Water companies are already acting to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases from their operations and mitigate the remaining emissions through interventions in the natural environment. In their own operations they are generating renewable energy, switching to electric vehicles, improving energy efficiency and reducing leakage. Elsewhere they are restoring peat moorland to capture carbon and manage water flow, and they are planning to plant 11 million new trees by 2030 to absorb CO2. Innovative approaches, like EnTrade, support farmers to maintain good water quality – thus saving operational and embedded carbon.
The industry is also working on tackling tougher challenges. These include capturing methane and nitrous oxides – more potent greenhouses gases than CO2 – released during wastewater treatment. Others involve lowering the flow of water in sewerage systems to reduce demand for energy-intensive treatment – by cutting groundwater infiltration and separating rainwater from foul wastewater through sustainable drainage systems.
Room for improvement
The results of the industry’s efforts to date are borne out by the statistics. In 2006 the water industry was estimated to contribute about 1% of the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions. By 2008, the Environment Agency, working with WaterWise, estimated this had reduced to 0.8% - a substantial drop considering emissions had also reduced generally over that period - and was still falling. But when the carbon footprint of heating water in the home was taken into account, this figure increased to 5.5%.