Indicators show UK water industry failing on energy use and C02 emissions

The UK water industry has launched a set of environmental indicators that show that the sector is falling behind in its attempts to reduce energy use and carbon dioxide emissions at its fixed sites.

The set of 25 indicators, which are the first released by any UK business sector, are intended to measure the water industry’s progress towards sustainability. The set is made up of 20 indicators for which the water industry has direct responsibility and five selected because of the contribution the industry can make to their improvement. Some of the indicators are identical to those used by the UK Government (see related story).

The indicators are classified in five groups: water services, environmental management, biodiversity, energy and materials, and indicators that are still under development. The fifth group includes indices for wetland birds, otter populations and global warming.

As well as the three areas in which the water industry is failing to meet its sustainability targets, the indicators show that the industry is moving closer to environmental sustainability in eight areas: water availability, household water demand, leakage, drinking water quality, environmental engagement, convictions for environmental offences, bathing water quality and use of renewable energy at fixed sites.

“Pressure from society’s demands is increasing and no country is insulated from climate change or the effects of depletion of the world’s resources,” Pamela Taylor, Chief Executive of Water UK said as she launched the report containing the indicators. “The water industry accepts its place in the front line of the UK’s response and this report shows it is serious about working positively for a sustainable future.”

Water UK, which drew up the set on behalf of the UK’s 14 water and sewerage service providers and 14 water suppliers, says the indicators are intended to establish a baseline against which future progress can be measured. Some will require modification or development and new ones will be needed, perhaps as part of an overall sustainability index.

On the negative side, the indicators show that the water industry is failing in three areas:

  • energy use at fixed sites: as more water and wastewater is treated and to higher levels, the amount of energy needed at fixed sites – and the costs – has also increased. The report says this increase in energy use will continue for some years to come as distribution and treatment systems are modernised and more stringent standards have to be met
  • CO2 emissions at fixed sites: the industry’s energy consumption at fixed sites contributed about 2.7 million tonnes of CO2 in 1998/99, equivalent to 0.04 tonnes per capita
  • CO2 emissions from road transport: the increased need to detect leakage and improve asset maintenance has increased the industry’s total annual road mileage to 100,000 tonnes of CO2 or 0.00175 tonnes per capita

On the positive side, evidence of progress includes increasing use of renewable energy and improvements in drinking water quality and sewage sludge management

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