Breeding bacteria for energy efficiency is just one way the business is reducing their energy use.

Roseline Klein won the Energy Leadership Award at EECA's Large Energy Users Forum last year for her part in leading Auckland's Watercare towards more sustainable energy practices.

This year, far from resting on their laurels, Klein and the Watercare team are pushing the organisation to do even more to reduce its impact on the environment.

Watercare is New Zealand's largest water and wastewater service provider, supplying the Auckland region and the north of the Waikato with 365 million litres of drinking water and treating around 460 million litres of wastewater a day.

Over the past three years, the council-controlled organisation has rolled out an ambitious environmental programme aimed at reducing its energy use and carbon emissions and improving water efficiency.

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Klein, Head of Water Value in the Operations Team, has been at the forefront of this work, initiating the company's climate change strategy and leading energy efficiency projects: "Creating a sustainable future is what drives me. I am thrilled to work somewhere that has environmental values at the core of what it does every day."

This year, Watercare has rolled out its climate change adaptation and mitigation strategy. Watercare is a signatory of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals as well as the Climate Leaders Coalition and is aiming to reach net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 through a combination of planting eight million trees, reduced infrastructure carbon, treatment process changes and energy improvement initiatives.

CEO Raveen Jaduram is passionate about reducing the organisation's impact on the environment: "A sustainable approach underpins our role as a lifeline services provider. We have our eyes wide open to the challenges of climate change. As a business, we are not only adapting but also doing our bit to reduce its impact by reducing our carbon emissions."

In 2015, with the backing of Raveen and the leadership team, Watercare's board made 'Fully Sustainable' one of the organisation's four strategic priorities.

Energy is one of Watercare's largest costs, at around $16m annually. The team began to challenge the way energy was managed in their processes and in 2016 Watercare partnered with the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Authority (EECA), with a vision to be industry leaders in energy efficiency.

EECA Account Manager Amber Williams commends Watercare's progress and commitment to achieving their targets: "By working together for the last three years, we have helped Watercare achieve significant energy savings - and they are committed to at least match those savings again in the next three years.

"It has been inspiring to see them set targets to keep them accountable, and I commend Roseline and Raveen's work to ensure that the culture around working towards more sustainable practices is seen as 'business as usual'."

Several key projects have helped Watercare reduce its emissions and improve energy efficiency. A project is under way to ensure both the Mangere and Rosedale wastewater treatment plants will be energy neutral by 2025.

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This involves changing treatment processes to decrease their energy requirements and increase energy generation to reach self-sufficiency. To achieve this, the team has begun breeding anammox, a type of bacteria which shortcuts the chemical reaction in wastewater treatment.

As well as working on core processes such as pumping and aeration, Watercare has invested in electrifying vehicle fleet cars and installing solar panels, with three pilot schemes with a total of 329 kW solar panels installed.

These are visible displays of commitment to sustainability that have created enthusiasm among Watercare's staff. This has created a 'new norm' for behaviours around sustainability, where staff feel they can highlight areas for further improvement and contribute. An energy efficiency revolving fund is about to be launched to enable every staff member to implement energy improvements.

"The key to the success of our energy efficiency projects has been staff engagement at all levels of the organisation; everyone is on board with our messages of sustainability, you don't have to persuade them why it's important – they just get it," says Klein.

She knows that some businesses still regard energy efficiency as 'nice to have'.

"In the short term, energy efficiency creates measurable savings; in the longer term it transforms the culture of an organisation of 900 staff managing $10 billion worth of assets. In a broader sense, Watercare is demonstrating that energy should be at the front of business strategy and an essential aspect of a successful operation.

"I believe this could be core business for more organisations in New Zealand, so that together we can reduce the effects of climate change in the long term."

For tips on successful staff engagement and to learn more about EECA Business, go to www.eecabusiness.govt.nz/staff-engagement