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Water companies are upping their game in bid to get their customers to save water after seeing a surge in use during lockdown. Alison Murphy, water strategy manager for SES Water, talks about the company’s new campaign

The storms and flash flood working their way around the country don’t make it easier to persuade customers to save water. But as Sir John Armitt, chairman of the National Infrastructure Commission remarked in a recent interview water supply is a pressing problem: “I read an interesting comment a couple of days ago which was making the point that the amount of rainfall in 2019 was almost identical to the amount of rainfall in 1970. So, in 50 years, despite what we might think, not necessarily that much difference. But there might well be a difference in how that rain was spread across the year. Because if it’s coming in much shorter bursts, that puts much greater strain on the infrastructure.”

A fresh push on water saving tips will be promoted this summer by Waterwise and Water UK who have joined forces to launch a national water efficiency campaign called Water’s Worth Saving. The initiative is a collaboration between water companies in response to the surge in domestic water use during lockdown. The campaign will involve simple clear messaging about reducing water usage with tips for around the house and garden.

Whilst this is happening at a national level, there is also an acceptance that has a recent report has shown, an effective water efficiency campaign cannot take a one-size-fits-all approach and requires a deeper understanding of what motivates customers to alter their behaviour.

Research firm Accent is working with households across the south to learn how, when and why water is used to improve water efficiency messaging to customers. The analysis also includes a literature review of campaigns from around the world to assess what measures have been most effective and, crucially, why.

A number of water companies, especially the water stressed south east continue to come up with new ways to persuade companies to change their habits. One of these is SES Water which has just launched a new scheme providing customers free virtual water saving checks. It has partnered up with a commercial organisation Save Water Save Money, which is the largest global provider of water-efficiency solutions including software to help monitor water usage.

Alison Murphy, water strategy manager for SES Water says that each consultation typically takes just 20 minutes and is the first time a UK water company has launched such a scheme with Save Water Save Money, which will be offered on a permanent basis.

“Previously our customers have been able to book a free water efficiency check with one of our plumbers (from SES Water Home Services) who have visited the customer’s house and given a face to face consultation. However, with the recent lockdown restrictions requiring us to stay at home, along with the increased popularity of online chat platforms such as Zoom, there was an opportunity to offer this service virtually.”

SES supplies water to 735,000 people in parts of Surrey, Kent and south London. Customers are automatically invited to book a session once they complete the Save Water Save Money’s ‘GetWaterFit’ calculator, hosted on SES Water’s website. The region is classified as being in ‘serious water stress’ due to the size of the population and the amount of rainfall. The south east receives 50 per cent less rainfall than the rest of the UK. Across our supply area each person uses around 150 litres a day which is higher than the UK average and the same as delivering 675 pints every day to each household.

Says Murphy: “Furthermore, about a third of all water lost through leaks escapes from customers’ pipework so by helping our customers identify leaks earlier this will help us reach our challenging leakage reduction target for the next five years.”

A few appointments for the service were booked in the first few days of operation. Save Water Save Money manages the process on SES’s behalf. A leaky loo is the sort of problem I identified – which is then subsequently referred to SES Home Services who will provide a free fix to the customer.

Murphy says: “Our overall target for the next five years is to reduce the average amount of water used by each person by 6.6 per cent in the three- year rolling average.

“We have met our target this year to reduce customer usage and have continued to increase the number of water meters we have installed – over 8,000 in total this year and over 36,000 since 2015 – which is one of the most effective ways to influence behaviour and educate our customers about their consumption.

“But from appointments speaking to our customers we know that saving money isn’t the only motivating factor when it comes to saving water. Reducing carbon emissions and protecting the environment are also key drivers so it’s important we make sure these messages are communicated in equal measure to our customers.

In terms of what campaigns has SES looked to, she says: “We were certainly inspired by Thames Water’s Smarter Homes programme, which visited thousands of customers and identified internal leaks in over 5 percent of properties. Other water companies have offered virtual audits in other ways but we are the first to offer this service with Save Water Save Money.”

Murphy acknowledges it’s hard to get customers to get on board with water efficency and emphasises the need for “Water companies across the industry keep collaborating together in order for water efficiency to be taken seriously on a national level”

“Further campaigns such as Water’s Worth Saving) will certainly help to reinforce this important messaging and help keep it front of mind for customers.”

Save Water Save Money is a company which offers water-efficiency solutions and since 2007 they have distributed more than 3.5million water saving devices to over 2 million customers in the UK. SES Water already works with them to host their water savings calculator and free packs on its website.

Utility Weeks is discussing what energy and water companies are doing to Build Back Better at the Build Back Better Forum on 20-21 October.