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3.1 Communal water and waste management – escaping the cost trap with sustainable concepts

Kommunale Wasser- und Abfallwirtschaft – Mit nachhaltigen Konzepten aus der Kostenfalle

Nowadays, costs for drinking water, wastewater disposal and refuse collection account for the majority of our ancillary living costs. Responsible utility companies are already looking for ways to minimise customer expenses and raise the efficiency of their own operations while maintaining highest quality levels. Supported by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF), a number of pilot projects have shown that adaptive management and optimised instruments, such as performance indicators and benchmarking, enable the implementation of efficient and sustainable supply and disposal processes. In this context, even the smallest of measures can have a big impact.

In Germany, clean drinking water and a functioning wastewater and waste disposal system are a matter of course. Yet in the face of high investments in system maintenance and expansion, many communities and their public or private utility companies are under great economic pressure. As a result, cost-effective management is becoming ever more important.

Cost and fee debate intensifying

To provide consumers with safe and reliable supply and disposal services, the German water and waste industry has spent the last decades investing heavily into the expansion and modernisation of plants, sewers and water supply networks. This expenditure must pay off in the long term, yet the sector is constantly called upon to tackle new requirements: the cost and fee debate is intensifying, while demographic and structural changes are necessitating expensive alterations of the supply and disposal system in some regions. All the while, consumers are demanding affordable costs and fees – without suffering a drop in quality levels.

Practicable instruments

In order to meet these requirements, sustainable planning and actions are required on the part of the waste and water sector; it is essential that optimised solutions are found on the basis of social, ecological and economic aspects. To develop practicable concepts, the various research disciplines must work closely together and seek the input of other experts. Transdisciplinary work is very much the name of the game.

The dialogue between representatives from the worlds of politics, economy, society and research must be intensified in an effort to co-create suitable instruments for practical application. These should allow the utility companies to better assess the consequences of their actions in the context of sustainability and develop appropriate strategies on this basis. Tried and tested measures from other sectors must be adapted such that they can be applied to water and waste management (projects 3.1.01 and 3.1.02).

Professional management delivers cost benefits

The transdisciplinary projects funded by the BMBF have shown that professional management raises the efficiency of operations and thus also reduces the financial impact on consumers. A range of measures are available to utility companies in this regard: business tools such as integrated management systems (IMS), effective control of processes via performance indicators, systematic, cross-company comparison of processes in the form of benchmarking and application of resource-friendly technologies and procedures.

In many cases, even small changes, such as more flexible working time models, can lead to significant savings – and not just in the field of water management: instruments such as benchmarking or effective controlling also allow waste disposal companies to improve their performance (project 3.1.03).

Ressource Wasser
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3.1 Communal water and waste management – escaping the cost trap with sustainable concepts

Kommunale Wasser- und Abfallwirtschaft – Mit nachhaltigen Konzepten aus der Kostenfalle

Nowadays, costs for drinking water, wastewater disposal and refuse collection account for the majority of our ancillary living costs. Responsible utility companies are already looking for ways to minimise customer expenses and raise the efficiency of their own operations while maintaining highest quality levels. Supported by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF), a number of pilot projects have shown that adaptive management and optimised instruments, such as performance indicators and benchmarking, enable the implementation of efficient and sustainable supply and disposal processes. In this context, even the smallest of measures can have a big impact.

In Germany, clean drinking water and a functioning wastewater and waste disposal system are a matter of course. Yet in the face of high investments in system maintenance and expansion, many communities and their public or private utility companies are under great economic pressure. As a result, cost-effective management is becoming ever more important.

Cost and fee debate intensifying

To provide consumers with safe and reliable supply and disposal services, the German water and waste industry has spent the last decades investing heavily into the expansion and modernisation of plants, sewers and water supply networks. This expenditure must pay off in the long term, yet the sector is constantly called upon to tackle new requirements: the cost and fee debate is intensifying, while demographic and structural changes are necessitating expensive alterations of the supply and disposal system in some regions. All the while, consumers are demanding affordable costs and fees – without suffering a drop in quality levels.

Practicable instruments

In order to meet these requirements, sustainable planning and actions are required on the part of the waste and water sector; it is essential that optimised solutions are found on the basis of social, ecological and economic aspects. To develop practicable concepts, the various research disciplines must work closely together and seek the input of other experts. Transdisciplinary work is very much the name of the game.

The dialogue between representatives from the worlds of politics, economy, society and research must be intensified in an effort to co-create suitable instruments for practical application. These should allow the utility companies to better assess the consequences of their actions in the context of sustainability and develop appropriate strategies on this basis. Tried and tested measures from other sectors must be adapted such that they can be applied to water and waste management (projects 3.1.01 and 3.1.02).

Professional management delivers cost benefits

The transdisciplinary projects funded by the BMBF have shown that professional management raises the efficiency of operations and thus also reduces the financial impact on consumers. A range of measures are available to utility companies in this regard: business tools such as integrated management systems (IMS), effective control of processes via performance indicators, systematic, cross-company comparison of processes in the form of benchmarking and application of resource-friendly technologies and procedures.

In many cases, even small changes, such as more flexible working time models, can lead to significant savings – and not just in the field of water management: instruments such as benchmarking or effective controlling also allow waste disposal companies to improve their performance (project 3.1.03).