Q&A with Austin Alexander, Vice President, Sustainability and Social Impact at Xylem.
As a sector built on serving communities and protecting the environment, the water industry sits at the center of global sustainability efforts. Making Waves spoke with Austin Alexander, Vice President, Sustainability and Social Impact at Xylem about the water challenges we face right now – from water scarcity to the resilience of water systems in the face of climate change – and how solving these escalating water issues goes hand in hand with creating a more equitable and sustainable world.
What role does sustainability play for Xylem and the water sector more broadly?
Water is essential to public health and to sustainability, and given that we’re in the business of water, we advance sustainability on multiple fronts. Our products, solutions and services help communities and businesses address critical water issues, making water more accessible and affordable, and communities more resilient to climate change. In addition, as a company, we are constantly looking for ways to operate more sustainably, and to advance equity and create social value through our corporate social responsibility program.
For example, as part of our 2025 Sustainability Goals, we aim to provide access to clean water and sanitation solutions for people living in underserved communities, while also ensuring that 100% of our employees have access to clean water and safe sanitation at work, at home and during natural disasters. We are working to promote a more sustainable future across our stakeholder base and through as many channels as possible.
In my role, I’m responsible for Xylem’s global sustainability programs, advancing diversity, equity and inclusion, and leading Xylem’s community impact programs. One of the aspects I enjoy the most is the opportunities I have to meet with NGOs, start-ups and other innovators across the sector. There are so many who are working to improve the world we live in by ensuring reliable clean water and sanitation is available for all. We have the opportunity, as well as responsibility, to make real positive impact. It takes all of us, and I’m so inspired by our partners and the difference we can make together.
You live in Montana which is one of the Western states in the United States that is in the midst of a two-decade drought. Are you worried about the future of water access in your state and other places around the world that are similarly affected by climate change?
I am extremely fortunate to have had the opportunity to move back to my home state of Montana in 2020. What I love about this part of the world is our extraordinary landscape, and our rich tie to the land. Like so many states in the Western U.S., the ongoing drought and associated rise in wildfires is concerning and threatens all those wonderful facets of the environment here.
These kinds of climate-related events really make you take pause – particularly when it comes to water-related impacts of climate change. Fortunately, I believe we are seeing a shift in the way we think about and value our water – both through more efficient use and efforts to safeguard this finite resource.
How important is technological innovation to solving problems of water access and sustainability?
We are seeing a significant rise in the digitalization of water across the globe. This includes remote and real-time monitoring and decision intelligence across water bodies, drinking water distribution, and sewage and stormwater collection and treatment.
What these technological innovations allow us to do is make data-driven decisions about how we effectively use our existing infrastructure, utilize capital investment smarter, and monitor assets in real time. As a sector we can make smarter investments and do so in a way that is more equitably distributed and with minimal environmental footprint.
By looking at water infrastructure modernization through the lens of applying digital and data analytics solutions, we can achieve more sustainable outcomes – from minimizing and even eliminating pollution, to minimizing delivered costs and increasing affordability for communities.
The water sector itself is a source of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. While solving critical water challenges is essential to creating a more sustainable word, what can water managers do to address this issue and move the needle towards net-zero?
Everything we need to address the biggest water challenges of our time hinges on communities having the right infrastructure in place. Yet, moving and treating water and wastewater is an energy-intensive business, with water utilities accounting for about 2% of global GHG emissions. We can change that.
By combining the power of more energy efficient solutions and digitally powered technologies, water managers have the opportunity to cut their emissions in half, and do so affordably. At Xylem, we have the opportunity to deliver more energy-efficient products and solutions to our customers. It is central to what we do – and who we are as a company.
In 2020, our solutions helped customers reduce their carbon footprint by 0.7 million metric tons of CO2 – that’s the same as keeping 150,000 cars off the road for a year. Simply put, by deploying readily available high-efficiency technologies, the sector can make meaningful progress today and become a powerful example to others in the collective race to zero.
We also recognize the need for us to make progress as a business, and recently formalized our commitment to achieve net zero carbon emissions across our value chain before 2050. By working together as an industry, we can make a meaningful contribution to containing climate change – and all of us can become part of the solution.