We must strike while the iron is hot! The public is listening to environmental messages more than ever before so there has never been a better time to persuade people to use less water, writes Ben Earl, head of water efficiency at Southern Water.

The campaign to radically change how consumers perceive the value of water is gathering momentum. After Sir James Bevan, chief executive of the Environment Agency used his “jaws of death” speech to highlight that with current projections water demand will outstrip supply within the next 25 years the race has been on to step up ambition for customers across the UK.

With more and more local authorities having declared a ‘climate emergency’, the opportunity to work with householders across the UK to clearly show the link between water consumption, energy bills and carbon emissions is now.  We know the power of labelling. The mandatory energy label from the European Union has delivered a revolution in lowering energy usage on electrical appliances which has helped to reduce bills for consumers and lower carbon emissions.  A voluntary water label has been attempted, but due to consumer brands being reluctant to label their high using products, has not been successful.

A key piece of research, funded by the water companies has found that introducing a mandatory label on all water using products – such as taps, showers and white goods – could reduce household water use by up to 31 litres per person per day over 25 years. The label, which has a similar look to that of the energy label, will help consumers choose water efficient products and drive innovation in the market, with manufacturers nudged to make their goods increasingly efficient.

The case is compelling because the study looked all round the world at various examples and used particularly that of Australia as a good case study. It too had a voluntary label that was failing and it was then made universal by government legislation.

Water companies are leading the charge on demand reduction, but the many lessons of our programmes are that we need a more societal shift in how water is viewed and valued. When Southern Water launched Target 100 – designed to support, educate and incentivise our customers to reduce average personal use to 100 litres per person per day by 2040 we clearly set out massive ambition. The programme builds on the success of our programmes to date, particularly the 16 per cent reduction in water usage achieved from our universal metering programme.

However water companies alone cannot introduce the kind of changes needed in society, having a universal label that society can promote is one of a number of changes that are needed.

Alongside water labelling, the most effective action government could take is to introduce tighter minimum standards for new homes. The current minimum outside of water stressed areas of 125 litres per person per day is too high. The Committee on Climate Change predicts water shortages will not be confined to the South East, but will be felt in regions such as Yorkshire and the Humber. Regional differences should be scrapped with all new homes built to much tighter standards.

However, around 80 per cent of the homes still standing in 2050 have already been built. This is where interventions like labelling, increased metering, linking water and energy efficiency, introducing incentives and national communications campaigns are essential. Water companies and other stakeholders will play crucial roles in all of these but government leadership, ambition and – most importantly – action is needed.

The call to action has been heard and we now have the Committee on Climate Change, Blueprint for Water, consumer groups, water companies and NGOs all calling for a universal approach to water labelling across all water using products. The National Infrastructure Commission warned that the cost of emergency drought options could be as much as £40 billion and found that one-third of the extra water we need can be secured through reducing demand.

The plans which make it simpler to prescribe efficiency standards for developers, are cheaper than building new resources, gives consumers choice and helps to reduce water poverty. Most important of all is that we have real, actual evidence that it can work and work cost effectively. We also know that large numbers have called for this very thing in last year’s government per capita consumption consultation.

Thanks for getting behind it.