Redefining innovation for sustainability impact

Redefining innovation for sustainability impact

Q&A with Xylem’s Vice President, Sustainability and Social Impact Austin Alexander.
To mitigate growing water and climate threats, utilities and businesses are looking for new ways to integrate sustainability more deeply into their practices and culture. Adopting an innovation mindset is critical – and the stakes have never been higher.
Fast Company named Xylem one of the “Best Workplaces for Innovators” (Large Company Standout), recognizing organizations that have gone above and beyond to create a rich culture of innovation for employees across their enterprise. In Part 4 of our Culture of Innovation series, we look at the relationship between innovation and sustainability with Austin Alexander, Vice President, Sustainability and Social Impact, Xylem.

How important is innovation to Xylem’s sustainability strategy and practices?

As a global water technology provider, sustainability is core to our business and everything we do at Xylem, so our innovation work is directly focused on tackling major sustainability challenges. We’re constantly looking for new technologies, products and processes to mitigate urgent water and climate threats like drought, flooding, sewer overflows, aging infrastructure and greenhouse gas emissions.
One key focus is how we’re investing in digital technologies to help our customers optimize their infrastructure and improve the way they manage water. Our digital products and solutions provide powerful insights and functionality – and this helps utilities and commercial users of water operate their water systems more efficiently and create significant cost, energy and water savings.

The digital transformation of water offers unprecedented opportunities to advance sustainability. That’s one of the reasons why it’s such an exciting time today for the water sector.

Can you talk specifically about how product innovation can help water managers advance their net-zero commitments?

Moving and treating water and wastewater is an energy-intensive business, with water utilities accounting for about 2% of global GHG emissions – the equivalent of the world’s shipping industry.
Xylem has worked for decades to create more energy-efficient products and solutions, and with the digital solutions now available, we are accelerating this important work. Our Flygt Concertor is the world’s first wastewater pumping system with integrated digital intelligence, delivering energy savings of up to 70% compared to conventional pumping systems.
Our AI-powered Treatment System Optimization solution has helped a wastewater treatment plant in Cuxhaven, Germany, cut aeration energy use by 30%. And there are so many other stories across the sector about how innovation is advancing decarbonization.

In 2020 alone, Xylem’s high-efficiency technologies and digital solutions collectively helped customers reduce their carbon footprint by 0.7 million metric tons of CO2, equivalent to keeping 150,000 cars off the road for a year.

Our innovative solutions are also helping Xylem meet our own sustainability aims. In 2021, we formalized our commitment to achieve net-zero carbon emissions across our value chain before 2050, and we’re on track to meet our Science-Based Target commitments by 2030. For more, read Xylem’s latest paper Net Zero: The Race We All Win.

How is Xylem redefining and broadening how it innovates to advance its sustainability goals?

There are opportunities to innovate and advance sustainability all across the water sector today, from product and solution innovation, to business model innovation, to supply chain innovation, to finance innovation and beyond.
Xylem is innovating across each of these fronts and more. One example is our groundbreaking green finance framework and projects, which are designed to embed economic, social and environmental impact even deeper into our business operations and functions.
Earlier this year, we announced our commitment to utilize green finance strategies for social equity impact, investing $5 million with CNote to benefit community financial institutions serving black and underserved communities in the U.S. CNote is a women-led social venture and impact platform that uses technology to unlock diversified and proven community investments that increase economic mobility and financial inclusion.
We’ve also pioneered green finance tools that link our progress against our sustainability goals to our financing rates and that help fund green projects.

In your experience, what is the best way to build a culture of innovation?

It’s a great question. There are many drivers, from the investment you make in technology and product innovation, to the ecosystem of external innovation partners you convene, and beyond. One catalyst for innovation that I’d spotlight is championing diversity, equity and inclusion.

Bringing diverse stakeholders together to share different perspectives and experiences is crucial to finding new bold and creative ways to address problems – and come up with the next big breakthrough idea to solve water now and for decades to come.

Learn more about Sustainability at Xylem.
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