the time is now: Insights on week 1 of our water leaders summit

By Dean Amhaus, President & CEO

What a week it has been for Milwaukee! I’m talking, of course, about the first three sessions of our annual Water Leaders Summit, presented by A. O. Smith and Baird. Why, did something else happen here this week?

(I’m kidding, of course. Go Bucks!)

But seriously, even though we are holding our summit virtually this year, the discussions are stronger than ever. We started off with a conversation with Ed Sniffen, deputy director of the Hawaii Department of Transportation’s Highways Division. Sniffen is a model of working collaboratively across departments, organizations and roles for the good of the people he serves. For example, instead of automatically looking to add more roads in Hawaii to help people connect by vehicles, he’s helping lead an effort to bring more broadband connections to residents.

He’s also actively seeking solutions to prevent climate catastrophe in Hawaii’s transportation network and neighborhoods. Climate models indicate that 20% of Hawaii’s roads could be inundated by the end of the century because of erosion and rising sea levels at a cost of $15 billion. He’s looking for solutions to help people living in areas that will be inundated while also questioning further development or redevelopment in those areas. His talk made me think that we need to move beyond the idea of a “One Water” approach when working in watersheds to more of a “One Infrastructure.”

On Tuesday we welcomed Susanne DesRoches of the New York City Office of Climate Resiliency and Office of Climate and Sustainability, Aimee Flannery of the U.S. Department of Transportation, and Johnny Olson of Horrocks Engineers and Move Colorado. They offered terrific insight into not just planning transportation networks to adjust to climate change but also changing mindsets to make communities more climate resilient. They made me think that with all of the advanced technology and artificial intelligence at our fingertips to create complex modeling, we can no longer build our roads or water systems with today’s models but instead with an eye to the future built environment and, more importantly, future climate change that encompasses more or less water.

On Wednesday we switched gears to ESG – environmental, social and governance reporting – with Julie Gorte, senior vice president for sustainable investing at Impax Asset Management, and Pat Ackerman, senior vice president for corporate responsibility at A. O. Smith Corporation. Bloomberg estimates ESG assets could exceed $50 trillion by 2025, more than a third of projected total assets under management. But tracking the data underlying those investments can be tricky without mandatory disclosures and industry-wide definitions, Gorte said. That’s why it’s important for companies to publicly announce goals and disclose their progress toward them, Ackerman added. They agreed that water stewardship is a high priority for industries that use large amounts of water, such as food and beverage, for purposes of risk management and reputation management. Gorte and Ackerman stated that it may be daunting for some companies to improve their water stewardship, but it is absolutely OK to start slow and grow. Better to do something instead of nothing.

And that’s just the first week! It’s not too late to register, and when you do, you’ll receive recordings of the first week’s sessions plus access to the remaining sessions. Click here for more information.

Meanwhile, here’s a look at next week’s line-up: