Corporate water efficiency measures could be at risk of being
forced onto the back burner as many CSR departments increase
their focus on cutting energy use and carbon emissions.
That was the warning from the boss of one of the UK's leading
water utilities who, last week, argued that, while carbon
emissions have rightly come to dominate the corporate agenda,
the threat posed by climate change meant that there was still
a strong case for investment in improving water efficiency.
"Carbon and energy efficiency has to be a high priority"
- said John Cuthbert, managing director of Northumbrian
Water. "But there needs to be balance. If everything
becomes dominated by the carbon agenda, we could look back
in five years time and realise there was a need for a more
Cuthbert observed that, while soaring energy prices had focused
many executives' minds on energy efficiency, water costs were
often less of a priority. "With business customers, water
is very rarely a major part of operational costs. That's not
to say they ignore it, but it is not as high a priority as
energy efficiency" - he said - adding that, as a result,
the onus was on CSR and sustainability departments to drive
water conservation measures.
Despite the relatively limited cost case for investment in
water saving measures - such as grey water systems and rain
harvesting technologies - Cuthbert insisted that there was
still a strong long-term business case for such measures.
"If you look at all the climate change predictions, they
are for wetter winters and dryer summers. Well, the demand
profile for water is pretty much the exact opposite of that"
- he warned. "We need to develop a way of managing that
scenario and that means improving the infrastructure for storing
and capturing water and bringing down the demand."
He added that proposed changes to the UK government's planning
regime that would give Whitehall the power to fast-track major
infrastructure projects through the planning system, should
help ensure that reservoir capacity is improved. Some major
projects - such as Northumbrian Water's plans to increase
the capacity of the Abberton Reservoir in Essex, which are
expected to receive a final decision later this summer - can
take over ten years to complete - in part, because of onerous
"With big projects we'd align ourselves with the government's
view that there needs to be a different approach" - said
Cuthbert. "There are projects that have a regional -
if not national - significance and there needs to be a way
of recognising that. Currently, planning authorities can even
be put in a difficult democratic position. For example, Colchester
council will make the decision over Abberton, but the reservoir
will not actually serve Colchester itself."