There's no getting around it - hotels, restaurants and catering firms use a lot of water. Bathrooms, kitchens, spas and swimming pools are all water-hungry environments.
Yet, with Envirowise, the Government-funded sustainable business body, estimating that average water bills have gone up 18% over the past five years, and with the trade using some 391 billion litres of water every year (enough to fill 156,400 Olympic-sized swimming pools), much of it metered and therefore coming straight off the bottom line, reducing water usage can clearly make not just environmental but commercial sense.
When the 321-bedroom Jurys Inn in Glasgow, for example, carried out a "water audit" back in 2004, the results were startling.
"We noticed there was water running constantly in the kitchen. If people were cleaning vegetables or washing pasta under the cold tap, they'd not just leave it running while they were doing it, but leave the tap on between jobs," explains financial controller Sharon McLeish.
"Or, when rooms were being cleaned, sometimes the toilet was being flushed as many as three times. It'd get flushed after the cleaning fluid was put in, when the cleaner left the room, and then the supervisor would come round and flush it a third time. So we very quickly put in a one-flush policy," she adds.
This change, along with ongoing education for staff and the installation of water-saving "hippos" in cisterns to reduce the amount of water used with each flush, has cut the hotel's water consumption by 1.5 million litres a year and, crucially, its water bill by 14%.
"A lot of it is small things, such as having someone walk around the building and make sure there are no dripping taps," McLeish explains.
"There are now lots of policies in place, and staff at their induction are made aware of them and our procedures. We've also had other hoteliers in Glasgow come and visit to see what we have done," she adds.
Getting staff into the habit of not leaving taps running replacing dripping taps or old washing machines reducing the amount of water used for flushing collecting rainwater and recycling "grey water" - such as that used in showers - for use in cisterns or watering gardens can all make a difference, agrees Andrea Nicholas of the Perth-based Green Tourism Business Scheme.
"There is definitely still some way to go, but as an issue it is becoming more mainstream. A few years ago you might have been thought a bit of a hippie to be banging on about water usage, but not so much now," she says.
Envirowise, for one, estimates that food and drinks manufacturers in England and Wales alone could make combined annual savings of up to 88 million cubic metres, worth an estimated £256,000 per day. To this end, in July it launched an initiative called Rippleffect to help businesses cut their water and effluent bills. Registrations are currently being taken for next year's scheme.
"We keep reinforcing the message, but in a lot of hotels the volumes of water being used are still very high," points out Claire Sweeney, water manager at Envirowise.
"It is common for staff not to realise that water is not free. But there are lots of simple things you can do, such as keeping a record of water being used on the site and checking that against your bill to ensure you are being charged the right amount.
Controls on taps
"Putting in cistern volume adjusters and controls on taps and urinals also need not be hugely costly, while education and awareness doesn't cost anything," she adds.
Ah yes, money. While there is help available through Enhanced Capital Allowances (see panel), the difficulty for many hoteliers remains in squaring the circle between wanting to "do the right thing" environmentally and needing it to make economic sense, as Michael Beales, owner of the 20-bedroom Castell Malgwyn hotel in Llechryd, Pembrokeshire, points out.
His hotel is cited as a success story by the Environment Agency for having cut water usage by more than a quarter, saving, at least on paper, some £1,600 a year.
Key changes have included fitting spray and push taps, installing waterless urinals, and putting volume adjusters in cisterns.
But with replacement cartridges for the waterless urinals costing about £35 and needing to be replaced every three months, the benefit to the business has been "extremely marginal", he says.
"If you are installing them from scratch, I think it probably is worth it, but if you are switching over, it is probably not," he adds.
If you're refurbishing or fitting out anyway, looking at ways of reducing water consumption and, in fact, your energy usage as a whole is clearly a no-brainer, agrees Mark Anderson, property director at Whitbread Hotels & Restaurants. But when it comes to retro-fitting, the decisions can be more difficult, he concedes.
"If these things are installed at the same time as the building, there is virtually no cost to the business. But if you are looking at retro-fitting an existing estate, it does become more expensive.
"And for independent and sole operators it certainly is not easy. Even for us, we want to do things that are commercially viable as well as being the right thing to do," he says.
At Whitbread, for example, infrared sensors to regulate flushing have been installed on the urinals in male washrooms in some 70 hotels and 390 restaurants, with new-build hotels being fitted with dual-flush WCs as standard. At its Doncaster Premier Inn, a grey water recovery system has been put in that recycles waste water from the showers for use in the cisterns, an innovation that has cut water usage by 19%.
Similarly, at the chain's Tamworth Premier Inn in Staffordshire, which opens in December, Whitbread is testing an array of energy-saving technologies and devices.
These include eco-friendly ground-source heat pumps to cool and heat rooms and make hot water grey water recycling rainwater collection high-efficiency thermal and acoustic insulation low-energy motion-sensor LED lighting and solar panels.
Filter or Recycle
"From a consumption point of view, hotels are, by their nature, heavy consumers of water. Where it goes wrong is in thinking that everything has to be fresh, clean water and that you can't filter or recycle water back into the building," says Anderson.
"We are really only just starting to explore what we can do here, but we do believe there are opportunities to collect rainwater and recycle the water going through our system," he enthuses.
For Whitbread, Tamworth is essentially a research and development project, with the success or failure of its various innovations likely to inform future investment decisions, Anderson points out.
"Some things we already know will absolutely work, others probably may not. And it is not always about whether they are profit-generating. It may be that we just think they are the right thing to do or that they are cost-neutral," he explains.
"What we will do is get through the winter and probably sit down in the spring and do a formal six-month post-implementation review, followed by another one at 12 months. Some of it we expect to roll out very quickly," he adds.
Ten things you can do
â- Monitor your water use, and regularly check for leaks or overflows.
â- Benchmark your water use, using the Envirowise water savings calculator (www.envirowise.gov.uk/hotelswater) to see how much you could save.
â- Consider installing sub-meters in high-use areas such as kitchens, guest rooms, pools and spas.
â- Put in water-saving devices such as water-efficient dishwashers, sensor taps, urinal controls, waterless urinals, low-flush and dual-flush toilets and air-intake showers.
â- Investigate whether your devices qualify for Enhanced Capital Allowances that can allow you write off 100% of the investment against taxable profits.
â- If you have a taller building, consider installing pressure-reduction devices.
â- Only run washing machines when full, and introduce a towel reuse policy.
â- Consider using grey water for watering plants, outside washing and toilet flushing.
â- Encourage staff not to rinse or defrost food under running water. Alternatively, use a two-sink system to rinse and defrost at room temperature or in a fridge.
â- Cover pools and spas out of hours to reduce evaporation, and make sure you maximise the efficiency of back-flushing filtration systems.