When the topic of water management is discussed countries such as Australia or Dubai usually come to mind, areas that are associated with high temperatures and little rainfall during the summer season. At the other extreme is the UK; with a reputation for near constant rain, the presumption is that the country has more than enough water, however, this is not the case.
The SFMI, founded in 2012, annually assesses FM providers on the integration of sustainability into their strategy, operations and supply chain. Since its inception, water has been one of the lowest scoring criteria from these assessments. Unlike carbon, energy and waste, water is often overlooked as an opportunity for reducing negative environmental impacts. Yet as the climate shifts in response to global warming, water stress is becoming a reality for some regions of the UK, both in terms of drought during heatwaves and increasingly heavy downpours that can lead to flooding.
In a recent webinar, delivered jointly by The SFMI and Methven UK, The SFMI showcased how they have started to build a picture of risks, challenges and solutions of water management in the UK.
In the latter half of the 20th century rainfall did not change in the UK but population size did. As a result, water stressed areas of the UK have grown. In the 1950s the UK’s population stood at 50.6 million people. This has now increased to 67.1 million [i], however, the amount of water available has not increased, resulting in less water available per capita. In addition to this, the amount of water individuals consume has increased from 85 litres per day per person in the 1960s, to 143 litres (2020) and this number is rising [ii]. This increase in consumption coupled with limited resources has led to an increase in water stressed areas around the UK. With summers becoming increasingly drier in recent years due to global warming, this increase in demand is exacerbated by insecurity of supply. Despite this, many people, companies and the government continue to underestimate water issues in the UK.
Another major issue surrounding water in the UK is leakage. A large proportion of water usage is lost through leakage, with more than 20% of firms confirming they have had a leak at their site [iii]. FM companies deal with and manage leaks whenever they occur on their sites, however these leaks are costly in time, money and resources, and thus have a negative impact on the business.
Chris Billingham from Methven UK states: “Large businesses are at greater risk from having to stop operations because of a problem with their water supply [iv]. Without functioning toilets and washrooms you are not legally allowed to continue your operations. This has a direct financial impact on a business which is clear to calculate. Leakages not only impact business operations but also have a direct financial cost on the business as well. Due to frequently being overlooked water is not often recorded and therefore cannot be easily financially calculated as a loss of resource. Only 46% of large firms and 33% of SMEs track their water usage. With non-households accounting for 30% of the UK water usage this is very low.
“Furthermore, there is growing interest in ESG targets and data collection, however, the data on water usage and consumption is poor. This can be due to poor financial motivations, and a lack of understanding of future risk when compared to other major issues, such as the climate crisis.
“Currently energy and waste have a high level of corporate attention. This is due to the long association with cost savings, the legal and compliance frameworks that have been developed, and the links as major contributors to climate change; this motivates solution providers to report data to a higher standard. With certification schemes in the built environment, we often see a lower focus on water from the operational-use category, and much higher emphasis on the construction phase, which again highlights the barriers to uptake.”
Within the FM industry, companies have the power and choice to make changes which will improve water management in their own operations and for their clients. The first step is to prioritise the problem. Water management issues have a lower financial impact but will not disappear without direct action. Companies which prioritise improving water management can unveil opportunities as a business, see reductions in their carbon footprint, and also create benefits for society. By making strategic plans water can be easily managed and become less of an overlooked burden.
Another key solution to improving water management is through measuring. By using smart fixtures and fittings water and its impact can be measured and financially calculated; consequently, companies can benefit from improved efficiencies. By making water measurable the allocation of financial impact becomes easier and enables the business case for water to be made in a clearer way. As a result, businesses will be able to push through water change with less opposition. In addition, smart fixtures and fittings also provide feedback and can offer suggestions for reducing waste. Methven UK case studies have found that urinal flushing can be limited whilst still providing the same quality service. Setting a urinal to only flush after so many uses helps reduce water waste and focuses on using water when needed, not just on an autonomous schedule. Studies have shown that smart fixtures and fittings saved 85,170 litres by optimising flush duration and shutting off when not in use [v].
In addition, the use of smart fixtures and fittings also enables responsive communications. Methven’s case study “Charter Hall, NSW Australia” found that by using these communications waste was lowered by 18%. Furthermore, it found that this could also be used to prompt better behaviour from employees. For example, communicating how much time is spent washing hands prompts people to actually spend more time cleaning their hands, and since the pandemic we all know the value of good hygiene. Whilst most people wash their hands for 6.2 seconds they found that simple signage increased this by 7%. This helps contribute to the general health and well-being of employees, proving it to be a motivator for the business.
Another way to improve water management and efficiency is to improve the washroom design and layout. This is something to consider pre-design but can be implemented during refurbishment. The design of a washroom can in fact affect water consumption and impact both the efficiency and effectiveness of water fixtures and fittings. These consumption impacts can be from an increased ease of repairs but also by influencing unconscious behaviour. Methven UK cite this fact in a case study where they found that the use of urinals has a substantially lower water consumption, however, if one urinal was in use the majority of men opted to use the cubicles if in line of sight. Methven UK found that if the cubicles were situated around a corner this led to an increase in using urinals, despite having another one in use. Over 381,000 litres are saved by using urinals instead of toilets [vi].
The SFMI believe that more FMs should be prioritising water management as part of their sustainability journey. With the backdrop of the growing climate crisis, the issues surrounding water will only worsen. By taking positive action now, FMs can reduce their impact and help build the reputation of the FM industry as a sustainable solutions provider. Being a responsible business requires organisations to take ownership and responsibility for their actions. With the ever-growing attention and investment in ESG, now is the time for FMs to act. Water management can be efficient and innovatively managed if truly embraced. The SMFI aims to drive thought leadership and work alongside industry leaders to discuss and further the FM industry’s sustainability standards.