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We are all aware that water is a precious natural commodity and a key component for all life on Earth. Likewise, our economy is dependent on reliable water supplies. Industry, agriculture and energy production all rely on water use and as such contribute heavily to global water consumption.

When we see rivers bursting their banks and roads flooding following downpours of rain or in the aftermath of melting snow, it may appear that we are awash with water. However, the reality is quite the opposite. Global water supplies are currently facing a whole host of threats. Pollution is degrading freshwater and coastal aquatic systems, climate change is impacting upon precipitation patterns & glacial melting, and more than half of the world’s wetlands has disappeared. In the UK, the average person uses about 142 litres of water a day. But by 2025, two-thirds of the world’s population could be facing water shortages.

March is a month with a strong focus on water efficiency. The 19th-23rd March sees Waterwise, an independent organisation driving innovation in water efficiency, promoting Water Saving Week in the UK. On a more global scale, the United Nations promotes annual World Water Day on March 22nd. These initiatives align with the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDG); SDG6 sets targets around achieving clean water and sanitation for all by 2030.

With water awareness campaigns in the spotlight, we’re thinking about the ever increasing need to reduce water pollution & conserve water supplies, and the undeniable key role the built environment has to play in these efforts.

Over the last 25 years since BREEAM began, water efficiency has been a core focus of the BREEAM assessment methodology. In our BREEAM technical manuals, the Water category specifically addresses how the water demands and consumption associated with the built asset can be met most efficiently. For our UK New Construction scheme we encourage & reward the specification of efficient water consuming components, such as handwash basin taps and toilets. This encourages design teams to think carefully about the products they specify, and opt for those that can deliver the same performance using less water.

BREEAM also raises awareness around water consumption with building owners, so that they might understand where there are high or unexpected water demands in their building. This makes environmental and economical sense, and is achieved in BREEAM with requirements for monitoring and metering water supplies to and within a building. Lastly, but by no means least, BREEAM also rewards assets where other potential ongoing water demands have specified water efficient equipment. This includes but is not limited to equipment used for irrigation, building services, and vehicle wash equipment.

By the inclusion of criteria around water efficiency, metering and monitoring, BREEAM intends to support & reward the built environment for playing its part in reducing the stress on our essential water supplies. We have a long way to go, and it’s difficult to change people’s behaviour overnight. However we will continue to monitor water consumption behaviours & technologies within the industry so as to develop our standards and continue to push best practice in this area.

Let’s hope that campaigns such as Water Saving Week & World Water Day keep this issue in the spotlight. And, awareness about the scarcity and value of water continues to increase over time resulting in the more sustainable use of water for the long term benefit of all.

Wendy Thorpe
About the Author
BREEAM New construction operations manager - UKNC team

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