Most of us take running water for granted; all we need do is turn on a tap for a ready, clean supply. But this isn’t what happens in rural Kosovo. Around 93% of the population* in our countryside has no access to maintained public water and is reliant on groundwater wells at risk from contamination and drought.
As a business operating in rural Kosovo, we too faced the same problem. But unlike the communities around us, we also had the opportunity to do something about it.
The following award submission outlines how we did just that. Specifically, it summarises:
- Our ambitious objectives, which included a desire to develop the MOST ADVANCED water management system in Kosovo (including the country’s ONLY wastewater treatment plant), and to take this sustainable, clean drinking water supply out to our local communities as well as using it within our airport.
- How extensive, concurrent research, judicious planning and targeted use of one of our parent company’s resources gave us the foundation we needed to deliver a cutting-edge, ISO-ACCREDITED and entirely sustainable system that has slashed our water consumption by nearly HALF – all within a budget of just €50,000.
- Details of the new pipeline we’ve created for our nearest neighbours – a 3,000-resident village and a NATO military camp – ensuring both now benefit from a continuous supply of the world’s HIGHEST-GRADE drinking water.
- How we’ve continuously enhanced the system since its implementation, with high-tech improvements in monitoring and reporting, for example, ensuring that we continue to reduce our reliance on Kosovo’s natural resources. This is in spite of exponential increases in the volume of passengers using our airport.
- The way we’ve used this implementation as a springboard for BUSINESS-WIDE, sustainable environmental change, with new areas of focus including noise management and carbon emissions.
- How we’re actively communicating our knowledge and experiences with other organisations, both within and outside of Kosovo, with a view to sharing BEST PRACTICE nationally and globally.
OUR SUBMISSION IN DETAIL
THE CHALLENGE WE FACED
You’d be forgiven for thinking that water sanitation isn’t a European problem; that we all have access to a piped supply that has been treated and tested, ensuring it is safe to drink.
But what might be the true for most of Europe is not applicable to rural Kosovo. Away from our urban municipalities, access to fresh, clean water is one of our nation’s biggest issues. So much so, in fact, that c.93%* of our rural population has no maintained public water, and is instead reliant on groundwater wells that are exposed to both contamination and drought.
Located 20km south-west of the Kosovar capital, Pristina, we – the nation’s only international airport – historically sat within this demographic. Dependent on a single pipeline from two wells 3km away, the untreated water we drew from the ground was unfit for drinking.
- We knew we were one of Kosovo’s biggest water consumers and that our ancient pipework was leaking. But without any monitors in place, we could only roughly estimate how much water we were losing.
- Despite our huge consumption, we had no wastewater treatment plant, meaning all our grey water had to be disposed of as industrial waste.
*Fourth World Water Council Forum, 2006
With the water crisis expected to worsen in coming years – a prediction reinforced by our government when it called for national institutions to become more proactive† – we decided to make a stand.
Our new terminal was due to open in 2013, so our vision was first to develop a water system that could support the new facility: one that would promote sustainable, efficient water consumption both within and outside of our airport.
Crucially, we also wanted to build on this foundation over the next four years or more – using it as a catalyst for further sustainable, environmental change.
Specifically, we set ourselves four ambitious goals – to:
- Develop an advanced water management system that would ensure a sustainable supply of high-grade, potable water, while delivering significant reductions in overall consumption.
- Be fully operational as swiftly as possible after the inauguration of our new terminal (scheduled October’13).
- Secure ISO accreditation and use this as a springboard to effect further environmental change over the next four years – both within and outside of water treatment.
- Provide a solution with wider societal benefits, in line with government directives and the wider sustainability strategy of our new parent company, Limak Holding.
†National Drought Dialogue, 2014
OUR STRATEGY FOR SUCCESS
We didn’t want to start by simply developing an efficient water management system that would achieve the desired benefits to our business. We knew that to meet every one of our four objectives – and especially the last two – we needed a more aspirational plan of action.
To help us gain traction, we decided that our new water management system should actually be the MOST ADVANCED in Kosovo – delivering the highest possible grade of drinking water to our passengers, our airport employees, AND our nearby communities.
We also agreed that it should include our region’s ONLY wastewater treatment plant, with a view to serving as an example of best practice for other Kosovar businesses to follow.
DELIVERING ON THE PLAN
As part of our new parent company, Limak Holding, we knew we had access to the in-house engineering and construction expertise needed to develop such a system. But before we could utilise that, we first needed to understand the scale of the challenge we faced. Accordingly, we:
- Consulted with senior managers to agree an integrated ‘Quality, Environment and Passenger Complaints Policy’ that enshrined our commitment to minimising the airport’s environmental impact and preserving Kosovo’s natural resources.
- Prepared a Waste Management Plan, defining key principles for preventing, minimising, reusing and recycling waste throughout the business – based on international best practice as well as ISO principles – with a new water management system recognised as the cornerstone for success.
- Cascaded this plan, business-wide, using a variety of channels, including face-to-face meetings, email, information sheets, sanitation booklets and awareness stickers.
- Undertook an environmental baseline study, including detailed analysis of legislation, and – crucially – interviews with residents of our nearest rural community (the village of Vrella), with responses feeding into our decision to expand the system so it would cater for their needs as well as ours.
- Worked with in-house experts from the engineering and construction arms of the wider Limak business to undertake a three-month investigation into our existing water supply and quality. This revealed that we were expending 15.8m3/hour (c.204,480m3 annually) of our (non-potable) groundwater, a massive c.47% of which was wasted due to leaking pipework.
- Performed concurrent searches for potential new groundwater sources.
- Executed a simultaneous evaluation of our existing pumps and other equipment to ascertain what was needed to deliver ISO-accredited, sustainable provision of drinking water across the newly expanded airport – with an onward supply for Vrella. This study also gauged how we could efficiently use our water resources for other functions, including:
- Heating and cooling systems.
- Firefighting resources.
- Plane de-icing and washing facilities.
- Irrigation systems – serving a colossal 25,000m2 of green areas around the airport.
- Developed blueprints for the new plants – based on study findings – with activity undertaken concurrently to find a suitable location for wastewater discharge.
THE GROUND-BREAKING RESULTS
Our intensive research and evaluation paid off.
In line with our objectives, we successfully implemented the region’s MOST ADVANCED water management system, over five months commencing June’12, with features including:
- Two new, independent groundwater sources. The wells for these are now located just 30metres away and there are two pipelines rather than one, ensuring a constant supply.
- Kosovo’s FIRST EVER wastewater treatment plant. Designed and built by in-house experts, this plant recycles up to 250m3/day of sewage generated by the airport/aircrafts – using microorganisms to degrade effluent.
- A state-of-the-art, two-phase water treatment system – also engineered and executed in-house – which filters, softens and disinfects before purifying the water using advanced reverse osmosis apparatus to extract all unnecessary ions and minerals, reduce chlorine usage, and produce the world’s HIGHEST GRADE drinking water‡.
- A pipeline to Vrella and our local NATO Kosovo Force (KFOR) military camp, ensuring both communities benefit from a continuous supply of this high-grade water for the VERY FIRST TIME.
(Please also see supporting PDF for more technical detail on our water management system and the areas it covers – including technical diagrams of the system.)
‡ Based on parameters set by the World Health Organisation
And we didn’t stop there. Over the intervening years, we’ve gone on to nearly HALVE our water consumption (see ‘Impact’ section for details) thanks to a range of activities, including:
- The erection of additional facilities, such as waste recycling depots. These enabled the water management system to become fully operational from January’14, in line with business goals related to our new airport terminal.
- The creative development of a sustainable, automated irrigation system, using dedicated rainwater tanks rather than purified water to irrigate 25,000m2 of airport green areas. Crucially, by installing rain sensors, irrigation only now occurs as and when required – bucking the trend for manual looped mainline systems, which is widely adopted elsewhere in Kosovo.
- FULL ISO 14001:2004 ACCREDITATION. Having achieved this accolade at initial roll-out in November’12, we’ve continually refined the water meters and reporting processes installed at project-start, with a view to securing 14001:2015 certification (accreditation due imminently). Key systems improvements made in the past 12 months alone include:
- Full automation of reporting (June’17). By taking the process online, with a shared drive, we can manage leaks, damage and chemical consumption more precisely, 24/7.
- The installation of a wastewater flow meter and implementation of regular tap inspections from October’17, to help us ascertain where further water and energy efficiencies can be achieved.
- The commencement of a feasibility study focusing on the use of treated wastewater for garden irrigation purposes – with a view to introducing this as a major system improvement by 2020.
- Utilisation of the assessment and planning principles applied in this project to launch a raft of other environmental initiatives, outside of water treatment. (See ‘Impact’ section for details.)
Today, we have a water management system that is lightyears ahead of the dilapidated one we relied on previously: a system that delivers a sustainable, continuous supply of water to EVERY part of our organisation, ensuring passengers and employees alike consume the world’s HIGHEST GRADE drinking water, while other critical parts of our business – including fire services and landscaping – receive their full quota.
But that’s not all. This highly innovative project has also enabled us to:
1) REDUCE OUR IMPACT ON KOSOVO’S NATURAL RESOURCES
As outlined earlier, we’ve nearly HALVED our annual water consumption through continual systems refinement – from c.204,480m3 in 2012 to 110,862m3 in 2017.
Viewed as consumption per passenger, the reduction is even more acute. While we witnessed a 23.5% increase in passenger numbers (2017 versus 2012), we actually consumed 55.8% less water for each of those passengers.
Moreover, our water capacity requirements have dropped to 4.55litres/second, lessening demand on our spring wells (where capacity is 12-15litres/second), thereby ensuring sustainability.
2) EFFECT CHANGE FROM WITHIN
This implementation has created an ‘environmental cascade’ throughout our business. Specifically, we’ve used it as a springboard, applying the same assessment and planning methodologies to launch multiple other sustainable environmental initiatives, including a new:
- Noise management system, focusing on land and air-side noise production.
- Solid waste management system, including waste identification, control measures for reduction in volume, warehousing, and sorting for recycling (covering all types of waste from paper, glass and plastics right through to tyres, IT waste and hazardous materials).
- Carbon emissions and energy reduction mandate, with discrete, ongoing projects including a solar farm feasibility study. (Strategies applied here helped deliver our 2020 carbon emissions reduction target of 23%, three years ahead of schedule.)
3) DELIVER TANGIBLE BENEFITS OUTSIDE OF LIMAK KOSOVO
As outlined earlier, 93% of Kosovo’s rural population isn’t supported by public water mains. But we’ve actively looked to address that problem by connecting our water supply to 3,000 residents in our nearest community (the village of Vrella), as well as our local KFOR military camp.
4) IMPROVE OUR ENVIRONMENTAL CREDENTIALS
One of our objectives was to achieve ISO 14001:2004. However, we’ve gone further. As well as being set to attain ISO 14001:2015 certification imminently, the springboard effect of this project has led us to achieve the following certification for the other sustainable environmental projects outlined in point-2, above:
- ISO 50001:2011 – July’15.
- Level-1 from Airport Carbon Accreditation (ACA) – March’16.
- ACA Level-2 – July’17, with Level-3 (Optimisation) expected to be achieved this coming summer.
5) INCREASE OUR INTERNATIONAL AVIATION CREDENTIALS
- Our wastewater now meets accepted international aviation standards of 65 litres per enplaned passenger, corresponding to 80% of our water supply.
- We’re now effectively meeting aviation standards of 75 litres potable water per enplaned passenger.
- We’ve radically improved water quality. Pre-implementation, our water was extremely hard (50 French degrees). Now it’s 8-14 degrees, ensuring all passengers and airline crew using our facilities benefit from the highest grade available.
6) BECOME AN ENVIRONMENTAL INFLUENCER
We actively encourage knowledge-sharing with organisations seeking to replicate our sustainable model. Examples of businesses looking to learn from us already include one of Kosovo’s leading telephony companies.
There are several ways in which being creative helped us overcome the significant challenges we initially faced, and would have otherwise continued to encounter with these ongoing environmental initiatives. These included:
1) UNDERTAKING BEST PRACTICE RESEARCH PRIOR TO ROLL-OUT
We were able to ‘hit the ground running’ during implementation of our ground-breaking, sustainable water management system by carrying out extensive, concurrent research within the planning phase. This included environmental baseline studies, water quality/supply analysis, and equipment evaluations in line with the latest ISO standards (see ‘Delivering on the Plan’ for further details).
These same research and planning principles have also been applied to our subsequent environmental initiatives, ensuring a robust, standardised approach with each and every project.
2) UTILISATION OF PARENT COMPANY EXPERTISE
We actively looked outside of our immediate business – and into that of our new parent company, Limak Holding. By applying Limak design capability and engineering know-how, rather than a third party’s, our senior stakeholders were able to retain full control over the implementation of the water management system, as well as their own timescales. Moreover, they were also able to deliver everything to an incredibly tight budget (see ‘Inspiration’).
3) THE APPOINTMENT AND TIMELY TRAINING OF DEDICATED SYSTEM PERSONNEL
When we recruited an in-house environmental engineer to manage and report on the new water system, we did so with an eye on the future – particularly with regards their ability to oversee our subsequent environmental initiatives.
In addition, we also appointed a dedicated, ten-strong water system control and monitoring team, which was trained over several weekends in the run-up to deployment, thereby ensuring each member was fully conversant with the technologies before they came into play. (This step has since been consolidated with refresher maintenance training, now routinely provided to the team by an external water company.)
4) THE APPLICATION OF CUTTING-EDGE TECHNOLOGY
Perhaps most innovative of all has been our choice of technologies. With guidance from our colleagues within the wider Limak group, we’ve been able to source and implement the most advanced, sustainable water management system in our country, with key aspects including:
- Bespoke reverse osmosis apparatus that produces the world’s highest possible grade of water by removing all unnecessary ions and minerals without the need for added chemicals.
- Kosovo’s only biological wastewater treatment facility. Featuring a capacity of 250m3 per day – the outputs of which were carefully estimated prior to launch to ensure that they would meet both Kosovar and international (ISO) environmental requirements – this has become an exemplar for other Kosovar businesses to follow.
This leading-edge technology standard has also been employed in our subsequent environmental initiatives, for example in our waste recycling facilities (see ‘Effect Change from Within’ in the earlier ‘Impact’ section).
We believe that several aspects of our experience are transferrable to other businesses. Specifically, our three top tips for fellow professionals are as follows:
1) NEVER UNDERESTIMATE THE POWER OF PLANNING
As outlined earlier, we undertook several research projects simultaneously – each aligned to our agreed Quality, Environment and Passenger Complaints Policy and Waste Management Plan – before we embarked on the first of our implementations: the water management system.
This judicious approach to planning allowed us to accurately gauge cost as well as overall sustainability – and to work closely with our colleagues at Limak Holding to ensure we remained within our strict €50,000 budget.
In doing so, we not only slashed our water consumption; we also delivered capital savings of c.€5,000/year, ensuring full return on investment by 2016, by drastically reducing our pre-implementation reliance on:
- Chlorine, heavily used for water disinfection.
- Electricity, needed to pump water from our wells.
- Industrial waste facilities, historically used to manage our airport’s wastewater.
2) REMEMBER THAT KEY STAKEHOLDERS DON’T JUST SIT WITHIN YOUR ORGANISATION
We don’t simply communicate the aims, progress and outcomes of environmental initiatives to employees across our business; for maximum impact, we also work closely – right from the outset – with members of our local communities.
By interviewing residents from the nearby village of Vrella, for example – and correlating the outputs with both government statistics and international data – we were better able to understand their acute water requirements, delivering a scalable solution that would suit their needs as well as our own.
3) SHOUT ABOUT YOUR SUCCESSES, AND USE THE EXPERIENCE TO BUILD MOMENTUM – WITHIN AND OUTSIDE OF YOUR BUSINESS
As the architects of the most advanced, sustainable water management system in our region, we actively encourage knowledge-sharing with organisations seeking to replicate this and our other best practice environmental models.
But we recognise that we can’t do this in a vacuum. We have therefore sought to communicate our experiences in a variety of ways, including:
- Publicising our projects and results through blogs and public record sustainability reports.
- Sharing case studies with local and international press. (Our water management system has been cited in industry titles such as Airport Business.)
- Participation in both aviation industry and wider environmental accreditation programmes, including ACA and ISO
- Involvement in programmes such as The Peer Awards for Excellence 2018.
Taking this approach has been beneficial for us as well, helping to secure support from our shareholders and parent companies for future environmental initiatives.