The UK Ministry of Defence (MoD) has just announced that it will set targets for its contractors to reduce water consumption across the MoD’s estate of 260 main defence establishments, 140 training sites and 49,000 military homes, by 2016. The MoD currently uses around 17.5 billion litres of water each year, and this initiative is one of a number of actions intended to reduce water use by 7%.

The MoD is one of the first large organisations in the world to set out this requirement for its suppliers, but others are sure to follow. The problem, as outlined by Defra[1] is “…because of our need to adapt to climate change, our water intensive lifestyle and other pressures such as changing land use, we need to find ways of using water much more efficiently and sustainably if we are to continue to enjoy high standards and constant supply.”

In recent research conducted by the Carbon Trust in the UK, USA, South Korea, China and Brazil, 93% of international businesses leaders agreed that carbon emissions are a priority risk to the ability to compete effectively, but fewer than half of those surveyed agreed that they needed to take action on water. Only one in seven of those businesses had set a target on water reduction, or publicly reported on water performance. This absence of plans and planning should concern both shareholders and professional advisers.

The Carbon Trust believes there are important roles for the accounting profession in sustainable development. One of these is to ensure that the risks in not having a strategy for managing resources are properly understood by management. A critical step is to ensure that an organisation has in place a policy to collect data on its resources use so that, at a point in the future, the organisation is able to examine the data, and understand the trends and exposure to risk. An organisation’s ability to measure and account for the water it uses and discharges in its own operations, and the water embedded in its supply chain, is an important component in understanding the business risks of increasing water scarcity.

Effective and accurate accounting of water use and its impacts will increasingly take place alongside other sustainability metrics, such as corporate carbon footprints, informing best practice corporate sustainability strategy.

To help drive the move to a resource-efficient economy the Carbon Trust has just launched the new Carbon Trust Water Standard. This is the first international certification to recognise organisations that have measured, managed and reduced their direct water use, in the same way that the Carbon Trust Standard encourages carbon reduction. The first companies to achieve this new certification are Sainsbury’s, Coca-Cola Enterprises, Sunlight and Branston.

The Carbon Trust Water Standard requires organisations to provide at least two years of data on water abstraction. It also requires completion of qualitative reporting to assess the organisation’s grip on water governance, water accounting and water management.

The advantages of reducing water use are simple and clear. Reduction cuts water costs, and shows that an organisation is concerned about water scarcity and wishes to reduce its impact on the environment. Those organisations that can achieve the certification are able to claim the reputational benefits that come from being independently certified, and recognised as leaders within their sectors in managing a dwindling resource.

The MoD has provided a clear lead in water management. Other organisations in the UK and elsewhere are taking firm action to manage their water, finding innovative ways of reducing their consumption. Many more need to follow their lead.

To view some of the best water images click here

Water Pouring Into A Glass

A water footprint sounds like something you leave on the bathroom floor after a shower. Virtual water, meanwhile, might seem like an ironic postmodern conceit by the late Jean Baudrillard. Yet if environmental campaigners are successful these two ideas could soon become powerful and practical tools in the management of the world’s water needs – as potent, perhaps, as the carbon footprint now is in shaping global and governmental consciousness about greenhouse gas emissions.

As WWF’s new report on the UK’s water usage explains today, virtual water is the volume of water that is required to produce a particular product. A can of fizzy drink might contain 0.35 litres of water, for instance, yet it also requires around 200 litres to grow and process the sugar that goes into it. A pair of leather shoes may contain no water at all, but it requires 8,000 litres to grow the feed, support the cow and then process its skin before you start wearing the shoes. Add all this virtual water together and you have a water footprint for a person, a business, a community or a country.

Start thinking in these terms and two things become obvious. First, that we consume far more water to support our lifestyles than most of us may imagine – a typical British household uses 30 times as much virtual water as the amount it obtains through the taps for washing, cooking or drinking. Second, that when virtual water is taken into account, consumers in developed nations are leaving a large water footprint not just in their own countries but across the globe too. Only 38% of the UK’s total footprint, for instance, comes from our own resources. The other 62% comes from other parts of the planet (we are the world’s sixth largest net importer of virtual water) . But since water is in many ways a finite and, in some places, a dwindling resource that is also the cause of conflict, this massive import of virtual water too often comes at the expense of people and ecosystems that can ill afford to lose it.

Competition for water takes many forms in many continents. But it cannot be responsible behaviour for consumers in the west to unthinkingly demand water-heavy food imports from countries where resources are under such pressure. In 25 years, the UN reckons, more than half of all Africans will be living in countries suffering such “water stress”. Fresh mangetout at such a price is not acceptable.

Happily, some producers and retailers are responding to calls to stop the flow of water from the poor to the rich in their food chains. But individual consumers must act too. All of us need to apply as much rigour to reducing our water footprint as we have begun belatedly to apply to the reduction of our carbon one.

To view some of the best water images click here

Blue Water in a Glass

Farmers, it’s said, always want “weather by the field”. Certain crops require more rain, others less. Some thrive in shady conditions, others need sun all day long. Today, farmers are less exacting: they’d be happy with some simple predictability.

Extreme weather patterns are fast becoming the new normal. In the UK, farmers suffered through two winters of lower than average rainfall, followed by one of the wettest on record. Across the Atlantic, meanwhile, a sustained drought led to the lowest wheat harvest for six years, despite there being more acres planted than any time in the last seven decades.

Future proofing farming

Farmers need to face up to the reality of “increasingly unpredictable weather,” says Caroline Drummond, chief executive of sustainable farming group Leaf. To help them on their way, Leaf has launched a six-step guide on sustainable water management. The steps cover ways to save water, protect water sources, manage the soil, install effective drainage and monitor water consumption.

“Farmers tell us that they can cope with one bad year of drought or heavy rains, but the impact of two bad years makes it much harder to ensure their business remains resilient,” Drummond explains.

The idea of weather-resilient agriculture chimes with supermarket Asda, which worked with Leaf to develop the advisory guide. “We see this as part of future proofing the industry and building capacity so that farmers are equipped to implement necessary changes,” says Chris Brown, head of ethical and sustainable sourcing at the British supermarket.

For a retailer like Asda, which sources stock from thousands of farms across the UK, it doesn’t take long before water problems in the countryside morph into problems in its stores. It’s all connected, Brown explains. Excessive rains mean a bad cereal crop, which means more expensive animal feed, which means higher food prices at the till.

The initiative’s other corporate backer is brewer Molson Coors. The company purchases around 30,000 tonnes of barley from UK farmers every year. Security of supply is therefore a driving factor as well. But so too is water quality. As Debbie Read, Molson Coors’ corporate responsibility manager, puts it: “Without great quality water, you can’t make great quality beer.”

No-nonsense advice

Will the initiative deliver? If it comes down to the advice itself, there’s no reason it shouldn’t. The measures are all “easy to understand without being patronising,” insists Sarah Mukherjee, director of environment at Water UK. Furthermore, they’re clearly “written by people who knew what they were talking about.” So, for example, farmers should clear drainage ditches, fence livestock away from water courses and clear up fertiliser spillages. Rocket science, it isn’t.

A video shows how Overbury Farms, a Leaf demonstration farm in Gloucestershire, is using responsible water management techniques.

To Matthew Naylor, whose Lincolnshire farm sits on silt soil with little access to non-salty water, the measures make perfect sense. To date, he’s installed rain-harvesting equipment on his packing and cold stores, as well as investing in a water-efficient trickle irrigation system. He is currently looking to put in a lined ‘bio-bed’ to decompose pesticides in the event of spillages. He credits these steps with increasing both the yields and quality of his produce, which he sells to most of the UK’s largest supermarkets.

Naylor cites other benefits too. One is what he terms “the licence to supply”. Large retailers increasingly want assurances of sustainable production process, he says. Leaf operates a certification scheme designed to provide just such guarantees. Another important factor is cost saving. Water accounts for 1% of a farm’s fixed costs, with more than eight in 10 (83%) of farmers using water directly from the mains, according to government figures. Naylor, who features in that number due to the salt content of his underground water supply, admits that using drinking water for irrigation is “really quite extravagant”.

Whether more farmers will follow his lead is the key issue at stake. Both Molson Coors and Asda are promoting the six-steps among their supply base. Arguably, it’s easier for Molson Coors, which sources from around 100 main suppliers. The brewer is planning to run regional-level workshops with all of these to discuss their experience of applying the six-step model. Asda, meanwhile, will focus initially on its dairy farmers. That makes sense. Drinking water for livestock accounts for around two-fifths (41%) of all water use in the UK agriculture sector.

Policy pressure

If the economic logic for responsible water management doesn’t persuade farmers, then regulatory pressure just might. Leaf’s Drummond accepts that at present the UK has no “integrated, risk-based policy” for either drought or flooding. At present, the only obligation on farmers is to use public water legally. Under the common agricultural policy, farmers need a licence to take water from UK rivers or use groundwater resources.

Where the rules get tougher is under the EU water framework directive, which covers water use in major catchments areas. “In many catchments, there is no more water available to meet everyone’s needs, and measures will be taken to restore the balance,” says Paul Hammett, a water specialist at the National Farmers Union. But it remains “too early to say” what these measures will be, he admits. It’s one for farmers to watch, however, especially those located in regions of high water sensitivity.

Ultimately, the most compelling reason for farmers to sit up and take note is the weather itself. As Hammett concludes: “Farmers understand that they must get even better at managing with limited water supply to prepare for the next drought – because there will be a next time.”

To view some of the best water images click here

Water In A Glass
When the shower is running and someone flushes a toilet, why does the shower get cold (or sometimes hot) in some houses, but not others? More importantly, would fixing that require replacing the water heater, or re-doing the piping in the entire house? Or is there some cheap/easy way to fix it?
Why You Get Burned
One of the most common plumbing configurations is a trunk and branch system. This is where a larger diameter pipe runs from one end of the building to the other, and smaller diameter pipes branch off to supply rooms or individual fixtures. If any of the branches demand water (you flush the toilet), there is less water available to all the other branches. Since the toilet only uses cold water, there is less cold water available to your shower when the toilet is filling. This causes the water in the shower to be warmer, because there is less cold water mixing with the hot water. There are a few ways to reduce or eliminate this burning feeling. Probably the cheapest is to reduce the amount of water going to the toilet.
Reducing Toilet Water
You can reduce how quickly the toilet uses water by simply closing the supply valve slightly. This means the toilet will take longer to fill, but will reduce the temperature fluctuation in the shower. Adjusting the supply valve can also have negative side effects, such as increased fill times and noise. You can also reduce the overall amount of water the toilet needs by either buying a low flow toilet, or placing a brick, jug of water, or other object in the tank. However, this method will reduce the amount of water available for each flush, so you may encounter difficulty clearing solids from the bowl.
Smarter Mixing
Installing a new mixing valve in the shower can reduce or eliminate the temperature fluctuations. Thermostatic mixing valves automatically balance the amount of hot and cold water being mixed, which will prevent drastic fluctuations in shower temperature. If the cold water flow is reduced (due to a toilet flush), the valve automatically adjusts the amount of hot water being mixed. This keeps the shower temperature more consistent, even when other fixtures are using water.
Increasing Available Water
Increasing the amount of water available in the system can alleviate the problem, but will likely require a major change to the plumbing. If you have a trunk and branch system, increasing the trunk pipe diameter and/or the branch pipe diameter (if the branch feeds the entire room) will increase the amount of water available to the fixtures.
Distributing Water Evenly
A more drastic solution would be to install a manifold with home runs. This would likely require a major plumbing renovation, with almost all of the plumbing changed. In this type of system, there is a central load balancing manifold. Then for each fixture in the house, a dedicated pipe is run between the fixture and the manifold.
Supply and Demand
In the end, it’s all about supply and demand. If the demand is greater than the supply, you end up with a burnt butt. The only way to avoid uncomfortable showers is to reduce demand or increase supply.
Matthew PK answers:
The shower temperature changes when you flush (or use water) because the pressure in that supply line has changed. This means less supply to the mixing valve in the same setting. Modern thermostatic mixing valves are designed to keep the total pressure constant. This means that a reduction in cold water pressure (from a flush) is detected and the mixing valve responds by reducing corresponding flow in the hot water. So, the solution to shifting shower temperatures is to install a thermostatic mixing valve.