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Save water: it’s easier (and more important) than you think

Nicci Russell, Waterwise managing director and member of the ACEVO climate emergency working group, writes about saving water and why this topic is vital to tackle the climate crisis.

A narrated version of this blog is available at the bottom of the page

Did you know that some parts of the UK will run out of water within ten years unless we start wasting less? Had you noticed that water companies in all parts of the UK have had major challenges getting water into homes and businesses in recent years – that this is a problem now? Had you thought that using less water could reduce your carbon footprint as well as make sure there’s enough water to go round? Did you think fair access to water was only an international thing? Have you ever wondered how wasting less water fits into your organisation’s values and mission?

If your answer to any of these questions is no, you’re at the right blog! As leaders, doing such important work in civic society, and in these particularly challenging times, too, it’s sometimes hard to fit anything else in our heads. But as the pandemic has ravaged across society, leaving immediate and ongoing tragedy and loss in its wake, so the climate emergency continues to do the same.

The good news is, there are simple things we can all do to help – as citizens and as leaders.

I run Waterwise, a UK not-for-profit campaigning organisation with the vision that water is used wisely, every day, everywhere. Water is essential to life – we can’t live without it. It’s literally vital to the environment, society and the economy (imagine running transport, schools, hospitals and offices without water!). We need to use it every day, for drinking, washing, bathing, gardening, leisure. But we shouldn’t be wasting it. And there are easy ways to sort this out!

Here’s another ‘why bother’ question:

Did you know that in England, Wales and Northern Ireland we all use around 140 litres of water per day, each? 20 litres more than that in Scotland! If you think about how much of that you actually drink, even if you’re being really healthy, imagine where the rest goes. Most of it is being flushed down the sink or the toilet, or used on the garden. And this is all drinking water.

As you carry on with your day job, doing incredible work to help others – because you care, and you have the skills to help – I take my hat off to you. If this blog can help release a bit of extra cash to help fund your amazing mission, I will be so thrilled. And if it also helps remind you that the everyday actions we all take really can help the environment, society and the economy both in the UK and across the globe, then my cup runneth over.

Ok, but why is water efficiency important to the climate emergency, I hear you ask?! Well, yes, it helps us adapt to the climate change already built into the system – helping the water we do have go round – but it also helps us tackle climate change, by reducing carbon emissions. Around 6% of total UK CO2 emissions are from water use – and 90% of that amount is from how we use water in homes, for heating and washing.

As well as getting the policy and regulatory framework right, how we all behave is vital. When you stop to think about it, we all have a deeply personal relationship with water. I know I love walking next to canals and rivers; a shower in the morning to pep me up and get me ready for work, and a water fight with squirty bottles when it’s hot. At Waterwise we run UK campaigns all year to raise awareness and hopefully turn this into behaviour changes. We’ve just finished #Pledge2021 – challenging people to save 2,021 litres of water over the course of a month. Over 1,000 people signed up to the Pledge – saving at least two million litres of water during January!

This really demonstrates the impact of small individual actions! And we’re hopeful that the new water-saving habits people learnt during Pledge2021 will stay with them. If you want to help us drive a water-saving culture, you could encourage your teams, service users and stakeholders to sign up to our monthly newsletter and our campaigns. And for those of you who work in communities, I’m pretty sure your local water companies would be delighted to work with you on water-saving campaigns and even funds in some cases. See South West Water’s new Water-Saving Community Fund, here, for example.

Ooh here’s another thing that might help! In England all non-domestic water customers can now choose their ‘water retailer’ – this means you can choose one who will help you work out where you’re wasting water and how to bring down your water and energy bills and your carbon footprint. We have a short guide on our website to help you ask the right questions – including ‘do you actually want me as your customer, if you can’t help me with this?!’. If you operate from offices and you’re doing super well at this you could also get the Waterwise Checkmark for Offices. If you want your team to get more clued-up on water efficiency, tickets for our annual conference are only £25 this year for a week of digital sessions in March.

I was thrilled to make it through the selection process for ACEVO’s new Climate Crisis Working Group and to meet like-minded ACEVO colleagues from right across civic society. For me, this isn’t just an environmental issue. It’s a social justice issue.

#isavewaterbecause we can’t live without water, and I’m worried it will be those of us who can least afford it who will suffer if it starts running out.

Narrated by a member of the ACEVO staff

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