Three years ago the world crossed a new threshold: 50 percent of our growing population now lives in urban areas, and millions of people are moving from a subsistence diet to a higher-protein diet. At the same time, 783 million people do not have access to safe drinking water, and 2.5 billion are without adequate sanitation facilities. This global transformation, combined with water scarcity and resource depletion, is producing unprecedented demand on water, energy, and other resources.
As the world’s demands for water, energy, and food grow, we need to think about how best to integrate individual systems into a cohesive whole that provides long-term stability for people and the environment. For many of our municipal clients, this requires careful consideration of natural resources, energy use, transportation, and land development as well as the effect that economic growth has on water, energy, and the environment. Companies face this pressure, too, and are looking for growth options in this economic reality while managing costs and risk. Innovative engineering solutions are needed to address the water-energy-environment nexus.
The shifting demands of economies experiencing crisis, poverty, climate change, and water scarcity create a dynamic push and pull between business-as-usual and trying something new. CH2M HILL’s strategy is a little bit different. We are not looking for a single, one-size-fits-most solution. In our view, innovative, cost-effective, and comprehensive solutions are required to address the interconnected demands for water and energy while protecting the environment. For example, many utility companies and businesses require a steady supply of clean water for their customers or for use in manufacturing processes. Because a variety of sources may provide water, such as a treatment facility or an innovative capture-and-reuse system, we listen to our clients’ needs and work with them to develop creative options to address their specific water supply, delivery, and reuse needs over time. We also help clients identify alternative financial sources for securing the funding necessary to implement their long-term goals.
Addressing the interconnected global issues of water, energy, and environment poses new challenges for us and for our clients. We recognize how critical these issues are—to our business, to the communities where we work, and to the world at large. In response, we are evolving as a company to serve our clients and communities better. For example, we have adapted our operational goals to help our clients build a more sustainable world. We are also aligning our organization to address resource constraints more effectively so we can better assist our clients in addressing resource constraints.
Company leaders and governments around the world are concerned about the availability of resources. They want to know where they are going to find the water, energy, and raw products they need to keep their businesses sustainable and how they are going to deal with the waste streams? We are expanding our consulting capabilities to help our clients think through these types of challenges, identify risks and opportunities, and develop comprehensive solutions that achieve their business goals while protecting the environment and, in many cases, improving it. We also look for opportunities to benefit the people in the community, such as converting blighted land into a city park or bolstering the area’s economic vitality to create new jobs.
In most cases worldwide, cities are the heartbeat of a region. Cities require infrastructure, and we at CH2M HILL have the honor of being involved in all aspects of the planning and design of energy, water, and transportation systems that can sustain, restore, and revitalize an inner city core. Cities are simultaneously the best places to find synergies to reduce energy use and global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and the places most susceptible to the threat of climate fluctuation.
As a result, we are seeing an expanded need for climate change adaptation strategies and investments for the future in three key areas. The first area is water supply: water scarcity is driving the need to stretch dwindling resources to more people and bring the water where it needs to be. An example is the work we are doing with the United States (U.S.) Department of Interior, Bureau of Reclamation, to bring systems thinking to the Colorado River Basin in the arid western states. The second area is concern about too much water, and the stress to coastal cities and other locations that are expected to deal with more storms, stormwater, and flooding than historical records would predict. We have helped cities like Alexandria, Virginia, evaluate the costs and risks of climate change through innovative modeling. The third area concerns the balance between energy and water use, which is becoming more critical. As more water is pumped, more energy is used, and water is often used in hydro-, coal-fired, and nuclear plants to move the turbines to keep cities functional.
Most of our large, complex sustainability projects involve partnering with other firms, universities, institutes, nongovernmental organizations, and equipment suppliers. This allows us to create and lead the best team of partners to provide innovative, customized sustainable solutions for our clients. Our diverse technical skills and niche expertise focused in a programmatic approach help us create the most robust solutions. We have used this approach in the major programs we have led, including our work with the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games and the Panama Canal expansion.
Sustainability is integral to our operational excellence, and it is a key component of our 2015 strategy. We strive to weave sustainability through the fabric of our work, and we completed our first, enterprise-wide GHG inventory of our operations in 2011. We continue to support the UN Global Compact principles, and we measure and report our performance annually. We’re expanding this measurement to engage more robustly with our suppliers and subcontractors around the world. With our global presence and diversity of thought, we are excited to apply our technical expertise to solve some of the world’s most complex challenges.