Splash for cash

Martin Gibson, director of Envirowise, is concerned that UK businesses waste too much water... and money

UK industry and commerce use 1300m m3 of water every year. With the average cost of water almost 80p per m3, the cost of water use to industry is over £1000m each year. On top of this, most companies have to pay even more for their effluent disposal, so they pay once for the water coming in and then pay again for getting rid of the same water when it goes down the drain.

Unfortunately, managers in many UK companies don't find the time to address the issue of water management. This is a real concern to me as it means both water and money are being wasted.

It seems that either UK managers believe that their current water use is at the absolute minimum, or that it is not cost effective to attempt to reduce it. Either way, UK industry is saturated with an 'out of site, out of management' attitude to water consumption.

Is it sustainable?

Would it help if water were rationed? This is no longer as ridiculous a notion as one might think. A year as dry as 2003 resulted in record soil moisture deficits and reservoir water stocks declined significantly. The South East of England has less water available per head than Morocco, Egypt or Kenya.

In terms of sustainability, facts such as these are not as negligible as one might think. The Environment Agency has warned that increasing demands for water could result in the unsustainable use of water and damage to the environment. Perhaps water is simply too cheap? If it cost as much as bottled water we would see a marked increase in interest by managers in their water use. This would embed water as a resource that is 'valuable' in industrial management culture.


Since the late 1990s, the UK has seen the advent of legislation such as the Framework Directive on Water. This single piece of legislation protects all water in the environment, and paves the way for the introduction of water pricing policies by 2010 that will reflect the need to encourage efficient use of water. Furthermore, the government gave the go-ahead in March this year for a huge programme of environmental improvements within the water industry. This investment is likely to lead to a substantial price rise in water bills for both domestic and industry users. These increases may help to raise awareness about water so that people to realise that more active management of it will be beneficial.

Simple but effective

All companies, from abattoirs to zoos, can save money by reducing water consumption and effluent generation in simple ways. Quick, inexpensive measures - such as repairing leaks, and fitting push taps on basins or spray nozzles on cleaning hoses - yield ongoing savings where otherwise potential profits literally pour straight down the drain.

However, these actions will be of maximum effectiveness when a company's culture changes to reflect water as a valued resource. We might then witness people instinctively thinking about using water efficiently.

On average Envirowise estimate that companies who adopt a systematic approach to water reduction typically achieve a 20-50% reduction in water used.

Take control

The crux of the issue here is that taking a sustainable view of water use should not be an impossible feat for UK industry. Those managing UK companies should not be apathetic when the long term and sustainable rewards could be: enhanced environmental performance; sustainable cost savings; improved staff loyalty; impressive corporate social responsibility results; even becoming a more attractive investment opportunity.

For managers looking to take back control of their overheads, Envirowise is here to help. There are a number of tools available on the website and through the helpline. In addition, this year Envirowise is committed to helping UK industry achieve cost savings of £10m through water minimisation campaign The Big Splash challenge.



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