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Learning and Change for Sustainability at Yarra Valley Water


Case by P.Crittenden, S.Benn & D.Dunphy in S.Benn, D. Dunphy & B. Perrot (eds), in Cases in Corporate Sustainability
Tilde University Press, Sydney



Yarra Valley Water (YVW) is widely recognised in Australia as a leader in corporate sustainability. The Victorian Government-owned water utility delivers water and sewerage services to over 1.6 million people in the northern and eastern suburbs of Melbourne. Its operating licence covers over 4000 square kilometres and it maintains a distribution network comprising over 16,000 kilometres of water and sewerage pipes. Operational challenges include the maintenance of ageing water and sewage infrastructure in established areas and the development of new infrastructure in the rapidly expanding northern suburbs of Melbourne.


The organisation’s capability and commitment to delivering sustainability outcomes has been demonstrated at a practical level through the implementation of innovative projects. Its contribution as a leader has been recognised through public sustainability awards at state, national and international levels. Stand-out sustainability projects include the design and management of

  • one of the largest recycled water systems in Australia at the Aurora residential development

  • a pressure sewer system in the outer Melbourne suburb of Gembrook, which delivers an improved environmental outcome in compared to traditional gravity-based sewer systems through reduced energy use and having pipes laid at shallower depths

  • a stormwater filtering and reuse project that is currently underway in a new industrial development at Kalkallo.


YVW’s ability to consistently deliver innovative projects and to demonstrate sustainability leadership in the water industry is the outcome of a decade-long focus on organisational learning and change. This case study describes three inter-related aspects of YVW’s approach:


  1. Organisational culture. Since 2001, YVW have been implementing management initiatives to create a more open and collaborative organisational culture that has fostered innovation and creativity.

  2. integration of environment as a strategic issue. In 2003 YVW established ‘environment’ as one of four key elements of the organisation’s strategic intent and continue to integrate environmental considerations into core business decisions.

  3. Sustainability tools and approaches. Since 2003, YVW have developed and integrated a number of sustainability tools and approaches, including The Natural Step, Life Cycle Assessment and stakeholder consultation, to support more effective decision-making at all levels of the organisation.


These three central aspects of the YVW approach have worked together to mutually reinforce ongoing and effective learning that has resulted in impressive business and sustainability outcomes. The three aspects are graphically demonstrated in the figure below.

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