Water wise

Water minimisation is the next big target for the government's Envirowise programme. So why is saving water so important for your business?

Water prices are in the spotlight due to rising prices, although the focus has been mainly on households. Environment Agency chief executive argued passionately for a programme of environmental improvements in a sector which is struggling with ancient infrastructure, legislative pressures from the Water Framework Directive, and demand for water that is stretching the UK’s resources.

A tremendous amount of work has been done educating business about energy use, the cost savings to be made by acting in an environmentally responsible manner, and the necessity of energy efficiency if Kyoto Protocol targets are to be met and the challenge of climate change overcome. But water use has not received the same attention, despite the fact that it too is a resource in crisis.

Massive waste of a precious resource

Some of the statistics are startling – a tap dripping at a rate of two drops per second wastes 9.5m3/year, costing nearly £16 in water and sewerage costs. And how many taps are there on each commercial property? Increase the stream to a constant 3mm flow, and a company faces an unnecessary cost of £564/year. Clearly, being conscious of water use and wastage has a direct impact on the bottom line.

This is why Envirowise is running the Big Splash campaign, funded by both Defra and DTI, and supported by Environment Business. The programme aims to provide businesses with free, hands-on advice to help companies understand how much water they’re currently consuming, and identify simple ways this can be reduced, along with strategies to help measure savings.

Championing the campaign

The Co-Operative Group has been a champion for the Big Splash campaign, through environmental programme manager Becky Toal. The company, which is the world’s largest consumer co-operative, has more than one million individual members, 70,000 employees and a turnover of over £8.1 billion.

It is a diverse business, with 1,800 retail food stores and 800,000 customers each year through its Travelcare travel agent. The company also owns the UK’s largest funeral director, conducting 85,000 funerals per year, and holds two million personal accounts through the Co-Operative Bank.

On top of this portfolio of interests, it is also the largest farmer in the UK, with 90,000 acres under management, which adds to an already prodigious appetite for water.

Having produced social reports since 2000, and with performance measured against a company code of conduct, each business reports on a core set of key performance indicators, of which water consumption is one.

Each group has an environmental management system in place, some of which are accredited to ISO 14001. Within the EMS, water conservation is flagged as a key issue. And with the retail segment of the Co-Operative Group consuming 845,000m3 of water – total for the group is 4 million m3 – the scope for savings is vast.

Taking advantage of the free Envirowise Big Splash audits allowed the company to take an independent look at potential cost reductions and the environmental benefits that follow. Audits took place at retail and department stores, as well as distribution centres, the Funeralcare’s coffin factory and masonry operations, and the pharmacy branches.

Total cost savings of more than £42,0900 were identified, with a implementation cost of £12,000. This allowed the company to make year on year savings and reduce water use by more than 12,000m3. On contacting Envirowise, companies will receive:

  • a tailor-made information pack to help your business make water savings;
  • ideas for getting started;
  • one-to-one support from a named Envirowise buddy;
  • publications to help implement a water minimisation strategy;
  • inspiration, via case studies, showing what others have done;
  • online support and presentations;
  • a monitoring tool to track and report water savings;
  • invitations to workshops and events; and
  • a request form for a free on-site waste review, known as a FastTrack visit.
    Awareness raising
  • As with all environmental impacts, monitoring and measurement is crucial to successfully reducing usage, and with an estimated daily use of 40-70 litres of water for each employee (on sites with a canteen), every water source has the potential for reductions, even without taking process water into account.

    The biggest problem is that – as with electricity – water is taken very much for granted. With 80% of households in England and Wales still charged for their water based on the rateable value of their property, and therefore lacking even the incentive to minimise use presented by a per unit energy bill, employees tend not to think of water as the precious resource it is – or as a cost that can be reduced.

    With climate change a reality, ever-increasing demand and a water hungry south east, where tens of thousands of new homes will be built requiring water to be piped from all over the country, a real environmental crisis is unfolding in the UK. Staff need to be made aware of how precious a resource water is, and that remaining alert – keeping an eye out for leaks, making sure they are rectified and minimising use of hosepipes and taps – is essential to successful reductions.

    Low cost or no cost solutions

    There are of course a number of low-cost or even no-cost measures a company can take, from installing cistern volume adjusters or flow restriction devices to flush control in urinals and automatic or spray taps. However, the most important measure remains education and awareness.

    Having encouraged staff to take water efficiency on board, perhaps by forming teams and identifying champions within the company, real savings can be made from the beginning.

    Water minimisation is typical of effective environmental management, in that it offers cost savings alongside environental improvements. With support such as that offered by Envirowise readily available and free, businesses have no real excuse not to take the water minimisation message on board.

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