How to make your business more water efficient
Northern Ireland has a wet climate, but climate change could reduce the amount of water available by 10-15 per cent by 2050.
Demand for water continues to increase, so it's vital that you use water wisely. This means working out how much you use and putting simple measures in place to cut water use, which has the added benefit of cutting costs. You can also reduce the indirect costs of water use such as the energy used for heating, pumping and treatment.
This guide explains when a business needs a licence or authorisation to take or store water, how to apply for one, and how to analyse the quantity of water you use. It also covers the benefits of cutting down your water use, gives you tips for saving water and describes the financial support available for introducing water efficiency measures.
Advantages of water efficiency in business
Over the past 20 years demand for water has risen steadily. Using water, especially hot water, uses energy and causes emissions of greenhouse gases which contribute to climate change. You should use water more efficiently to help ensure everyone's needs continue to be met in the future.
Typical costs of water use in business
All businesses can benefit from using water efficiently. In manufacturing, water bills can cost over 1 per cent of turnover. Most businesses could halve their water bill by implementing simple and economical water minimisation measures.
You could be paying more for water and associated costs than you need to. The cost of using water isn't only what you pay to the water company for its supply. Other costs to your business may include:
- disposal of your wastewater, either as a percentage of the amount of water you use or by the strength of your effluent
- losses due to leaks and wasteful appliances
- the energy you use to heat or cool water
- wasting water, eg excessive washing down
- pumping and storing
- capital depreciation of and maintaining equipment and infrastructure
- materials or products lost in wastewater, for example metals lost by poor control at metal plating facilities
- meter size charges
Using less water may mean that you can rely fully on the mains supply and not have to pay for a licence to abstract water from the environment. You should review which option is best for your business as you may not need to use high quality mains water for all your activities, for example cooling.
How much money could my business save through water efficiency?
You could save up to 30 per cent of your water costs through simple, low cost actions, eg fixing a leak from a single cold water tap could save you up to £900 per year.
There are also non-financial benefits of using water efficiently. Suppliers and customers are increasingly environmentally conscious, demanding that businesses use natural resources sustainably. By demonstrating your water efficiency you can attract and retain customers and employees. You can also create interest from investors, stakeholders and the media by showing that your business is well managed.
Practical water efficiency advice
How to analyse water use in your business
The only way to gauge the true cost of your water use is by analysing it systematically. You should:
- study your water bills - do this over the previous two or three years noting the annual consumption and cost
- identify any trends or patterns - you may be able to pick out seasonal variations
- involve your staff, eg you could get them to complete a water use survey
- produce a water balance - this is a numerical account of where water enters and leaves your business and where it is used
- carry out a benchmarking exercise and compare your water use to other businesses in your industry sector
For more information on water balances and benchmarking, see how to monitor your water use.
Once you have identified the amount of water your business uses and where you use it, you should identify where you can make savings. Lowering your utility bills will save you money and give you a competitive edge.
You could draw up a plan that details how you will reduce your water use and when the improvements will be carried out.
You may have already analysed your water-use patterns if you have an environmental management system in place.
Practical water efficiency advice
Top tips for saving water in your business
Minimising water use in your business can require financial commitment. However, many measures are cheap and simple to implement and could potentially save you up to 30 per cent of your water costs. You could:
- Only use water when you need to. Record how much water your business uses on a daily or weekly basis to understand your demands. This will help you decide the best ways to save water and money. If you abstract water it will also help you comply with the conditions of your licence or authorisation.
- Educate staff about implementing water-efficiency measures. You could include their roles and responsibilities in a water policy statement, eg to report leaking taps straight away.
- Get buy-in from management and involve staff with responsibility for facilities, finance and operations in water minimisation measures from the outset. This may form part of an existing environmental policy. See our guides on how to write an environmental policy and making the case for environmental improvements.
- Appoint a member of staff to monitor water use and identify minimisation opportunities, eg by doing a regular walk-round survey of your business and reading water meters. If parts of your business use a lot of water, consider installing sub-meters. See the page in this guide on how to analyse how much water you use.
- Buy water efficient new equipment. This may mean a larger initial investment, but it will pay off in the long term. See the page in this guide on finance and support for water efficiency measures.
- Protect against cold weather-related leaks by insulating pipes and checking them regularly.
- Investigate alternative water sources, eg harvesting rainwater through a roof catchment or reusing wastewater from wash basins and showers, known as greywater. Once captured, you can use the water where non-drinking water is required, for example to flush toilets.
- Fit water-minimising controls, eg push taps, low-flush toilets, flow regulators or restrictors. The payback period for installing flush controls on urinals can be as little as five weeks.
- Review your plans to reduce water use, ideally at least once a year.
- Consider treating your wastewater to reuse it for industrial uses, toilet flushing and irrigation which do not require water fit for drinking. Using less treated drinking water will save you money. See the page on reducing and treating your trade effluent in our guide on discharging trade effluent.
- Check your meter size is appropriate to the amount of water you use. If it is larger than you need, you may be paying more than is necessary.
- Check your meter location and the supplies it measures, eg in industrial and business parks where a neighbouring business may be supplied through your meter. Also check that your meter serial number matches the number on your bills and that you are being billed for your own meter.
- Fix drips and leaks as quickly as possible.
Northern Ireland Water can provide you with advice on saving water. Find out about water and waste services on the Northern Ireland Water website.
For more information on facilities such as washrooms, catering and laundry areas, see our guide on how to save water at commercial premises. For information on washing and rinsing processes, see our guide on how to save water at industrial premises.
Practical water efficiency advice
Finance and support for water efficiency
The Enhanced Capital Allowance (ECA) scheme enables you to deduct the whole cost of your investment in water-saving technologies and products from your profits in the tax year that you make the purchase. The scheme is available to businesses that pay UK corporation tax or income tax, and that have enough profits for the allowance to be written off against.
You can claim the allowance when you buy any of the products that appear on the water technology list (WTL). The WTL includes water efficient products from taps to industrial cleaning and leak detection equipment.
Manufacturers and suppliers that wish to include their products on the WTL must meet certain qualifying criteria. The WTL symbol can be used to promote products for sales and marketing purposes.
For more information about buying or supplying water efficient products eligible for ECAs, see Enhanced Capital Allowances for efficient technologies.
Invest Northern Ireland offers consultancy support for businesses to manage and implement resource efficiency projects, and runs a water efficiency programme.
Practical water efficiency advice
Water use authorisations
When you need an authorisation or licence for taking or storing water from a surface or groundwater source
You must have authorisation from the Northern Ireland Environment Agency (NIEA) to abstract water from:
- surface waters such as rivers, lakes and wetlands
- coastal waters, ie water within three nautical miles of land
- transitional water, such as estuaries and water in the vicinity of river mouths
- underground strata such as wells, boreholes and springs
You may also need authorisation from the NIEA if you own, operate, maintain or plan an impoundment, such as a reservoir, which is used to store water.
Apply for an abstraction authorisation
Abstracting less than 10 cubic metres (m³) of water a day with minimal risk to the environment is called a permitted controlled activity (PCA). You don't need to contact the NIEA, but you must:
- be able to demonstrate the volume of water you abstract
- minimise water leaks
- prevent any contamination or pollution
If you take between 10m³ and 20m³ a day, you must notify NIEA and comply with PCA conditions.
If you abstract more than 20m³ you need an abstraction licence from NIEA. You will need a:
- simple licence if you abstract between 20m³ and 100m³ of water per day
- complex licence if you abstract more than 100m³ of water per day
Both licences may be subject to conditions such as the maximum rate at which you can abstract water and the maximum volume you can take in any day.
Apply for an impoundment authorisation
You can impound water without contacting the NIEA as long as your impoundment:
- does not control the water level upstream
- is not associated with an abstraction of water
- does not create a difference in height of more than one metre between the upstream and downstream water surfaces
You will need an impoundment licence from the NIEA to impound water in all other circumstances.
NIEA can review, modify or remove a licence if the licence holder requests it, or to prevent significant or serious damage to the environment. You may also need to submit an environmental statement to NIEA before starting projects that use more than 200m³ of water per day, for example agricultural spray irrigation.