Ethical Performance
inside intelligence for responsible business


Thames Water comes clean on lowlights

November 2004

A water company has taken the unusual step of giving as much prominence to the deficiencies in its social and environmental performance as to the achievements.

Thames Water’s latest corporate responsibility report lists last year’s failings under the heading of lowlights next to a list of highlights on the first page. It then devotes nine of the first 16 pages to detailing each shortcoming.

The first is ‘unacceptable’ levels of leakage from its underground pipes, which Thames says is the ‘top issue facing the company’ and a waste of natural resources. It reports that leakage rates continue to rise despite large-scale investment and that in some areas, particularly London, the problem appears to ‘defy a conventional solution’. It is now proposing to the UK water regulator Ofwat that the only solution in London is wide-ranging mains renewal.

Other lowlights picked out are continued incidents of customers’ homes being flooded by sewage, which it hopes to tackle by targeting vulnerable properties one by one, and complaints of bad smells from sewage treatment plants, which is proving technically difficult to resolve. The final lowlight is the level of pollution incidents last year, which led to five prosecutions. It hopes to reduce these through a dedicated team to improve auditing and technical reviews and by more investment.

Highlights, however, outnumber the lowlights by nine to four. They include a reduction in landfill use by 15 per cent since 1998 and 100 per cent compliance with sewage sludge standards.

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