Water Industry News

What Is Water Efficient Construction And Why Does It Matter?

Green construction is a key point on the agenda of many businesses, whether they are relocating to more energy-efficient and lower-carbon headquarters or retrofitting their current buildings with more ecologically friendly equipment, fixtures and fittings.


However, whilst the greater focus is on energy efficiency and carbon neutrality as part of national goals to reduce carbon dioxide emissions to net zero by 2050, the conservation of water by businesses should also be a critical component of this discussion given that this same year could lead to serious water shortages.


There is an interconnectivity to water, carbon dioxide and energy usage, with policies to reduce the use of one of these having connected benefits to the other two, but there is far less of a vocal focus and strictly defined goals in the case of water compared to carbon and energy.


It is important to understand why this is, what might be causing issues with joined-up thinking, as well as why initiatives such as the Water Ready report from the Future Homes Hub might be signifying a change in this thinking.


Why Has Water Not Been The Priority?


Much of the future strategy for water safeguarding in the UK has been defined by the Plan for Water, a 2023 document that was as vague as it was confusing, understanding that investment, regulation and enforcement are needed to improve the use of water in the built environment, but lacking in any serious detail.


There were no actions nor timelines, and given the more acute crises affecting the water industry such as the near-collapse of Thames Water as well as the calling of a General Election, the Plan for Water may have been abandoned entirely.


Part of the problem with water neutrality as opposed to carbon neutrality and energy efficiency is that there are a lot of different stakeholders that need to be involved in policy decisions, including the construction sector, product manufacturers and the water industry itself.


Ever since water was privatised in 1989, it has been treated as largely separate from other industries, even though water affects every single other industry in some way. If nothing else, water is necessary for sustaining the lives of leaders of other industries.


The water sector has different vested interests from manufacturers and the construction sector, as well as different responsibilities, and joining up these disparate groups has led to a lot of arguments but not a lot of action.


Many of the fundamental principles behind the water grid have remained largely unchanged for over a century, the sheer costs involved causing many private water companies to baulk at the investment and continually delaying any action beyond immediate remedies to a point that we

have reached the point we have now.


Securing the UK’s water supply does require a collaborative effort to reduce unnecessary need, reduce leaks, improve efficiency and ensure extremely high standards for water safety, whilst at the same time ensuring that current construction projects can go ahead without intense delays or huge cost increases.


Some of the fixes will be incredibly cheap and easy to retrofit, such as water-efficient taps and shower heads that maintain a high level of water pressure without using as much water, and toilets designed to be the most effective with the least water.


Others will be more expensive and more complex, such as the installation of heating systems that work quickly and minimise water use, as well as minimising the use of materials that are incredibly reliant on huge amounts of water such as concrete and steel, and improving the means to reuse and recycle water for industrial purposes.


The benefits will not only help policymakers and the environment but also homeowners and building managers, but the incentive set for the water industry and the construction sector is far less clear, which is why very little has happened in this regard.


What may be required is a system similar to that of whole-life carbon assessments, where carbon emissions are evaluated from the start of the development process up until its decommissioning.


A similar process could be established for water, focusing on not only the water directly used by builders in the mixing process of concrete and the efficiency of taps and other pieces of water equipment, but also the water used, for example, in the cooling process of steel refineries and the servers used as part of architectural design.


It took a long time for the true carbon cost of buildings to be known, but this slow process could help expedite the path towards a more efficient and water-secure industry.