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Advice on tap

FMs could be doing a lot more to ensure they are using water wisely and sustainably, argues Charley Maher, Managing Director of Water2business

Water is something that we, as a society, generally take for granted. But when you stop and think about it, it’s an incredibly precious resource. Buildings and businesses simply couldn’t operate without it.

It tends to be overlooked because it’s literally ‘on tap’. Its seemingly endless supply means we don’t have to think about it as we water plants, flush toilets and wash our hands at work. But the harsh reality is that it can come at a hefty price if it’s wasted or not managed properly.

Facilities managers are generally expected to improve the environmental performance of their sites while also cutting costs. Water can play a huge part in this, and FMs should be aware of the many ways to ensure water is used more sustainably.

The first step is to take stock of current practices and habits and assess what can change. It’s a good idea to take weekly meter readings where possible. This might seem like overkill, but it’s important for two key reasons: it can provide insight into the times of the day when water usage is at its peak, and it can help to quickly spot leaks in internal pipework.

For all buildings big or small, leaks can be a costly nuisance. A small leak wasting one cubic metre of water per hour can cost up to £13,000 a year. The problem is particularly acute when managing an older building with ageing pipework. Leaks are also bad for the environment, because more water is wasted and sent for treatment.

For a more in-depth view of water usage, FMs can request their water retailer to carry out a water efficiency audit. An expert will examine the site and conduct a desktop analysis of all fixtures, fittings and areas of high usage to produce a detailed report and step-by-step plan to reduce inefficiencies.

Recommendations could include installing rainwater collection systems for non-potable water which could be used to flush toilets, or water-saving devices and fittings to cut consumption in taps and on-site showers. For sites with lots of green space, it would be worth looking at eco-friendly hosepipes and other plant watering methods that conserve water. Choosing plants that require less water and ensuring that sprinkler systems are used efficiently, directing water to the roots of grass and plants, are also useful approaches.

Fitting devices and spotting leaks is only the beginning, however. For a building to become truly sustainable, the people who inhabit the building must incorporate sustainable thinking into their everyday habits. Getting a workforce to think about their water usage at work – by not leaving taps running for too long, for example – not only cuts costs and boosts environmental performance, it can help to produce a feelgood factor.

FMs could ask the water retailer to help by providing tailored educational workshops to talk to building occupants about the impact on the environment caused by excessive water use, and suggest ways to use water more wisely. As a follow-up exercise, the content from the workshops could be used as the basis of items such as posters, stickers or intranet banners to display around the site in areas such as kitchenettes, toilets or shower rooms. The water retailer may also be able to help with this.

FMs are responsible for establishing procedures in the event of emergencies such as fires, extreme weather or power outages, and problems resulting in a water shortage should receive the same level of attention. Incidents could include a nearby water main bursting, causing the site to be without water for an extended period of time. Worse, a water contamination incident may lead the local water company to instruct people not to drink or use water until further notice.

Any lengthy period of time without water can be extremely damaging for sites such as factories or manufacturing plants. And for buildings such as hospitals and care homes, it could impact on the wellbeing of patients. All FMs should think about setting up a water emergency and continuity plan. This could be done through their water retailer and would involve agreements being put in place for the retailer to provide an emergency water supply within a set timeframe. Solutions could include bowsers, tanks or other temporary infrastructure to safeguard supply, or the delivery of appropriate quantities of bottled water.

The retailer needs to work alongside the FM to make sure any contingency plan is tailored to the organisation’s needs. It should be thorough, incorporating service level agreements, maximum response times, key contacts, details of vulnerable occupants and – for multisite businesses – whether each site needs its own individual plan.

In conclusion, whether at home, at work or out and about, everyone needs to think more carefully about the way they use water. It’s time to stop taking this precious resource for granted. For facilities managers, managing water carefully and thinking beyond the tap can make a substantial difference to operational costs and environmental performance. But they needn’t do it alone. It’s worth taking the time to scope out the water retail market and picking a retailer that can provide the best solutions for their site.

In most organisations, the biggest consumer of water is the washroom. According to the Water Regulations Advisory Scheme (WRAS), toilets account for as much as 75 per cent of water usage.

The Government expects to see active efforts made in homes and businesses to reduce consumption and wastage. The Water Supply (Water Fittings) Regulations 1999 and Scottish Water Byelaws are aimed at safeguarding water supplies and promoting the efficient use of water across the UK.


• More than 17 billion litres of water goes into the UK mains water supply every day.

• It comes from aquifers, rivers and reservoirs, regardless of rainfall.

• It serves the needs of more than 60 million consumers across UK households and businesses.

• On average, each of us uses 150 litres each day.

Source: Water UK

About Sarah OBeirne

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