Get water tight

Posted on 6 Aug 2009 by The Manufacturer

Julian Hunt of the FDF makes the case for cutting water use in factories

Given the miserable weather of late, it may seem odd to bring up the concept of ‘water stress’ in the blog – but this is a very real problem for many manufacturers, particularly in the food and drink sector. Indeed, the problem of water scarcity is now predicted to become the biggest geo-political issue facing the globe in the next 20 years.

Nearer to home – where the rain is rattling my windows as I write – the issue is one that food and drink manufacturers are already taking seriously. Water is used not only as an ingredient in many of our products, but is also used throughout our preparation, manufacturing and cleaning processes. It’s estimated that our sector uses 430 mega litres of water per day, and directly abstracts about 260 mega litres of water, which is about 10% of all UK industrial use.

So how can we do our bit to reduce water stress while ensuring that food safety and hygiene is not compromised?

Well, last year the Food and Drink Federation joined forces with environmental efficiency best practice experts Envirowise and launched the Federation House Commitment. This Commitment sets out five steps for companies wishing to work in a systematic way to improve water efficiency as part of an industry-wide ambition to reduce water usage by 20% by 2020.

Twenty-one FDF members with a combined turnover of £15bn signed up to the Commitment when it was launched last year. By July of this year that number had risen to more than 30 companies, with 180 of our members’ manufacturing sites working to save water under the Commitment.

A couple of weeks ago, Envirowise and FDF published the first annual progress report which sets out the progress we have made to date. Signatories collectively reduced the total amount of water used in 2008 by more than 476 thousand cubic metres, compared with 2007 – an overall reduction of almost 2% in a year.

In his foreword for the report, Secretary of State for the Environment Hilary Benn praised the efforts of companies who have signed up to the Commitment as playing a significant part in safeguarding the environment and saving money in the process. The business case for water efficiency is compelling: Envirowise says that if the Commitment was adopted by the whole industry, it could provide a combined financial saving of around £60m per year on water bills.

The progress report – which can be downloaded here – is interesting reading for all manufacturers and shows how much can be done by businesses to reduce their water consumption. And the best companies already know this sort of thinking is something they need to embrace now – even if the rain is lashing down in August!

By Julian Hunt, Food and Drink Federation

Send me an email detailing how you’ve reduced water use at your site, whether that be through simple measures like making processes more efficient, swapping water for other substances, or recycling through things like anaerobic lagoons. All will be published on our blogs. Email [email protected].