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Ecological sustainability is of increasing interest in the academic community, the environmental community, within certain industries, and with the public. This paper introduces the concept of ecological sustainability in a framework reflecting current conditions in water and wastewater utilities.

Sustainability as a concept may seem foreign to utility managers, but issues of such compelling interest to the general public can not easily be avoided for long. Corporate “green” strategies get increasing amounts of press; and board members of both public and private entities are increasingly facing environmental issues, and the question of sustainability in particular. Sustainability is often ill-defined, subject to interpretation, and inconsistently applied. Yet utility managers cannot ignore the issue and passively wait for the inconsistencies to be resolved.

The three key questions for a utility manager are: which sustainability issues apply to water and wastewater utilities; how to address such issues when they arise; and how to organize the utility to proactively address issues of sustainability in the future. The first and second questions are more or less consistent with other issues of public policy currently relevant to the utility environment. Water supply is the most obvious and important sustainability issue, and as a result benefits from careful attention within our industry as a matter of standard practice. Secondary issues such as the nature and type of facilities and equipment employed in the water industry are less obvious, and will require managers to climb a learning curve to become conversant and allow effective response.

The third question, the impact of organizational structure on sustainability, is more abstract but still of interest to forward thinking managers. Experience from other industries can provide some guidance in assessing the impact of organizational design, and in implementing human resource policies that contribute to overall sustainability.

The paper summarizes these issues and recommends that utilities start addressing sustainability issues now, before pressure from outside the utility compels them to do so.

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: 2006-01-01

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  • Proceedings of the Water Environment Federation is an archive of papers published in the proceedings of the annual Water Environment Federation® Technical Exhibition and Conference (WEFTEC® ) and specialty conferences held since the year 2000. These proceedings are not peer reviewed.

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