The race to net-zero: Ambition versus action

The race to net-zero: Ambition versus action

Q&A with Austin Alexander Vice President, Sustainability and Social Impact at Xylem.

Austin  1000 x 1000 (1).jpg50 years after the first ever United Nations Conference on the environment, the latest Net-Zero Tracker report1 highlights significant gaps between global ambitions and global action. The Net-Zero Tracker examines net-zero targets pledged by nations, states, regions, cities and companies, differentiating between targets that come with plans, accountability mechanisms and a serious commitment, and those based more on rhetoric.

As it falls to individual nations and sectors to shape their roadmaps to “net-zero”, the responsibility is on each of us to turn goals and commitments into results. Fast progress is possible, and the water sector – a major source of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions2 – is a case in point.

Making Waves spoke with Austin Alexander, Vice President, Sustainability and Social Impact, about Xylem and the water sector’s advancements towards net-zero and what she’s excited about for the future.

What advancements has Xylem made towards Net-Zero?

Today, water is often thought of in terms of climate resiliency and adaptation. However, water use and management can also be contributors to global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. This emissions contribution is expected to rise as populations grow, and communities around the globe expand their water and sanitation services. So the sector has an opportunity and a responsibility to act fast and reduce our overall environmental impact. By reducing the water sector’s GHG emissions, we have the potential to play a leading role in mitigating climate change. That’s why we’re so passionate about raising awareness of the opportunity to decarbonize the water sector.

In 2019, Xylem established our 2025 Sustainability Goals and last year, we committed to achieve net-zero GHG emissions across Scope 1, 2 and 3 before 2050. We’re making progress against these goals, which is a real motivator for us to keep doing more.

And because we know we can achieve even more when we work together, we partner with utilities, businesses and water managers around the world to help reduce their carbon footprint. Our recent paper “Water Utilities: Moving Fast Toward A Zero-Carbon Future” highlights how utilities can get started on their race to zero and move from ambition to action.

What can the industry as a whole do to accelerate progress towards net-zero?

Collective effort is the key to success, and sector-wide commitments will be critical if we want to move the water sector towards a net-zero future. Fortunately, more and more utilities around the world are already setting net-zero targets and delivering big results. Just look at the UK water sector – the first in the world to put together a detailed plan to achieve carbon neutrality on an industry-wide basis – they’ve almost halved operational emissions since 2011.

Putting robust plans in place and adopting existing solutions aimed at reducing emissions is the first step in any organization’s journey towards net-zero.

If we work together, we could become one of the fastest sectors to decarbonize. That’s why Xylem has been so vocal in calling on other industry leaders to join us in the sector’s “Race to Zero.”

How important is transparency when it comes to talking about sustainability goals and achievements?

Transparent and accountable communication regarding our commitments, progress and achievements is definitely a priority for Xylem.

As we work towards our 2025 Sustainability Goals, we’ve taken steps to hold ourselves accountable and have built more robust and transparent methodology for both goal calculations and reporting. We’ve also integrated this reporting into our business reviews, enabling us to show the meaningful steps Xylem takes to expand our sustainability impact and, equally important, where we need to make improvements.

And because things are constantly evolving, our ESG Reporting Working Group - a cross-functional team, including finance, legal and sustainability - reviews, advises on, and guides the evolution of our approach to ESG disclosure and reporting. By taking these steps we know we are providing our stakeholders with honest and accurate information.

What’s next on Xylem’s sustainability journey?

I’m incredibly proud of what we have achieved but we know we can do more and are continually seeking ways to improve and meet our targets sooner. Our 2023 sustainability report highlights our achievements and learnings from the past year and outlines our next steps.

I really believe 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. As I said, now is the time to work together.

Through our individual and collective actions – we can ensure we leave a positive legacy for the next generation.


Did you know?

  • Xylem was named “Net Zero Carbon Champion” at the 2022 Global Water Awards.
  • In 2021, we reduced our net Scope 1 and 2 emission intensity by 12%.
  • We’re on track to meet our Science-Based Target commitments to achieve the global 1.5-degree goal by 2030.
  • We’ve helped customers reduce their carbon footprint by 0.7 million metric tons of CO2 by deploying our high-efficiency technologies, digital solutions and approaches to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.


1 Net Zero Tracker:

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