The European Environment Agency (EEA) stated in a 2012 report that the continent’s water resources were getting worse and continued inefficient use of water could threaten Europe’s economy, productivity and ecosystems. It went on to explain that there are opportunities to enhance the use of the scarce resource that are both environmentally sustainable and economically viable. The United Kingdom’s Energy Saving Trust and Carbon Trust are two organizations that are working to tackle water waste at the home as well as business level. They recognized that while measuring energy efficiency and managing carbon footprints have become standard around the world there is a need to address the country’s water footprint.
The Energy Saving Trust has developed an online Water CO2 Calculator that helps people work out how much CO2 is being emitted to heat water in their homes. By providing this tool to the public they hope to raise awareness on the important link between water efficiency and energy efficiency. The Trust estimates that heating water accounts for about 30% of the average household’s energy bill and 6% of the nation’s total CO2 emissions, and thus water use is the “forgotten energy saving opportunity” by homes, businesses and policy makers.
Recognizing that business leaders did not see water as a priority issue, the UK’s Carbon Trust has developed and launched a Water Standard. This will require firms to measure water use and demonstrate efforts taken to reduce consumption. With the EEA report forecasting an increase in water use and an estimated 60% of European cities already consuming water faster that it can be replenished, the Water Standard provides an incentive for creating longer-term water efficiency solutions. To be awarded the Carbon trust Water Standard, businesses will need to show that on a year-to-year basis they are reducing both input water use and effluent.
At the moment most countries are coping by ‘borrowing’ water supplies from non-replenishable aquifers or from water reserved for environmental needs without any significant penalty, an approach that is clearly not a long-term solution. With very few entities measuring water use and even fewer setting targets to reduce consumption, these organizations are helping move society in the right direction by making water sustainability a beneficial strategy for gaining competitive advantage in a market that is faced with water risks.