What makes a Sustainability Leader? Case study: Whitbread Group & Waterscan

With deadline day for entry to the 2015 Sustainability Leaders Awards later this week, we take a closer look at the outstanding water management initiative from Whitbread Group and Waterscan that won over last year's judges.

Reducing water consumption is very much a corporate priority at Whitbread Group, a company which is making impressive headway on this front, particularly through a scale-up of greywater recycling technology across its sites.

At the centre of this approach is Whitbread’s target to save more than one million cubic metres of water by 2017 (against a 2009 baseline). So far, it has reduced water consumption by 21.44%, resulting in a total water reduction of more than 250,000 cubic metres per year – the equivalent carbon saving of 251,250 kg CO2e per year.


The company first analysed its operational water footprint to identify baseline data, assess risks and also opportunities before defining the goal and scope of the project. It then developed a water management strategy to help ensure the project could be delivered on time, to plan and within budget. Board level buy-in was key, as this also ensured stakeholder buy-in.

Due to the nature of the hotel industry, Whitbread realised there was a great opportunity to take advantage of greywater recycling to make a significant contribution towards its water reduction target. It decided to capture the water used through wash basins, showers and baths for reuse in flushing toilets. It also employed other water-efficient technologies such as new build and retrofit rainwater harvesting, sensor toilet cisterns, aerated showers and taps. In addition, 40,000 bedrooms were fitted with low flow showerheads.

Return on investment

In terms of greywater recycling, Whitbread and Waterscan tailored the design of the system to maximise its efficiency for each specific situation. 

This approach achieved numerous benefits – it reduced water consumption by more than 30% on each site and improved system energy efficiency. Built-in telemetry also enabled live system diagnostics, which greatly reduced the likelihood of switching to mains water.

Greywater systems, compared with other water reuse systems such as rainwater harvesting, also offer a quicker return on investment as the supply of water into the system isn’t reliant on factors such as rainfall, meaning a more reliable source of recycled water is available. Whitbread found the system ideal for its Premier Inn hotels where guests will often balance water use in flushing toilets with that of showering or bathing.

During the course of the project, hotel potable water usage was reduced by 30% due to greywater recycling and some 113,635 cubic metres of water consumption savings were made through automatic meter readings (AMR) and leak repairs. Through responding to AMR alerts and sending leak detection and repair teams to site swiftly, more than £300,000 in savings has been realised.


A rollout of 40,000 low-flow showerheads was also completed, saving the equivalent of 6,250 baths in a year and more than 500 water-saving kitchen taps and spray arms were installed. Overall, Whitbread exceeded its project target by more than 40%. It has since been awarded the Carbon Trust Water Standard and donated more than £1million to WaterAid.

Engagement, both staff and customer level, was key to the success of this strategy. Whitbread pioneers its ‘Good Together’ CSR approach to share best practice across its hotel and restaurant portfolio – this approach has delivered a 3% reduction in water consumption alone. Engagement measures include issuing ‘environment packs’ to all sites, in-house and customer-facing campaigns to raising awareness of smart water saving practices and online staff training modules.

The next phase of the company’s water reduction strategy will see new targets launched next year; to achieve its long-term goals, Whitbread needs to reduce water consumption by 25% by 2017.

What the judges said…

“We were particularly taken by the scale of greywater recycling demonstrated across such a large business. A commitment to greywater recycling at such a corporate level is very bold. Whitbread should be commended for the breadth of their commitment across many aspects of water saving and impressive transparency… tackling both existing and new premises on all fronts over a sustained period is impressive.”

Final submission deadline for the Sustainability Leaders Awards 2015 is Thursday, 23 July.


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