A quick guide to: making your business more water efficient

As our climate changes, businesses can consider how to manage water differently. Areas such as giving thought to collecting rainwater, reusing grey water and joining an accredited organisation are all key opportunities.

As businesses take up the challenge of reaching net zero over the coming years, much of their focus will be on reducing carbon emissions. But with shifting climate patterns and the need for better resources management, they should not overlook the importance of water management.

According to the UK’s Met Office, climate change over the coming decades in the UK is likely to lead to:

  • warmer and wetter winters
  • hotter and drier summers
  • more frequent and intense weather extremes

While the trend might be for drier summers, the Met Office is keen to point out that this doesn’t necessarily mean less rain. In fact, scientists project the intensity of rain – so how heavy rainfall is when it occurs – will increase. In the summer, this could rise by up to 20% and, in winter, up to 25%.

As the UK and its infrastructure adapt to these shifting rainfall patterns, businesses can revaluate how they manage the water they use. 

The benefits of becoming more water efficient

  • less water is taken from external water sources
  • discharges into rivers and pollution are reduced
  • different quality waters are used for different purposes

With so many types of business in the UK with so many different uses of water, no one-size-fits-all is appropriate. However, if you are planning to create an environmental management system, water use should be a key component and would demand a full review of how your business uses it, how to reduce water use, and how to measure progress. Aside from this, there are some general principles worth considering outlined below.  

Reduce your water use

Cutting down your water use might simply be a case of identifying and fixing leaks in your building. On top of that, you may wish to explore low-flow taps and even low-flush toilets. You might also consider changing behaviours in your workplace by encouraging colleagues to use less water by putting notices next to sinks and appliances like kettles. 

Collecting rainwater

Harvesting rainwater is suited to businesses that use premises with large roof areas: think retail and leisure outlets, distribution centres and large commercial buildings. There’s a but… the approach needs to be carefully planned and is more complicated than simply installing a water butt as you might do at home. Estimating the amount of water you are likely to collect, based on weather patterns and collection area, how quickly you will use it, and the storage required is no easy job.

However, there are specialists available to help. They should be able to quantify the supply and demand for water in your business, and design/build a system that feeds the water back into your premises for non-potable uses, such as flushing toilets.  

Reuse grey water

Grey water, as the name suggests, is the wastewater generated from activities like washing and laundry (but excluding toilet waste). Recycling it is ideally suited to hotels, student accommodation or large residential blocks due to the quantity of grey water these businesses create. Once filtered, the grey water can then be used for flushing toilets, irrigation and laundry – but not for drinking.

This approach will reduce freshwater consumption, saving a business money and, significantly, increasing its sustainability credentials.

Checking ownership

If you own your business premises, then there are no barriers to pursuing a rainwater collection and grey-water reusing system. But if you rent your premises from a landlord, you might need to work with them, or seek their permission, in order to proceed. 

Join a scheme, get accredited

If your business’s sustainability strategy includes water as a focus, then you might consider joining the Alliance for Water Stewardship,  whose larger members include Apple, H&M Group, Unilever and Sainsbury’s. The purpose of the AWS is to give members a forum to exchange learning and advance the uptake of water stewardship worldwide, and the organisation provides accreditation, training and guides on best practice.

For more tips and advice, visit Waterwise.

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