Towards net-zero emissions: How the water sector is rewiring for a zero-carbon future

Towards net-zero emissions: How the water sector is rewiring for a zero-carbon future

Now that the curtain has come down on the UN’s Climate Change Summit in Glasgow, the question becomes “where to next?” COP26 has created a foundation for stronger climate action globally and brought renewed focus and momentum to this effort. But it falls to individual nations and sectors to shape their roadmaps to “net zero.” Fast progress is possible, and the water sector – a major source of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions – is a case in point.

Moving and treating water and wastewater is an energy-intensive business, with water utilities accounting for about 2% of global GHG emissions.[1] In a recent Making Waves article, Claudia Toussaint, Xylem’s Chief Sustainability Officer, highlighted the opportunity for utilities to quickly cut their emissions in half, at low to no cost, using current, high-efficiency technologies. The foundations of success are available: affordable technology, experience, funding, collaboration and, increasingly, regulatory incentives. Already, water companies in the UK have almost halved operational emissions since 2011 through a combination of energy efficiency measures, renewable energy and other measures.[2]

At Xylem, we are partnering with customers around the world to deploy high-efficiency technologies that are enabling meaningful, early progress towards net zero. Think intelligent pumping systems, leak detection sensors and other digitally powered solutions that slash the amount of energy used in the treatment, transport and testing of water. 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.

Race to Zero in action: Meet the water operators delivering big results quickly and affordably

Here are some examples of how high-efficiency solutions are helping water operators around the world move the needle towards net zero.

  • Alto Seveso urban wastewater treatment plant, Italy: Located in northern Italy, the plant treats wastewater from local textile manufacturers. Operators needed to reduce the risk of pollutants in its discharge, while reducing energy consumption. By deploying an innovative biological treatment system from Xylem, the plant has cut energy use by 20% and improved the water quality of the nearby Seveso River. Read more.

  • Wastewater treatment plant, Cuxhaven, Germany: Plant operators wanted to reduce energy and chemical use in its aeration process, while meeting regulatory requirements. The plant deployed Xylem Treatment System Optimization, which uses artificial intelligence (AI) to analyze the data in the plant’s existing SCADA system. The system predicted the best set points to operate the aerators, reducing aeration energy use by 30% – helping to achieve bold new efficiencies and advance sustainability. Read more.

  • Beijing Daxing International Airport, China: Opened in September 2019, this is the largest single-structure airport terminal in the world. With a total investment of $11 billion, the technologically advanced airport follows an environmentally friendly “Green City” philosophy. Energy-efficient pumping solutions were a critical requirement for the project. Xylem provided drainage systems for the runways and a ground-source heat pump system for the terminal building, solutions which together, now generate 10% of the renewable energy used in the entire airport. Read more.

  • Suffolk County Department of Public Works, Long Island, New York: Suffolk County DPW manages 26 sewage treatment plants and sewer districts, over 80 pumping stations, and more than 1,250 miles of sewers. With the help of smart automation and control technologies, Suffolk County DPW now has the ability to actively monitor its operations and make real-time adjustments to better serve the community. At one pump station, energy consumption has been cut by 45%. Read more.

As well as driving impact through our solutions, Xylem is committed to reducing our own footprint. We have pledged to achieve net zero carbon emissions across our value chain before 2050[3] and we are on track to meet our Science-Based Target commitments by 2030[4]. At the same time, we are working to build awareness of the net-zero opportunity through contributions like our latest paper, “Water Utilities: Moving Fast Toward A Zero-Carbon Future," and by calling on stakeholders from across the water sector to join the “Race to Zero.”

The water sector has an opportunity to make a huge difference in the fight against climate change. What’s more, our experience can serve as a powerful example to other industries as they chart their race to zero.

  • Find out more about water utilities’ race to zero here.
  • Check out our latest Sustainability Report to see how Xylem is working to reduce emissions across our operations and beyond.


[1] Water UK: Global water community challenged to join the Race to Zero

[2] Water UK: Global water community challenged to join the Race to Zero


[4] 2020 Sustainability Report | Xylem UK