18 August 2022
How the construction industry can help meet water efficiency targets

In November 2021, the Environment Act became law with the aim of cleaning up Britain’s air and water, restoring habitats and reversing wildlife decline. The Act mandates that at least one long-term environmental target must be set in the following areas:

  • Air quality
  • Water
  • Biodiversity
  • Resource efficiency and waste reduction

On 6 May, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) launched a consultation on what these long-term environmental targets should be. One of the proposed targets related to water efficiency: to reduce the use of public water supply in England per head of population by 20% by 2037 against a 2019/20 baseline. The consultation concluded on 27 June, with the final targets to be published shortly.

The need to reduce water demand

The world now uses eight times as much water as it did 100 years ago, with demand increasing in line with growing global wealth, economies and industries. Climate change, however, means that we are experiencing hotter, drier summers and unpredictable rainfall. According to water management company Waterscan, if we don’t proactively work to reduce our water consumption, the UK will run dry by 2045.

Individuals and businesses alike therefore have a duty to increase their water efficiency and reduce water consumption to help the country avoid a future emergency. The construction industry, for example, currently consumes (and wastes) millions of gallons of water every single day at every stage of the project lifecycle. It takes an estimated 350 litres just to construct a one-square-metre wall! So, what kinds of measures can be put in place to improve water efficiency on construction sites and contribute towards vital water targets?

The companies leading the way

One construction firm way ahead of the curve when it comes to sustainability and water efficiency is Wilmott Dixon, with its goal to reduce water use on site by a staggering 50% by 2030. Here’s what they’re currently doing:

  • Installing water meters straight after arrival on site
  • Installing environmental infrastructure on site such as dust suppression and wheel wash
  • Maximising office water efficiency with aerated taps, waterless urinals, etc.
  • Displaying environmental performance figures for all workers to see
  • Encouraging site teams to consider alternatives to potable (drinking quality) water wherever possible.

One of the firm’s recent projects, the University of Warwick’s state-of-the-art Sports Hub, is set to save over £100,000 per year in energy costs and is now the most energy-efficient leisure centre in the UK.

How construction firms can do their bit

There are a multitude of other ways to follow Wilmott Dixon’s lead and reduce water use on site. It might take some investment and hard work to change methods and habits that have been many years in the making, but the long-term effects are incredibly worthwhile:

  • Maintaining hoses and taps and regularly checking for leaks
  • Using harvested rainwater or recycled greywater (i.e., wastewater from sinks and appliances that is relatively clean but not potable) for onsite activities, rather than mains water
  • Cleaning tools and plant with bucketed water, rather than hosepipes
  • Using aerators on taps
  • Using aquifers to store and recycle groundwater

Construction and net-zero goals

By its very nature, the construction industry is a major consumer of natural resources; the built environment is responsible for 40% of the UK’s carbon emissions. As we have explored in this article, construction sites also use unnecessarily large amounts of precious potable water. It is hoped that the introduction of legally binding, long-term water use goals will prompt firms, both in the construction industry and without, to introduce water efficiency measures that could deliver a positive environmental impact and help the UK take a major step forward in its response to the climate change crisis.