UK businesses keen to get water wise for the environment

April 15, 2009
A poll of 500 UK organizations revealed that 41% are unaware that water consumption adds to their carbon footprint, despite keen interest in minimizing their environmental impact...

• Opportunity for utility firms to capitalize on business interest in water efficiency

LONDON, UK, Apr. 15, 2009 -- A poll of 500 UK organizations carried out on behalf of the Environment Agency has revealed that over two fifths (41%) are unaware that water consumption adds to their carbon footprint, despite keen interest in minimizing their environmental impact.

Almost half (48%) of businesses questioned cited a lack of knowledge as the main barrier to implementing water efficiency measures. Awareness of the role water wastage plays in carbon emissions varies significantly by industry and is highest amongst agricultural firms (67%), business services (59%) and hotels and restaurants (56%).

The Environment Agency's 2009 Water Efficiency Awards, aims to demonstrate that sustainability and water efficiency go hand in hand for businesses. The supply and treatment of water accounts for 1% of all the electricity purchased in the UK and is responsible for around 4m tons of CO2 emissions according to Water UK.¹

The research highlights that utility firms have a crucial role to play in educating their customers, with two thirds of those polled keen to hear more from their supplier on how to minimize their water consumption. Two fifths of (43%) of businesses would, if they could, consider swapping their water supplier on the basis of its record on water efficiency measures. Encouragingly awareness of water efficiency was highest amongst business leaders in the South East (62%) where according to the Environment Agency there is less water per head of population than in Egypt or Morocco.

Ian Barker, Head of Water at the Environment Agency said: "Water is vital to our economy and its use underpins many of our most important industries. However, climate change and population growth mean that businesses must adapt their behaviors to ensure a sustainable balance can be set between the demands of people and the environment."

"It is enormously encouraging to see the strong demand for water efficiency advice from business leaders. Water companies, Government, and regulators must work together to highlight the business benefits of water efficiency to industry and showcase best practice."

To showcase best practice in water efficiency, the Environment Agency is seeking entries for its 2009 Water Efficiency Awards, sponsored by Defra, the Food and Drink Federation and Ofwat. Backed by partners Business Link, Envirowise and IEMA, the Awards are in their ninth year and are the leading scheme in England and Wales to recognize the achievements of business in promoting water efficiency. The Environment Agency Water Efficiency Awards were launched in 2000 and are held bi-annually. The deadline for entries is May 15, and the awards ceremony will take place on 15 July 2009.

>> Find more details on past winners or enter your own firm

Case study of past winner: Leisure & Tourism Category: The Malvern Hotel & Blues Grill
The Malvern Hotel & Blues Grill is a family run hotel and restaurant business in the south-east. The owners began the Every Drop Counts project as a response to the regional water shortage in July 2005. The objectives of the project were to lower water consumption, reduce waste, reduce costs, and to generate awareness to customers and other hotel owners.

The first step in the project was to check through the hotel and find out where water could be saved. This included fixing leaks, dripping taps and putting save-a-flush bags in toilet cisterns. Baths were removed and old showers replaced. New water efficient practices were introduced such as washing salads and vegetables in a bowl, not under running water. Appliances including washing machines and dishwashers were checked for water efficiency, and were replaced when they were no longer economical to repair, with energy/water efficient models and only used for full loads.

A booklet was designed by the owners for all guest-rooms to make customers aware of the water supply problems in the south-east. It asked them to help conserve water by reusing towels, have less frequent changes of linen and to make small changes including not overfilling kettles and turning off taps while brushing teeth.

The owners gave a talk promoting their project Every Drop Counts to the Hotels and Guesthouse Association and afterwards circulated letters to the members which highlighted to their colleagues, how they could cut water consumption and costs within their premises and raise awareness of their customers. They offered the availability of the booklet for use in their guest-rooms.

For an investment of just £16, and a yearly expense of £15 to update guest bedrooms with new booklets, the financial returns have been impressive. The savings on metered water and waste costs, energy and laundry products add up to more than £840 a year. With both mains water use and mains sewer disposal figures now halved, this project just shows what can be achieved with small but important changes to water consumption.

Environment Agency water efficiency guidance for businesses:
- Always measure and monitor the amount of water you use. Compare water use each year so you can identify any unusual patterns. Also compare water use against production output for manufacturing companies and against staff numbers for service sectors.
- Make sure staff are fully aware of the importance of water minimization.
- Appoint a water monitor within your organization to undertake periodic site walk-overs to identify water minimization opportunities.
- Train employees how to use water efficiently and establish a recognition and reward program for employees and teams who do an outstanding job.
- Ensure pipes are well insulated to protect against frost damage.
- In companies where the urinals operate without flush control, saving of over £3,800/year in water and sewerage costs can be achieved by installing passive infrared (PIR) sensors at a cost of about £350 and with a payback period of 5 weeks.
- Spray taps can reduce water use by 60 - 70% compared with conventional taps.
- Tap aerators and flow restrictors can save money. Considering that a tap is being used 20 times a day for a time period of 15 seconds, by fitting a tap aerator, at a cost of £5/tap, the water and sewerage cost savings would be about £13/tap/year.
- Consider alternative water sources, e.g. rainwater use and greywater re-use.
- When purchasing new equipment, take its water efficiency into account. It may be more expensive to buy water efficient equipment, but it may have a short payback period due to the water savings achieved.
- A 5mm drip from a single tap can cost more than £900/year in water and wastewater treatment costs.