Now that summer is over and the wet British weather is back, the headline-making warnings over chronic water shortages of a few months ago seem a distant memory. Yet, water-saving policies are now more important for your business than ever. Emma Allen reports
Water, or the lack of it, continues to be a real problem in the UK. Parts of the South-east of England are still in drought, reservoirs levels are falling and, despite recent downpours, groundwater levels are still low, according to the Environment Agency.
But why should businesses be concerned? Cost is one reason. On average, water prices are 25% higher than they were two years ago, and future increases in water mains charges and sewerage costs look certain. Increased legislation also seems likely, with building regulations currently under review and the 2003 Water Act already putting a duty on certain industry sectors to be water-efficient.
The obvious answer is to use less water, as this will not only save on water supply costs but on waste water disposal charges, too. Envirowise, a Government-funded agency which promotes water and energy efficiency in business, says that the average company can trim at least 30% off its water bill by making simple adjustments. With investment, this saving could even rise to 80%.
But it's more problematic for the hospitality industry to be water-wise. Asking hotel guests to reuse towels in the name of eco-efficiency is one thing, but reducing the pressure in power showers to an unsatisfying trickle, or having toilets that don't flush properly, isn't going to win customer approval.
The plan, according to Jacob Tompkins, technical director at water charity Waterwise, should be to reduce waste rather than restrict use. "It's not about spoiling customers' enjoyment or being puritanical, but rather making savings in ways that people don't even notice," he says. "Making sure taps get turned off in the kitchen or reusing kitchen water for the garden won't inconvenience guests but will make a difference to your bill."
Reducing consumption will typically result in energy cost savings, too. "Pumping water around is very energy-intensive," he notes, "and heating water can be a huge cost, so it makes sense to use only what you need."
If you want to start saving water, here are some ideas.
Step 1: Do a water audit
Doing a water audit to build up knowledge of your site is a good place to start, says Kate Davis, water account manager at Envirowise, which offers free site visits for UK businesses.
She suggests measuring and monitoring water use around your site, comparing water and sewerage bills from year to year to check for unexpected increases, as these may indicate leaks. In high-use areas such as kitchens or swimming pools, it may be worth installing sub-meters - prices start from about £100.
Step 2: Simple and cheap fixes
Easy ways to stop wasting water include making sure that sink plugs fit properly, putting spray nozzles on hoses and repairing overflowing cisterns and dripping taps. Not fixing basic problems such as faulty washers can, over a year, cost hundreds of pounds.
In kitchens, try to turn off unnecessary flows in areas such as food prep, or wash veg in a sink or bowl instead of under running water. Hippos, which reduce unnecessary quantities of water being flushed in toilets, are free from most local water companies and are easy to fit.
Step 3: Appoint a water champion
"One problem with water management is it doesn't always fit into anyone's job description and nobody takes responsibility," Tompkins says. He suggests putting a member of staff in charge of water, to help report leaks and check pipework, monitor usage and help raise awareness among other staff.
Tompkins adds: "Also, some employees, especially if they're from overseas, won't realise how expensive water is here, or that it isn't a fixed cost. Make them aware that saving water directly saves money."
Step 4: Install low-cost equipment
Fitting inserts to turn ordinary taps into spray taps is a cheap way to reduce water use. Percussion or push taps, which shut off water flow automatically, can reduce water use by as much as 50% and cost only about £20.
Passive infrared sensors (PIR) which detect presence are another option. If the idea of using these in guest rooms doesn't appeal, install them only in kitchens or staff areas. Flow regulators on taps and showers can help to minimise excessive water consumption.
For showers, flow restrictors or "water saver" showerheads, which aerate the water and make the flow feel stronger than it actually is, can cut usage and cost only about £12 each. "These can bring flow down to about nine litres a minute, which isn't luxurious but is adequate for most people," explains Chris Herring, director at the Green Building Store, a specialist in sustainable building products.
Water-efficient baths may sound like a contradiction but there are designs now on the market that are shallower than normal, or which taper to the body.
Step 5: Involve customers
Many businesses now invite guests to get involved in their green policies - by having their towels and bed linen changed less frequently, or reminding them to turn off taps.
Simple signage in bedrooms can encourage guests to drop towels in the bath if they want them to be washed, or to hang them up if they're happy to reuse them. Ask staff to monitor any responses so you can gauge feedback.
Step 6: Urinals
Urinals are notoriously water-inefficient, especially if they are set to flush automatically, regardless of use. One easy solution is to fit a timer or install PIR, available for about £120, so that flushing is triggered by presence. Typically, this reduces water use by 70%. Waterless urinals are another option, but can require specialist maintenance and cleaning.
One recent development is the Airflush model, which is a gravity system and uses no chemicals. Herring explains: "Capital costs can be higher but running costs are virtually zero and, unlike most other waterless urinals, they don't smell."
Step 8: Use Rainwater or greywater
Interest is growing in rainwater harvesting and enquiries have doubled in the past year, says the Rainwater Harvesting Association.
On a simple level, rainwater for the garden can be collected in water butts, available for about £70, while more sophisticated systems, with prices starting at about £5,000, will be able to reuse rainwater in toilets or washing machines. Typically, a tank can sit on the roof or underground, while filtering and treatment to kill bugs is usually required.
Reusing greywater, or waste water from baths, showers and washbasins, is more complicated because of potential health risks, but can be very cost-effective for bigger sites.
- Waterwise, 020 7344 1838, www.waterwise.org.uk
- Envirowise, 0800 585974, www.envirowise.gov.uk
- Green Building Store, 01484 854898
- Environment Agency, www.environment-agency.gov.uk
- Rainwater Harvesting Association, 0845 223 5430
Water Technology List (WTL)
Through the Enhanced Capital Allowance Scheme, the Water Technology List (WTL) - developed and managed by Defra and HM Revenue & Customs in partnership with Envirowise - offers a real incentive for businesses to invest in water-efficiency technologies.
Modelled on the Government's ECA scheme for approved energy-saving products, the initiative allows businesses to write off 100% of investments in qualifying water technologies and products against taxable profits in the year of investment.
To find out more about purchasing products on the WTL, or to see a full list of qualifying water-saving technologies, visit www.eca-water.gov.uk.
Envirowise's set of online water tools allows businesses to record and keep track of how much water is being used. Using the tools provided, companies can monitor usage, identify areas to target for action and evaluate the success of their measures.
They also enable users to benchmark data, as well as providing a range of practical advice and guidance on reducing water use.
The tools are available free of charge at www.envirowise.gov.uk/water.
For more on green issues visit Caterer‘s Green Zone