Steve Nurdin, marketing manager at Cannon Hygiene, explains how universities can take control of their water use – improving sustainability and reducing cost
Water resources are decreasing globally and water stress – the measure of shortages – is an increasing concern, not just in the developing world but in the UK too. The UN estimates that more than 5 billion people could suffer water shortages by 2050 as a result of climate change, increased demand and polluted supplies.
Like many other sectors, universities are increasingly eager to minimise their water use as part of a wider sustainability agenda. The likes of the University of Oxford and the University of Aberdeen have shared their water management strategies publicly.
For many institutions, student accommodation services represent a large portion of day-to-day water use. And, like other areas of environmental efficiency, the pressure is on estates teams to ensure that university properties are performing well.
The challenge in reducing water use is that it has previously been difficult to quantify the impact of any investment made and to direct efforts towards the highest consumption areas first. Now, with the advent of Smart Water Meters, universities can better assess where water sustainability measures will have the biggest impact.
Learning about water use
The technology can help universities understand more about how water is being used across their estate – from washrooms in student accommodation through to kitchen canteens. A Smart Water Meter can give property managers real-time data on their water use in an online platform that can be used to assess how much water is flowing through pipes in different areas across the property estate.
This not only monitors water use, it can help identify patterns and demonstrate where investment should be directed to reduce consumption and costs. And, since universities have periods where buildings aren’t in use during the summer, a smart water meter allows them to monitor water use outside of term time. In the event of a leak, a meter can be set so water can be turned off remotely helping to significantly reduce waste.
Proving the theory
For many buildings, washrooms are one of biggest problem areas in terms of inefficiency. This is even more true in communal washrooms in libraries, next to student unions and canteens because they’re more likely to have urinals. Older systems flush water constantly to get rid of bad smells and clear uric salts. However, this is hugely inefficient and not particularly effective at maintaining hygiene either. It is no longer true that the more water you flush through a water system, the more hygienic it is. Modern urinals, with microbiological cartridges, keep systems clean even when water isn’t actively flowing through them.
To put this change into perspective, older systems can flush as many as 70 times a day. Whereas a microbiological cartridge system can be set to flush only 4 times a day, with the cartridge keeping pipes hygienic by breaking down uric salts.
Using a Smart Water Meter in tandem with a switch to a microbiological cartridge system will allow university estates managers to immediately understand just how much water is being saved each day and the return on investment in the system itself.
Not only that, by having smart water meters set up in pipes across an estate, campus managers can understand where there may be other savings to be made by modelling water use and understanding which areas are using the most water each day. Installing new kitchen taps in canteens or better showers in student accommodation could have a dramatic effect, with smart technology proving the returns.
Further benefits come from the peace of mind that leaks will be spotted early enough to completely mitigate any risk of damage to buildings. Smart water meters can be set so that if water rises above a predetermined level, the system will text an estates manager who can turn off water remotely.
During quieter periods, a leak could otherwise go unnoticed for days. Aside from the previously mentioned cost of this significant waste of water, cost can mount up quickly if estates managers have to resolve damp or make structural repairs to a building – particularly heritage buildings, which make up a large portion of some universities’ estates and can be difficult and expensive to repair.
Top marks in sustainability
University estates managers have a lot to juggle and the effective running of a university means that these teams are often pulled in different directions. Focusing on sustainability and assessing where investment would make the biggest impact can often slip down the list of priorities simply because the resource to do in-depth reviews isn’t there.
But, with water sustainability becoming increasingly important, measures to reduce consumption could be effective in helping to meet on wider sustainability goals – helping institutions act more responsibly while saving money.
This isn’t just beneficial from a corporate standpoint either. Many younger people value organisations that operate responsibly more than those that are creating an impact on the environment. Millennials and those in generation Z have been shown to want to buy from and work for organisations with ethical values according to research from the likes of London Business School, PwC and Deloitte. Strong sustainability credentials are a key element of university’s propositions to prospective students.
There’s a level of insight that many in the sector have for other elements of their estates. For instance, some use technology to track footfall across their facilities, or for monitoring security and recording and logging repairs. Adopting the same principles for water management could give estates managers the tools needed to uncover how best to make substantial changes to their environmental responsibilities.