Big changes ahead: how the Water Bill can make businesses more sustainable

Water forms an important part of business sustainability. Or at least it should, says Ian Hewson. But the reality is that most businesses in England are used to being presented with a bill at the end of every month or quarter for the amount of water they have consumed, with little visibility of how they can reduce consumption and cut costs.

Good water management is more than just paying a bill, particularly in a business context. The implementation of the Government’s ‘Water for Life’ Bill could change all of that.

Currently making its way through Westminster, the Bill will introduce competition to the English non-domestic water market. That will mean for the first time that all businesses, as well as public sector organisations, will be in a position to choose their supplier of water and waste water services.

Competition is expected to be introduced in April 2017 to all non-domestic sites in England, an estimated total of 1.1 million. The existing market in England, restricted to sites which use more than five million litres (five megalitres) of water per year, consists of just 27,000.

That’s a big change and competition will force retailers to up their game and work with businesses to enhance their sustainability through water.

Competition in Scotland

You need only look across the border to Scotland for a precedent. The Water Bill takes much of its experience from Scotland’s market, which was the first of its kind in the world.

Since the introduction of competition to the non-domestic market in April 2008, Scottish customers have experienced tangible benefits. The market has achieved £36m in consumption savings, while a further £30m in discounts have been made available.

The consumptions savings have a direct positive impact on the environment. Some 16 billion litres of water have been taken out of use since 2008. That’s the equivalent of 28,000 tonnes of carbon, or taking 7,000 cars off the road.

Competition has driven this. To retain customers, retailers have needed to up their game. To survive they must focus on customers and their needs, driving innovation in the market. That’s ably demonstrated by the fact that, as a company, we’ve gone from offering six services to more than 60.

Innovation driving sustainability

Since the introduction of competition, dozens of new services have been created to help customers cut their water consumption and manage their costs more effectively.

These range from the introduction of automated meter readers (AMRs), which automatically take readings from your water meter every 15 minutes, to harvesting water from alternative sources. While the first allows you to better understand and take control of your water consumption, the latter means you can abstract water from boreholes, rivers and canals depending on the quality of water required.

It’s not only in these traditional areas of water management that you will find innovation, though. We’ve also seen the introduction of financial models that allow organisations to tap into water efficiency with no upfront cost. Glasgow City Council, for example, has saved £1.4m so far, the equivalent of 1,105 tonnes of carbon, by using a model whereby we provide the upfront capital investment and share in the efficiency savings made.

Another example would be Coca-Cola, which wanted help to cut water consumption and achieve its target of becoming water neutral. Water controls were installed that helped it reduce use by 1.4% and an operation manual was provided to staff to help them manage the plant on a day-to-day basis.

Competition has driven retailers to focus on the customer’s business and their needs. It’s the key driver of innovation in the market, ensuring that customers get the services they require.

Act now

But you don’t have to wait until 2017 to look at making your business’ water management more sustainable. If, in your estate, you have sites that meet the five megalitre threshold, these can be switched now. That’ll help you get a feel for how the market might be able to serve your overall requirements in a few years’ time, as well as being able to select a retailer that can better meet your business needs now.

At other sites you can also look to reduce your consumption and cut your costs. Look at the services you have. Think about whether they are working for you. Consider what you need and where you could reduce consumption – often simple steps, such as water efficient taps, can have a significant impact.

2017 might seem like a long time away, but businesses that engage with these changes now stand to benefit the most from what they will offer. It’s never too soon to begin preparing, so start looking at your water supply now.

Ian Hewson is head of water and wastewater solutions at Business Stream

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