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Stantec Institute for Applied Science, Technology: Fueling innovation for utility systems

May 25, 2021

By John Hanula

Embracing innovation comes with risk. It’s time to re-think the water utility risk landscape and we are evolving to do so

Despite being the essence of life itself, water remains greatly undervalued. Let’s face it, current water systems are often inefficient, wasteful, and capital intensive. It is time to make changes if society is going to continue to grow and, most importantly, thrive.

To do so, the water industry must abandon its unsustainable practice of extract, use, and dispose to one of full reuse—a circular, closed-loop economy. But to get there requires technical and policy experts collaborating. We must work together to craft water system solutions and the right rules to regulate them. It’s also critical to influence decision-makers to see the benefits of sustainable reuse schemes.

In 2020, Stantec formalized an Office of Innovation and named a Chief Innovation Officer. The goal is to bring together our technical experts to put creativity to work. To support this goal, we recently launched the Stantec Institute for Applied Science, Technology & Policy. The Institute’s mission is focused on bringing systems-based technological water solutions to address the influences of a changing climate. Using applied research, partnering with organizations that finance and develop technology, and informing complex regulatory and policy frameworks required to support solution implementation will get us there.

Many of the challenges facing the water industry are solvable through the implementation of proper policy and emerging technology.

The path forward

In our Innovation Office, we see opportunities to incubate many of the hundreds of new business ideas being surfaced by our staff.

Stantec’s commitment to applied research as a business enabler goes back nearly 50 years. It began with the physical science of a full-capacity water quality lab capable of identifying, creating, and patenting technology solutions to help save clients capital without assuming unnecessary performance risk. It has evolved to include developing a range of digitally enabled solutions that optimize both capital expenditures (CAPEX) and operating expenses (OPEX) for our clients.

The Institute is aligned with this success and partners it with technology, forward-looking policies, and the paradigm shifts in needs impacting clients.

It’s not just solving today’s problems. It’s identifying and getting to the bottom of tomorrows.

Centering innovation

One of the Institute’s principal goals is enabling policy development that defines our responses to the growing list of water utility challenges. This expanding list includes a combination of physical, economic, and social issues. Among them are weighing the cost of carbon management against the consequences of mismanagement, the recognition and response to emerging contaminants like PFAS, and the holistic impacts of climate change on water supply reliability and new stormwater flow pattern management.

Those are today’s examples of water challenges, like what was addressed 50 years ago by the Clean Water Act. As consultants and thought leaders, we are armed with tools to create change: Next level technology, digitally enabled big data to make better real-time decisions, and an overall infrastructure that supports revolution in responsive-solution scenarios. The counterbalance? Affordability, inclination to pay, and risk evaluation of being the first to deploy new tech.

When weighing the challenges, it can’t be business as usual. We must ask ourselves: Are we innovating around our customer’s needs? This requires new thinking and new approaches. Our clients know that being an early adopter of new technology carries the uncertainty that it may not achieve predicted performance levels. Additionally, early adopters often shoulder premiums on capital costs until enough installations exist to bring costs down. 

Successful, cost-effective adoption of technology requires an advanced approach that is applied throughout the process, from the point of selection to full commissioning. A focus of the Institute is to reduce the risks for early adopters. 

The Institute is engaging scientists, engineers, and technology specialists across the globe to investigate questions at the forefront of transforming the water industry’s future.

Connecting the dots

The Institute explores the real possibilities for solutions across the full water cycle―from watershed to water reuse. It examines the critical touchpoints of best practice engineering and delivery, from planning and operations to customer sentiment. It is a collaborative effort and includes our water professionals, utility clients, technology developers, key customers, and policy makers at federal, state, and local levels.

Our team is already underway shaping and advancing our mission under this new vision. We are combining active participation in organizations like the National League of Cities and the US Conference of Mayors, with involvement and sponsorship in leading technical organizations. We are working with venture capital, vendor, and academic communities. This approach includes all elements of the water sector and focuses on solutions to complex global water challenges.

My colleague, Dr. Art Umble, is leading this important charge. Being at the nexus of responsive technology applications and the new generation of policy drivers is just the start. The Office of Innovation is about accelerating passion and ideas into transformational community and global impact. It’s not just solving today’s problems. It’s identifying and getting to the bottom of tomorrows. It is reshaping everything we know about client relationships and going one step beyond.

The creation of the Institute builds on so many programs that we have established over the past 30 years. So, this is a natural progression. I’m excited to see where our water business goes. Because, after all, water is the essence of life.

  • John Hanula

    John has over 25 years of experience in the water sector and helps to position and engage our clients, as well as provide the right resources for project success.

    Contact John
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