Despite the wettest April since records began, eyebrows were raised at the continuation of Britain’s drought alert. The deluge followed the driest March in 59 years, but on the back of a spate of dry winters it has done little to revive the deep, underground aquifers which supply so much of our water.
According to Jacob Tompkins, managing director of the NGO Waterwise, the dry, hard ground meant that most of the water simply ran off into rivers, with the soil just below the surface hardly touched. “The current situation highlights the need to take a longer-term view of water management – especially the need to promote wise water usage all year around,” he says.
Water scarcity is a global issue and as the world’s population grows, so does the demand for water. This demand for water is not just for drinking but for producing water-intensive products too, such as meat, sugar and cotton. The World Wildlife Fund estimates that by 2025 some 2.8 billion people will face water stress or scarcity.
As a result both domestic and business users alike are being urged to adopt new approaches to water use, from working together to develop innovative solutions to simply changing the way in which we take water for granted.
In particular, companies are being urged to look at their supply chain and make changes if, for instance, they are using water-intensive products or raw materials produced in areas of high water scarcity. It’s an approach that, to be effective, calls for co-operation at every level of the chain.
Collaboration between industry and academia is also growing. In the east of England, Anglian Water is working with the University of Cambridge through the Cambridge Programme for Sustainability Leadership (CPSL) to advance the debate around sustainable water and bring a range of stakeholders together to help inform future government policy.
Changing the way people think about water is also critical, says Bob Wilson, a director of Anglian Water Business. “Employees need to start looking at water as a finite resource,” he says.
Wilson cites an anecdotal example where managers at a particular firm carried out a water audit and discovered that hoses used to wash down vehicles were left running continuously, wasting thousands of litres of fresh water a day.
The company acted swiftly, installing trigger guns on the hoses, only to soon discover that staff simply taped up the triggers. It’s this kind of entrenched attitude that needs to change, urges Wilson.
Earlier this year, Bedford borough council became the first local authority in the UK to sign up to a pledge which commits them to reducing water usage by 20% by 2015 across all council buildings.
As part of its water audit, explains deputy mayor Cllr Charles Royden, the council found that just by changing the frequency in which school urinals automatically flush, especially at night and during holidays, can save as much as £2,000 a year per school.
The council is also working with local residents to help them become more water efficient, while initiatives such as rainwater harvesting for use in public toilets are also being piloted.
“It’s ridiculous that you take good quality water that is treated and put through a costly, energy-intensive process and then use it for washing a car,” says Royden. “I’m sure going forward there will be more rainwater harvesting and imaginative uses of grey water.”
Water companies are also working with businesses to show some of water’s hidden costs. “It’s not just about piping water in but then how this water is used within the manufacturing processes,” says Wilson. “Heating and chilling water costs money and the water-energy-carbon link is now being made.
“Using water more sustainably should be viewed as an opportunity to operate more efficiently and effectively, in the same ways as cutting CO2 emissions.”
Boston-based Cucina Sano produce ready meals for major supermarkets and have introduced an environmental team dubbed the “Waste Warriors” to help raise awareness about water use – both at home and at work – among staff.
Will Rose is the engineering manager at Cucina Sano, and as with any food manufacturing business, water use is high. Rose and his team have developed ways to reduce this usage and, alongside regular checks for leaks on valves and pipes, the company plans production runs so that similar types of products follow each other, reducing the number of wash downs needed.
The business is also developing its own on-site effluent water treatment plant, allowing it to recycle as much as 60% of its waste water back into the business, cutting back on the costs of piping in new, clean water, as well as the expense of treating water before it’s discharged.
“We class water as one of our site utilities and measure it alongside electricity, gas and oil,” he says. “We basically see it as a resource that is going to get more and more expensive, so we’re planning for the future to ensure we don’t increase our water usage as our sales grow.”
So whether it’s via collaboration, analysis of the supply chain, behavioural change or the effect of the regulatory agenda, the water landscape is changing, and businesses must ensure they are ready for a more sustainable future.
This content is brought to you by Guardian Sustainable Business in association with Anglian Water. Produced by Guardian Business and Professional to a brief agreed with Anglian Water. Paid for by Anglian Water. All editorial controlled and overseen by the Guardian.
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