There are many small actions individuals can take to make a big difference. Water companies have been telling their customers this for years and worked tirelessly to encourage water efficiency, but the message hasn’t quite gotten through.

As part of our Mind the Tap series Utility Week talks to Affinity Water’s director of corporate affairs and communities, Jake Rigg, who has been instrumental in the success of the company’s #WhyNotWater campaign.

Utility Week is pleased to be among those supporters, our Mind the Tap campaign wants to see Affinity’s four goals realised as part of a nationwide campaign for greater water efficiency in the face of climate change and overpopulation.

In the latest price review Ofwat set each company a target to lower per capita consumption (PCC) in their catchment. Against an average goal of 6.3 per cent down, Affinity’s target is the most stretching at 12.5 per cent – reflecting the higher use in its area compared to others.

In recognition of the sizeable challenge, the company launched its efficiency campaign last May with a huge melting cube of ice outside St Albans cathedral to demonstrate the water used by average four households over one month.

Rigg says that although the challenge is sizeable, the company is positive that with the right message lowering PCC targets is achievable.

He suggests a past mistake may have been giving the impression that people need to live a “hair shirt lifestyle” to make a difference on efficiency, rather than making small changes to their daily routine and generally being more considerate of how they use water.

He explains that although the public is concious of a need to save water, the urgency is deemed too low to make it a priority.

“People are aware of the challenges. We’ve done a lot of research that shows people know they need to be water efficient, but they see the problem as a long way off,” Rigg says.

Affinity’s research shows many people trust that a solution will be found before the impacts of water scarcity were felt. Hearing predictions about the next 30 years is not seen as an urgent problem, but plastics ranks as more of an imminent concern.

Rigg insists that educating the public that water shortages are directly connected to climate change and how they can be more efficient is crucial to the success of any campaign.

“People don’t need to live a radically different lifestyle. The changes could be relatively small, but they stack up pretty fast. Sure, people want to water their garden or wash their car, but the message needs to be to do those things in an appropriate way.”

A caveat to that, Rigg believes, is new-build housing: “It’s unforgivable to be building new stock that isn’t environmentally sustainable. Is the housing stock we’re building now going to be sustainable for future scenarios? That consideration has to include water.”

Affinity says local authorities and other building associations have a big role to play in the #WhyNotWater campaign and sustainability targets should be included in housing plans.

Economist Vicky Pryce recognises the challenge and necessity of changing consumer behaviour, she said of the #WhyNotWater campaign’s efficiency targets for new homes: “We already have targets for carbon efficient new homes and as climate change becomes more pressing the two could combine nicely so homes are not just energy efficient but water efficient.”

“It should be everyone’s responsibility, but water companies have to look at how we can have the maximum input in the most economically efficient way,” Rigg says.“It has to be high up on the agenda for everyone to make sure water isn’t left behind. It feels like this is a conversation that’s been going on for so long, but we have to make sure that with the growth in environmental awareness water can’t get left behind.”

The #WhyNotWater has received wide-reaching support, including the water watchdog CCW, whose head of policy and research Mike Keil, says the aims of the campaign will make it easier for consumers to make informed choices through greater awareness. He adds that legislation, regulation and personal choice each have roles.

The Future Water Association’s chief executive Paul Horton says the association has been asking for a water efficiency label equivalent to the energy label. Beyond that, he sees the benefits from a wider reaching, ambitious campaign.

“We need a communication strategy to talk to people, to influence people to get everybody involved in the debate and discussion. For every local plan to have a target of 110 litres per person per day makes a lot of sense, I would argue lower. Some countries suggest 80 litres, now when you look at that figure that does take account of industry consumption as well. Why not have that as a target that makes a lot of sense?  It gets the debate going it puts it in front of people’s minds”.

He thinks the hard part of a water efficiency label would be the uptake, which is why a mandatory label must happen to make a real difference over a voluntary scheme.

Rigg says: “We’ve spent 10 years trying the voluntary approach and it’s not working so we need to try something else. The same happened in Australia and changes only happened after the mandatory labels were introduced.” After the label was introduced water use reduced by 30 litres per person a day.

“Did recycling accelerate because the better angels of our nature won out, or is it because they made the bins smaller?” Rigg adds. To make lasting changes to water habits they must be simple to adopt, Rigg argues the label will not only show consumers how efficient a product is but it will effect change from the point of design.

“We need to make goods more efficient, so it becomes harder for people to waste water. Our research shows people think they’re being efficient even when they’re using more than the national average. It’s easy to waste water, things must be designed so it’s harder to make the wrong choice.”

As the campaign gathers pace and support, Utility Week is proud to help further its reach and the conversation around a nationwide efficiency campaign with our Mind the Tap series.

The Aims of #WhyNotWater are:

Mandatory water efficiency labelling on all goods
Rights for tenants to request that their landlords install water-saving measures so that they are able to enjoy water-efficient homes
Domestic water efficiency by ensuring fixtures and fittings meet standard requirements through mandatory certification
Every Local Plan in a severely water-stressed area should include the target of 110 litres per person per day
Following work with leading garden groups, a fifth aim for plants to be labelled according their drought resilience and water consumption will be added

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