Water companies are working hard to find new ways to track and reduce leakage – Thames Water alone recently found and fixed a leak that was wasting three million litres a day. But even if every leak in the networked were plugged, the companies still need to help us, their customers, to use less water if we are to maintain our lifestyles and a healthy environment at a manageable cost. We need to kickstart significant changes in consumer behaviour.
Every Drop Counts
In the short term, simple technology and advice can help customers find easy ways to cut their consumption and save money. This is what WSP has done over the past decade as we have partnered with Northumbrian Water Limited (NWL) to deliver its award-winning Every Drop Counts initiative. In 2018 through Every Drop Counts, NWL company Essex and Suffolk Water engaged 17,031 customers, helping participating metered properties each save an average of 39.8 litres per day.
Such initiatives can only go so far, though. Ultimately, you can offer all the water-saving products and visits from plumbers you like but if customers don’t really understand why these are needed or how to use them, we won’t see the full benefit. Reducing consumption over the long term requires awareness, information and behaviour change.
There won’t be a single way to get everyone on board. For example, primary school children could be engaged by programmes similar to Essex and Suffolk Water’s Supersplash Heroes. This uses fun, interactive theatre to teach children just how precious water is and how they can help conserve it by doing things like turning off the tap when brushing their teeth. For secondary school children, water infrastructure and the challenges it faces could become part of the formal syllabus.
As well as engaging children in schools, water companies will also need to target different customers in different ways – both those with a meter and those without. For someone with a meter who’s motivated by financial savings, providing the metrics to help them reduce water and energy bills (20% of which typically go on heating water) might be enough. But what about someone without a meter who can easily afford their bills and is not particularly bothered about reducing them? That will require a different approach.