Most businesses are aware that monitoring energy consumption can save money. But are the potentially big bottom line benefits from practising water efficiency being overlooked? Becky Done reports on an important environmental issue that, correctly tackled, could benefit companies in numerous ways
One dripping tap could waste 5,000 litres of water over the course of one year, costing your company over £900 in water and wastewater treatment costs. Furthermore, reducing your water consumption could cut the cost of your water and effluent bills by up to 30 per cent. That is according to Envirowise, the government programme set up to deliver free, practical advice on improving resource efficiency.
But the path to reducing water consumption is not always clear-cut. It may be easy to switch lights off but visit any typical business and you won’t see taps left running. As an area for potential cost saving, water use is frequently overlooked, often because a firm’s monthly spend on its water bill is relatively cheap when compared with gas and electricity or raw materials. “Water conservation has always been the poor relation to gas and electricity when it comes to investing money to reduce costs,” agrees Kevin Barefoot, business services manager for Yorkshire Water. The company works with manufacturers across a broad spectrum of industries including engineering, steel, textiles, chemicals, food and drink. “As prices of gas and electricity have rocketed in recent years, many companies have understandably put resources and investment into these two utility commodities to reduce cost.”
However, it is not complicated, nor expensive, to start a water efficiency programme. The first step should simply be to get to grips with your company’s water requirements by recording how much water it uses on a daily and weekly basis. The best way to do this is not only by scrutinising water bills but also by reading your meter, enabling you to identify changes in consumption patterns and help to spot leaks early, thus avoiding unidentified wastage before it becomes costly. For example, if you repair a leak promptly, you may be able to claim back some of the sewerage and trade effluent charges, depending on your water provider and if it offers a leakage allowance.
Do it yourself
If you want a detailed and sophisticated breakdown of your water consumption patterns, your provider should be able to offer you a water management service to assist with this. Business customers of Yorkshire Water, for example, are offered access to flow data 24/7 via their own designated website – a highly visible and straightforward approach to monitoring consumption patterns.
It is also advisable to check that the serial number on your meter tallies with the one on your bill. This ensures that your company is not inadvertently paying for another company’s supply. Also check that your meter size is appropriate for the amount of water that you use – if it is too large, you may be paying extra charges.
According to Yorkshire Water’s Barefoot, there are some “very simple housekeeping measures which can be undertaken at very little cost to help reduce water costs and provide some quick financial wins,” he says. “Manufacturers should consider examining ways to reduce their domestic water consumption, as this is an area where simple water savings can be made. Our domestic water audit will provide a complete picture of a site’s water use for non-process functions like toilets, washrooms and showers, including a review of fittings to identify areas of high consumption or waste. It also includes an assessment of opportunities for cost saving, together with a cost/benefit analysis showing payback periods for the installation of water conservation equipment. It is surprising how much it costs to have urinals which fill and flush when no one is using them, particularly at night.”
Leaking pipes are also costly, as well as being more susceptible to freezing. A good way to identify a leak is by checking consumption patterns at night or at a time when there should be no water use.
“Sites covering large areas with an ageing infrastructure are very susceptible to leaks,” says Barefoot. “Installing a series of data loggers which monitor water flows would identify high baselines. A baseline measures how much water is used during a period when the site is not in use. High baselines can often identify leaks and bad production practices.”
Other simple measures include insulating pipes to protect against frost damage, fitting spray taps (a modest outlay on these could reduce water consumption through taps by up to 70%, according to Envirowise) and installing tap aerators and flow restrictors.
Appoint a water champion
To co-ordinate all of these efforts and lead the programme for change, Envirowise recommends appointing a ‘champion’ who will take responsibility for identifying water conservation opportunities and co-ordinate reduction policies. A lack of employee participation can be a big hurdle to the success of water usage efficiency and can mean savings potential are not reached. In addition to this, working towards a common goal can help improve staff morale and generally increase motivation.
At Headland Foods, one of the UK’s largest manufacturers of frozen ready meals, the champion for environmental issues is technical director Ray Boggiano. Headland has significantly reduced water consumption as part of its overall environmental policy. Water is a main ingredient in many of its recipes and is also used extensively in processing, cleaning and facilities at its Flint and Grimsby sites. In 2005, Headland engaged Envirowise and the Carbon Trust Wales, who assisted in drawing up its energy management policy. The company could then begin to act on its water consumption.
“We started off by establishing where our water was being used and where it was being wasted; and most importantly, by educating our people in terms of seeing water as a valuable commodity,” says Boggiano. “Surveys were conducted into where leaks occur, where we were wasting water and where we were using too much water. Then we set about tracking it, curing leaks, getting a system of management and measurement into place (sub-metering for instance) and implementing a series of low-cost and no-cost solutions.”
Boggiano emphasises the importance of targeting the ‘low-hanging fruit’: “Simple things like trigger guns on hoses and timers on tray washes.” Success in these areas then motivated the company to look at “more complex engineering-based solutions such as re-circulation pumps for cooling water – so you are re-using and re-utilising water where you can – as well as further sub-metering. With continued support from both Envirowise and the Carbon Trust Wales, we have been able to meet challenging targets to reduce water consumption year on year.”
As the projects increased in complexity, payback was swift. “For all the projects that required capital investment, payback was under 12 months,” Boggiano says. “But the most important thing is to see water as a valuable commodity rather than just something that comes out of a tap.”
At the start of the process, Headland was using around 170,000m3 of water a year at its Flint site. Now in 2008, despite increasing output by about 2000 tonnes, site water consumption stands at around 150,000m3. At its Grimsby site, the saving is nearly double that – compelling evidence that even where water is an essential component of the manufacturing process, significant savings can be made without risking operational efficiency, or indeed the safety and quality of the product.
Further considerations might include checking the water efficiency of your appliances.
More efficient appliances may require a slightly greater purchasing cost but will provide cost savings over a relatively short payback period. If you can also find a way to reduce your hot water consumption, you could reduce your carbon footprint. “Implementing water reduction measures not only helps [companies] improve their bottom line but also helps to reduce a company’s carbon footprint,” says Barefoot. “Saving water can only have a positive effect on a company’s environmental image. For every business which saves one cubic metre of water, the equivalent carbon saving would be 0.299kg.”
To start, Envirowise advises calculating the amount of rainwater you could harvest by taking your area’s annual precipitation in metres (figures available from the Met Office website: www.metoffice.gov.uk), multiplying this by the collection area in square metres – your premises’ roof area – and multiplying by 0.8 (as you can typically expect to harvest 80% of this water each year). Allowances need to be made for storing harvested water and how to connect the tank to your existing system. Consider also where the water will be used, as this determines the required quality and therefore the necessary level of treatment. In some cases, such as toilet use, the required treatment will be minimal; in others, for example where water will be used in food processing, the treatment will be high.
Harvesting rainwater not only saves costs. By reducing your firm’s dependency on mains water, you are potentially insuring your company against water shortages or other problems with mains water. There is also less limescale in rainwater than the mains supply, which could help to protect your equipment and appliances from deposit build-up and eventual damage. For more information on rainwater harvesting, contact the UK Rainwater Harvesting Association: www.ukrha.org.
In addition to cutting costs, water efficiency is a worthwhile addition to the corporate responsibility agenda of any company. For companies seeking to certify their efforts, thereby making them visible to suppliers and customers, Envirowise’s programme the rippleffect could be one option. The rippleffect is a six month initiative that enables companies to collect data about their water consumption, draw up an action plan for monitoring it and then implement it, tracking savings as they go along. Companies can register their interest for next year’s programme on the Envirowise website: www. envirowise.gov.uk. This year’s programme attracted 500 signatories, and each participating company will see their achievements certified by Envirowise at the programme’s end.
For businesses focused on continuous improvement – and what business can claim it is not? – water efficiency should be a key element of strategic policy. If it is not, companies could be losing out to a host of benefits, many of which are available for free.
If your facility already uses water efficiently, why not enter the EA’s Water Efficiency Awards? This could attract positive publicity for your company, as well as rewarding you and your staff for their efforts. Entries for the 2009 awards close on April 17.