‘Retailers need to wake up to this missed opportunity’: using water regulation standards to your advantage

Peter Herring, an engineer with international consultants, Sweco, explains why retailers should use the UWL

Peter Herring

Read any article about bathrooms and kitchens or visit most specialist websites or showrooms and you will be astounded by the lack of the most basic consumer information about Water Regulations. Any reference to the Unified Water Label (UWL), Kiwa/Wras certification or WaterSafe approved installers is hard to find, yet these provide the very framework that manufacturers and suppliers should be promoting, as they underpin domestic water systems and products.

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Conversely try the same exercise with white goods and you are assaulted by conformity and energy standards information. So, what’s the difference? I would suggest none, there is no reason why the customer should be left to do their own research when it comes to water efficiency, and it is something we must all strive to change.

Retailers need to wake up to this missed opportunity. How many sales would be achieved if a retailer advertised this week’s special “non-compliant” water fittings? The landscape needs to become a more approachable and transparent marketplace for the ordinary consumer.

As the drive for greater water sustainability accelerates, the use of tools like UWL promoting innovative water saving technologies has gathered momentum. Sweco, an award-winning sustainable design consultancy has been engaged with UWL for many years. As a business we value how the information provided helps us to achieve best practice water sustainability, enabling quality projects to standout in what can be a noisy and crowded marketplace.

The use of UWL together with other industry benchmarking tools provides a methodology and framework by which water consumption, especially in new build developments can be evaluated and controlled. The issue we must address is that the majority of the built environment comprises existing residential, commercial and retail buildings, which presents a more challenging landscape.

This requires a more government orchestrated approach to water sustainability, to provide stimulus to replace old, inefficient water fittings. This, together with a post installation water use evaluation protocol covering all new and replacement installations, gathering real time data, helping to drive best practise as a default, addressing water scarcity and reducing stress on the existing water distribution network.

Set against the background of the building regulations (England & Wales) current water use target of 125l per person/day, published in 2019, the RIBA 2030 climate challenge target for domestic dwellings champions a reduction in potable water use of 75l/p/day by 2030. Although the latter aspirational figure at first appears challenging, with a mind-set change and a willingness to embrace different technologies, this water use figure is within grasp now. The use of technologies such as rainwater harvesting, grey water recovery (wastewater treatment) and vacuum toilets requiring less than 1 litre per flush are starting to become more mainstream, making the reduced target figure achievable.

Lest we forget, the big grey animal with tusks in the water sustainability room remains the leakage rate for the various water utility companies, monitored by the water regulator (OFWAT). While building water usage rates are quite rightly being challenged, with a drive and desire to achieve lower and lower rates, it seems incongruous that the “Funding approaches for leakage reduction report,” prepared by PWC for OFWAT in December 2019 identifies that 21% of all water put into the public network is lost though leakage. Despite OFWAT announcing a multimillion-pound spending package delivered over the next five years including funding to further reduce the leakage rates, additional eye watering amounts of investment will be required to make a tangible difference. The waste of drinking quality water together with the associated embedded carbon cannot continue at this level without drawing loud and continued criticism.

There is no single solution to deliver water sustainability, the situation is complex and split between different bodies. The RIBA water reduction challenge has been set and waiting for government, industry and public engagement at each and every level to achieve the common goal of greater water sustainability.

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We must hope that all involved in the industry can engage and take up the challenge, playing their part to make a difference in the use of water as a sustainable but finite resource.