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Water labels and symbols

WaterSmartRosie
Thames Water Employee

How many water appliances do you have in your house?

Taps, washing machines, toilets, baths – the list is endless. Across the nation, water fittings and appliances are being bought and installed every day.  66 million people are using water appliances and fittings throughout the day and into the night – we never stop.

 

Astonishingly, this usage adds up to over 9 billion litres of water used in our homes, and that’s just in a day. We’re able to keep up with this requirement by taking water from sources such as local rivers, streams and underground aquifers. It is stored and treated to provide you with world class drinking water, but this requires a lot of energy.

Unless you work in the water industry, it is totally understandable if you are completely unaware of what happens to keep your taps flowing and your waste being taken away – it’s more complex than you might think! Regardless of how much you know about how you get your water, there are certain practices we can all perform to ensure that any water usage, and the energy that is used to provide it, is sustainable. These practices help ensure clean water is available for us now and for future generations too.

 

Some methods of conserving water are well known. You’ve probably heard of water meters or retrofit schemes and water efficiency is a hotter topic in the media than it’s ever been. The truth is, saving water is very similar to saving energy, something we all try and do because if nothing else, it saves us money! With energy, it is made very clear on devices we have, such as TVs, fridges and boilers, how efficient they are with the EU’s mandatory Energy Label. You’ve probably seen it. It’s a sticker on these devices, rating them from ‘A’, very efficient, to ‘G’, meaning less energy efficient. Sound familiar?

 

For energy, that’s great. But what about water efficiency? Some ways of saving water are a given, from turning off taps while you’re brushing your teeth to having shorter showers.

 

But, how would you know if your washing machine, dishwasher, shower or even taps, which you probably use multiple times a day, are efficient? In other words, how do you know that your devices are protecting our environment, reducing your water usage and in doing so, saving you money on your water bill?

 

Is there a water label?

The Bathroom Manufacturers Association (BMA) has done some good work by developing a label for its member organisations, typically makers of taps, showers and loos. The Unified Water Label has been created to be used across Europe, for most bathroom products. With its user-friendly chart, this label informs us about water and energy consumption in the bathroom space, influencing what we purchase and impacting what we buy.

Although we all have more devices in our homes and leave things on standby too much, the energy label has been a game changer, for two main reasons; 

 

  1. manufacturers don’t want to be G-rated when their competitors are A or B-rated, and
  2. customers prefer to buy the better performing item.

Both of these factors drive markets to change and educate consumers at point of purchase.  The other key killer bit is that the label is mandatory. Manufacturers and retailers must display the label on the product – online or on the shelf.

 

Haven’t seen the water label symbol yet?

Many bathroom fitting manufacturers have signed up to it but, as far as the consumer population and trade market are concerned, the label is practically invisible. Some manufacturers and retailers haven’t got onboard with the label as it is voluntary. This is a real shame as the label could have the same influence as the energy version – a massive one, demonstrating the importance of sustainability and the providing a competitive edge, a double win!

Whether is through a label, widespread education marketing or new regulations, the UK needs to reduce its water use... “Why?”

 

Much of the country is classified as ‘water stressed’ by the Environment Agency.  With population rapidly growing and the South East-London regions already receive less average rainfall than every Australian city, saving water is becoming more important every day.

 

The Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (DEFRA) will soon consult on introducing Per Capita Consumption (PCC) targets for the country.  Put simply, this is the average amount of water a person should be using based on population and total water available. Water companies have already incorporated PCC reduction targets into their planning. To help the Government and water companies understand PCC targets, the Energy Saving Trust recently completed some research on how useful a water label would be, in helping these targets to be met...  

 

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Turns out, it’d be very helpful indeed.

Evidence from the EU Energy Label and the Australian Water Efficiency Labelling Scheme (WELS), suggests that a mandatory water label here in the UK could save around 30 litres per person per day, by 2045.  That’s a reduction of everyday water use in homes of over 20%! There’s no other known method that could save so much water, so cheaply. 

 

A mandatory label, showing a product’s performance won’t just help inform the consumer market. It could play a huge role in reshaping how building regulations and local planning actually delivers greater water efficiency performance. A great example is in metered homes – you might have one yourself?

 

Recent analysis of metered water usage in homes has shown that actual water use is usually considerably higher than the target set by the relevant building standard or planning requirement. 

 

This is where a mandatory water label could help save the day. Instead of sieving through endless pages of water calculations or contracts, a statement as simple as, “we require all new homes, and planning submissions for house extensions to install A or B rated water using products”, or something similar, would guarantee installation specifications for buildings and allow them to deliver on water efficiency. This would be a fantastic outcome for water efficiency, saving energy and in doing so, the environment!  

 

So, what happens next?  There’s currently a surge of momentum in introducing a mandatory water label.  The support of a mandatory water label is strong across the water sector - no other intervention will deliver water savings and protection to our local water environment as cost effectively.  We’ve seen similar schemes work brilliantly overseas and soon it will be our turn to see the benefits.

 

If you want to be a part of the story that sees the benefits of water labelling gained, look out for water labelling and engage with it proactively. The next time you buy a water using device, think about how energy and how water efficient it is – every decision adds up! It’s an exciting opportunity for us all, consumer, manufacturer and regulator alike, to help meet our water efficiency targets, reduce our energy consumption and better our planet as a whole.

Sounds like a challenge worth getting involved with… Bring it on!