Conserving one of our most essential resources
Being efficient with the water we use and avoiding polluting watercourses is critical for a sustainable built environment. Water is so ubiquitous in our daily lives that we take it for granted. Turn on the tap and there it is – clean, abundant and permanently available. Also, cheap too – one litre costs about a tenth of a penny.
However, the water we consume and the wastewater we create has significant environmental impact. Although it sometimes may not seem like it, parts of the UK often suffer from water scarcity. The taps won’t turn off any time soon, but the availability of water to meet all the demands from industry, business and households, let alone what nature needs to keep it afloat, often mean we get close to going short. As recently as 2018, proposals were put forward to transfer water from Wales to alleviate problems in South East England.
Add to this the considerations of the energy and materials required to make our water drinkable, and clean our wastewater before returning it to nature, and you soon realise that there is a lot invested in each and every litre of tap water. Knowing this can inspire us to be more efficient and sparing with the water we use. Using collected rainwater for dust suppression instead of tap water, is one great example of lateral thinking and saving resources. We also must ensure that wastewater is properly treated and managed to avoid spills and pollution.
And this is just in the UK. Elsewhere round the world water is often a critical scarce resource, through climatic conditions but also through excessive demand from industry and agriculture, or mismanagement leading to poor, leaky or non-existent infrastructure. Therefore as responsible customers we have to not only consider our direct water use, but also the water footprint within our supply chains.
Water - Sustainability Short
In this animated video, learn why water is a significant issue for the construction sector and the about impacts it can have on our work and lives.
The manufacturing processes to make the goods we buy and use can also require significant quantities of water. We can apply the principle of embodied water just as we would for embodied carbon. A typical example is importing fruit and vegetables imported from water scarce countries. Water is contained within them and even more water is used to grow them. Construction goods and other products required within the built environment can also require significant amounts of water for their manufacture.
Responsible clients, developers, contractors and facilities managers are now measuring and reporting on the usage of potable water use on sites and also calculating the water footprint of their supply chains. Government has a target of reducing water consumption by 20% per person by 2030. This has been addressed in the recently updated Part G of the Building Regulations as well as in the Home Quality Mark.