In conversation with Liv Garfield, CEO of Severn Trent Water

In conversation with Liv Garfield, CEO of Severn Trent Water


If there was a single data point that stood out from our invigorating conversation with Liv Garfield, CEO of Severn Trent Water, it was this:

If each person in England and Wales limited themselves to using 100 litres of water per day, it would save the equivalent in carbon of taking a million cars off the road.

It was a factoid that could fill you with frustration and optimism in equal measure.

Frustration because it shows the big educational gap: people don’t really think about their water usage in environmental terms, but it’s clearly massively important.

Case in point: it is the 17-to-34 year olds, according to Garfield, who are least responsive to changing their relationship with water. They’re the group you’d expect to be on your side.

And on the whole Brits – who by and large acknowledge the climate crisis - have a really bad, unthinking relationship with water.

During World War Two we used 75 litres per person per day, now we use 141 litres per person. Times have changed, you say? Well the Germans still only use 109 litres per person.

We all need to know more about how water gets to our homes and what happens to it afterwards. Getting to understand that the seven stages of water treatment all use carbon, and that waste product is even more carbon intensive, might sound like a bit of a dry pursuit, but it would empower us all to make a big difference with some small changes.

In that regard, combating some intuitions would also help. The average man or woman on the street thinks that they use 20 litres of water a day; they use seven times that. And a four-minute shower uses about a third of the water that you’d use in the bath – again, a surprise.

Of course, though, it isn’t just about individuals.

Companies have a huge part to play, and luckily the water sector is excelling itself – at least in its pledges. The whole sector has committed to net zero by 2030. It needs to follow through, no ifs or buts.

In this race to neutrality, Garfield wants her company to lead the way, and frankly it needs to: Severn Trent emits an extraordinary 0.5 per cent of all the UK’s carbon emissions.

Luckily there was a clear sense that Garfield is committed to the cause on both a moral and commercial level. Severn Trent is already generating 54 per cent of its energy through renewables; it is trialling tech on carbon capture; and it is moving everything to electric. Be assured that they have not a three-point plan, not even a ten-point plan but a 17-point plan.

With the environment, it’s always “more and sooner please”, but it seems that the sector is moving in the right direction fast. And not a moment too soon, because the water industry is a much bigger part of our carbon footprint problem than most people think.

The water industry has had a bad rep of late – and found itself under an unpleasant spotlight in the 2019 election with talk of nationalisation – but there’s little doubt that it’s had a good pandemic. Let’s hope it has a good climate crisis.

With CEOs like Garfield leading the way, you’ve got to hope that it will.