United Utilities is first UK water firm given gold standard stamp of approval for carbon targets

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The global Science Based Targets initiative (SBTi) has given North West water firm, United Utilities, its stamp of approval for the company’s ambitious science-based emissions targets.

The SBTi defines and promotes best practice in science-based target setting and independently assesses companies’ targets.

Recognition from the SBTi – a collaboration between CDP, the United Nations Global Compact, World Resources Institute (WRI) and the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) - is widely accepted as providing the gold standard approval for emission reduction targets.

Science-based targets are in line with the latest climate science which states that greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions must halve from 2010 levels by 2030 and hit net zero by 2050 to prevent the most damaging effects of climate change.

As part of its long-standing focus on carbon reduction, United Utilities made six carbon pledges in 2020. The company is pushing beyond the traditional focus on energy to cover its whole carbon footprint and taking action across its fleet, land and supply chain.

Its six pledges include the company’s commitment to the science-based approach, and four specific targets that the SBTi has now independently validated:
1. To reduce absolute scope 1 and scope 2 GHG emissions by 42 per cent by 2030 from a 2020 base year.
2. To increase annual sourcing of renewable electricity from 95 per cent in 2020 to 100 per cent by 2023.
3. That 66 per cent of suppliers by emissions within scope 3 capital goods, will have science-based targets by 2025.
4. To reduce absolute scope 3 GHG emissions covering all other scope 3 categories by 25 per cent by 2030 from a 2020 base year.

United Utilities’ environment planning and innovation director, Jo Harrison, commented: “The targets covering greenhouse gas emissions from operations (scopes 1 and 2) are consistent with reductions required to keep global warming to 1.5°C, the most ambitious goal of the Paris Agreement.

“Having targets based on climate-science means we know how much and how quickly we need to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions to play our part in preventing the worst impacts of climate change.

“Validation from the SBTi provides independent expert verification that our targets and performance are following global best practice.”

In 2020/21 United Utilities generated 205GWh of green electricity, providing around 25 per cent of its electricity needs. Nearly all of its remaining electricity came from renewable sources. It is also trialling alternative fuels such as Bio-CNG (Compressed natural gas) and HVO (Hydrotreated vegetable oil) to replace fossil fuels used in treatment processes. Cleaner fuels for transport will have the added benefit of reducing emissions of particulate matter and nitrogen oxides (NOx) which help to improve air quality for local communities.

The water and wastewater firm is already working with suppliers, such as Sapphire Utility Solutions, to roll out lower emission resolution vehicles. Its collaboration with Changemaker 3D will reduce the carbon impacts of construction projects through on-site 3D printing of made-to-measure objects from sustainable concrete.

United Utilities
United Utilities is the UK’s largest listed water company and manages the regulated water and wastewater network in North West England – which includes Cumbria, Cheshire, Greater Manchester, Lancashire and Merseyside with a combined population of nearly seven million. United Utilities’ headquarters are in Warrington. Its shares are listed on the London Stock Exchange and the FTSE 100 Index.


More information about the company’s carbon and climate change initiatives and performance can be found on pages 86-99 of its 2021 Annual report. The company is also an early adopter of the voluntary best practice guidance from the Task force for Climate-related Financial Disclosures (TCFD).


United Utilities’ six carbon pledges
• Pledge 1 - Commitment to meet science based emission targets (scope 1 & 2) 42 per cent reduction by 2030; 100 per cent reduction by 2050
• Pledge 2 - Commitment that 100 per cent of electricity used will be renewable by (the end of) 2021
• Pledge 3 - 100 per cent green fleet by 2028
• Pledge 4 - Restoration of a further 1000 hectares of peatland by 2030
• Pledge 5 - Plant 1 million trees creating 550 hectares of woodland by 2030
• Pledge 6 - Set a scope 3 science based target by (the end of)2021.

Greenhouse gas emission scopes
• Scope 1 emissions) are those from activities we own or control, including those from our treatment processes, company vehicles, and burning of fossil fuels for heating.
• Scope 2 emissions are Indirect emissions produced as a consequence of electricity we purchase to power our treatment plants
• Scope 3 are emissions that occur in the value chain for instance products and services we buy, travel on company business and waste generated in operation.

Science Based Targets initiative
The Science Based Targets initiative (SBTi) is a collaboration between CDP, the United Nations Global Compact, World Resources Institute (WRI) and the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF). The SBTi defines and promotes best practice in science-based target setting and independently assesses companies’ targets.