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Rising tide

FM professionals are looking to technology to address a rising tide of water costs – as well as performance, sustainability and hygiene concerns. Propelair CEO Garry Moore reports

Toilet flushing is a huge drain – literally – on water resources, accounting for up to 90 per cent of water consumption in some commercial buildings.

Waking up to the scale of the problem has taken years, partly due to a lack of breakthrough bathroom technologies. But economic reality can’t be ignored forever, and water rates have been rising above inflation for more than a decade.

Now business owners and public-sector finance chiefs are seeking strategies to stop pouring money down the plughole – and are looking for savings as the water industry prepares for its biggest shake-up for years.

LB_Redbridge_Lynton_House

Redbridge – Lynton House

From April 2017, all businesses, public-sector organisations, charitable and not-for-profit groups can choose their water and sewerage supplier – whatever the size of the enterprise. A revised water supply licensing regime will boost competition and lower barriers to entry by allowing all non-domestic customers in England to choose their supplier.

A major weapon in facilities managers’ armoury is our UK-designed and manufactured, high-performance toilet, which uses a 1.5-litre flush compared to the traditional nine litres.

Ending the ‘one size fits all’ approach, the Water Act 2014 will enable firms and public bodies to negotiate terms to suit their needs – on customer service, sustainability, efficiency advice and price.

Currently, only customers consuming more than five million litres a year in England can switch supplier. Wales will retain its 5 million litre threshold but Scotland has had full retail competition for non-household customers since 2008.

Past examples of utility liberalisation suggest we’ll see downward price pressure along with new entrants and likely eventual consolidation.

The government is also targeting environmental behaviours. “It is hoped that opening up the market to competition will lead to innovation from new appointees, e.g. increased grey water recycling and greater engagement with customers about efficient water consumption,” said a note by the law firm Pinsent Masons.

But while the prospect of increased competition is welcome, there’s little argument about the likely long-term price trend. A 2013 study by Unison and the New Policy Institute found water bills had risen by 64 per cent in the previous 10 years compared with a 28 per cent increase in average earnings.

Upward price pressure will continue, says Green Alliance. The environmental think tank argues that to satisfy rising demand, new investment will be required, particularly in southeast England.

From 2015 to 2020, water companies in England and Wales will invest £44 billion in customer services, according to the industry regulator Ofwat, including £3.5 billion on protecting the environment.

Scarcity is already a problem, with all but one company region in England and Wales currently classed by the Environment Agency as water-stressed, says Green Alliance in its paper, Cutting the cost of water: The case for improving water efficiency in the UK.

The report identifies three factors that will make things worse – population increase, climate change leading to reduced availability, and regulatory restrictions on taking water from stretched sources.

“Water efficiency will help to bring down costs and bills,” says the research. “To address … scarcity …, the next five years will see greater ambition than ever before on reducing water use.”

Among the four ways identified by the think tank to maximise efficiency are reducing non-essential consumption by large users, and integrating water and energy efficiency programmes.

Despite the changes, water will remain a highly regulated sector, and even big customers will be limited in their ability to negotiate discounts. So technology will play a much more important role in driving efficiency.

So prepare for increased interest in metering, filtration, wastewater processing and our own innovative, high-performance toilet.

Measurability is key and before committing money, FM professionals should be clear about the scale of the performance and benefits expected. Results will vary according to water prices and usage levels so to ensure accurate savings estimates, we use a ‘savings calculator’ and trial our installations rigorously on site before sign-off.

The Royal Bank of Scotland has cut water use in one busy building by installing Propelair, which was selected by the bank to participate in its pioneering Innovation Gateway scheme, aimed at driving carbon reduction.

By reducing the average flush from 8.11 litres to 1.47 litres at its Premier Place offices in London, it is estimated that water bills will be halved. Rolled out across the RBS estate, our innovation could save RBS £1 million a year.

Toilets installed by Redbridge, Brighton & Hove and Winchester councils will have paid for themselves in at most three years.

With Propelair, you pay for what you consume, avoiding the double flushing and leakages found with traditional gravity-fed systems.

Not only does Propelair achieve measurable savings, helping property managers anticipate costs and plan their budgets, it also provides a showcase for organisations’ commitment to carbon reduction in a place frequented by staff and guests.

This is important because environmental concerns are rising up the property agenda. Requiring a fraction of the energy usually needed for water and waste processing, Propelair reduces carbon footprint by an average 80 per cent.

“Implementation of sustainability within the FM sector and by clients is now seen as a prerequisite to complying with the increasing array of regulations and voluntary reports required by shareholders and investors,” says the latest British Institute of Facilities Management Sustainability Survey, a study tracking trends in the industry for the past decade.

Water management is a key area for reporting, along with energy, carbon footprint, waste and health and safety. “FMs must … develop a solid evidence base that is robust in terms of granularity and accuracy. Without this, it will be hard to make a case that the returns from spending on sustainability are compelling.”

With its closable lid and better hinges, our toilet makes for a healthier workplace by limiting the risk of salmonella, E-coli, colds, flu and throat infections.

About Sarah OBeirne

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