How to adopt an effective strategy to save water

Today marks the start of World Water Week (27 August to 1 September 2017). So what better time to highlight how businesses can save on both consumption and the cost of this vital resource.

Since the UK water market opened up to competition for business consumers in April, more than 36,000 have switched water supplier, according to water market operator MOSL. But apparently, this number only represents around 1.4% of the overall 2.6 million supply points in the market.

Perhaps surprisingly, around 60% of ‘switchers’ appear to be SMEs. Yet there are potentially more benefits for organisations with large estates, as appointing one company to supply the whole portfolio can drive efficiencies in both management time (querying bills, collating data etc) as well as cost.

Taking a multifaceted approach
Switching aside, the most effective way to reduce costs is by maximising efficient use of water. But making this happen requires a multifaceted approach.

Certainly for us at npower, we’ve found that using a combination of technological innovation and behavioural change has helped us achieve an absolute water reduction of 31.3% over a 36-month period across our retail business.

I’m going to share with you how we’ve achieved this – and how you can replicate similar savings in your own business.

Setting a clear water policy
A good place to start is by defining a clear water policy. Ours complements our ISO14001 system and npower’s environmental and energy policy. It outlines a company-wide commitment to monitor performance, make resources available to invest in technologies, and campaign to raise water efficiency awareness and communicate targets to our people.

In case you’re not aware, ISO14001 sets out the criteria for an environmental management system, helping organisations improve their environmental performance through more efficient use of resources and reduction of waste.

Our water performance is monitored on a monthly basis by our environmental and energy managers, enabling us to take a systematic approach to achieving continual improvement in performance.

Using smart meters and analytics
Automatic meter reading (AMR) technology allows us to automatically collect Half-Hourly consumption, diagnostic and status data from water meters across our portfolio. We then transfer that information to our Intelligent Analytics utility management software. (See more about IA here.)

This system enables us to collate water data and analyse it to identify high-use hotspots and times – and ensure that it fits the water bills received.

If consumption is significantly different to our forecasts, we can analyse this data to see why, making any adjustments required on a site-by-site basis, or looking into issues in more detail.

Setting clear water targets
Our current water targets aim to understand our consumption better through more detailed data collation, as outlined above. We target our top three sites in terms of water consumption, as well as assessing efficiency measures across npower’s ever-changing portfolio of properties.

A continued focus on awareness and communication is then driving reductions through better understanding of the environmental and financial impact of water use across our estate.

Assessing the best technologies
In terms of making use of new technologies, they don’t all have to be impressively high-tech or complex. One of the largest reductions we’ve seen was simply due to the introduction of water-saving devices across the estate’s male washrooms.

These have reduced flushing in urinals from an average of four times per hour to four times per day. The results have been huge – water consumption has dropped by more than 8000 cubic metres across our estate since their installation in 2013.

Ready prepared ‘go to’ lists
Whenever we look at introducing heating and ventilation systems, air conditioning hardware, taps, WCs etc, we refer to the government’s Energy Technology List or Water Technology List, which naturally look to minimise energy and water use.

These have also become our ‘go-to’ lists when conducting any mechanical and electrical work during site refurbishments. Washroom improvements along with water-saving technologies are now always considered for every project.

Setting high standards
Whenever we do any refurbishment work, we use the ‘SKA rating’ environmental assessment tool developed by the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors (RICS). It consists of more than 100 sustainable 'good practice' measures covering energy and carbon emissions, waste, water, materials, pollution, wellbeing and transport.

Our goal is always to achieve Gold certification under this scheme. So one of the steps we have taken – and which we would advise other businesses to also adopt – is to challenge contractors to monitor and subsequently reduce their water usage for the duration of the project.

In addition, we use window-cleaning companies which minimise their water use. And our appointed catering service provider ensures that kitchen water usage is kept to a minimum through staff training and awareness.

Mitigating a key global risk
A recent Global Risks Report from the World Economic Forum ranked potential water crises as the third most impactful global risk in the future. So having a strategy to minimise water use and manage this vital resource more effectively is becoming increasingly important for any business.

That’s probably why the Carbon Trust now recognises water alongside carbon and waste management in its Triple Standard accreditation (we are very proud to be the only energy company to have achieved this).

But like any resource, adopting a robust strategy to facilitate efficient use and minimise waste makes sense. It’s not only good for the planet, but also good for your profit and your people.

World Water Week 2017