And when you are talking about companies like IBM, Microsoft, BT, Ordnance Survey. CGI Group and Reece Innovation, that’s a substantial force that can ultimately benefit the environment.

As well as the headline sponsors mentioned already, the NWG Innovation Festival was also delivered in association with Newcastle University, Durham University, Genesys, Interserve in partnership with Amec Foster Wheeler, Costain Resources, PC1, Tech Mahindra, Mott MacDonald Bentley (MMB), Wipro, Virgin Media Business, Schneider, Wheatley Solutions, Sopra Steria, Accenture, 1Spatial, Infosys, Unify, ITPS, Esh-MWH, and Pen Test Partners.

Photo credit: Neil Denham 

Heidi Mottram

Heidi Mottram

Chief executive, Northumbrian Water Group

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