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Water and waste

In my last blog I wrote about our successes in improving the department’s energy efficiency and some of the projects we had undertaken to achieve such big savings.  But it’s just as important to acknowledge the areas where we are yet to achieve such significant improvements, so this time I’ve decided to write about some of our other sustainability challenges and in particular water and waste.

The Greening Government Commitments (GGCs), which apply to all Government departments, include a target to reduce waste by 25% by 2014/15 (compared to a baseline of 2009/10).  The GGCs also include a target to reduce mains water consumption by 2014/15 (also compared to a baseline of 2009/10), and to measure each building against best practice benchmarks for water use.

You can see the department’s full 2011/12 progress report on the GGCs on the DECC website.  The scope of this includes both DECC itself, and the core Nuclear Decommissioning Authority.  For the purposes of this blog however, I will focus on the department’s own performance.

So, how is the department doing on water and waste?  Well, as a whole, DECC’s water use has actually increased by 7% compared to 2009/10, with waste also increasing by 12%.

There are valid reasons for this – the main one being that we have more people on the DECC estate now than in the baseline year.  So in April 2009 (when the first baseline figures were taken), the department was only 6 months old, and we were in the process of moving into our new HQ building, 3 Whitehall Place; in fact many staff had not even moved in.  The department’s HQ proved to be too small, so we also took on the building next door, 55 Whitehall.  Consequently we now have more people on a larger estate, and that has inevitably resulted in increased water consumption and more waste.  Our water use per person* is 6.7m3 – the same as in the baseline year – so we’re not actually using any more water per person.

A water survey of our London estate in early 2012 concluded that our fittings were all “best in class”, but we are not stopping there.  We’re looking at a number of other opportunities to ensure that our water system is as efficient as possible, with one possibility being the potential for a rainwater harvesting system.  As with many sustainable technologies, when putting these systems into existing buildings there are additional challenges to be overcome.  This is especially true of 3 Whitehall Place, which has a Grade II listed exterior, so we need to ensure the system can be installed without any impact on the outside of the building.

Other water savings will have to come from improving the way we use water in the building, by engaging with staff and encouraging everyone to think about their water use more carefully.  We have been reminding staff to use the short flush in the toilets, and to use less water when washing up coffee mugs etc.

Waste is also well managed on our estate – nearly 75% is sent for recycling, and most of the remainder is used to generate electricity by incineration. But there are further opportunities, such as encouraging staff to use their own mugs when buying tea or coffee, to reduce the use of paper cups.

We are also planning to pilot energy efficient hand driers on our London estate, with the aim of cutting the 8 tonnes of hand towels disposed of every year.  We believe the new driers will actually reduce both energy consumption and waste and the cost savings should save the department money as well.

So, although the Government’s targets for cutting energy and waste on its own estate are very challenging (and rightly so), we have a number of plans in place to help further reduce our water and waste.

*Measured in Full Time Equivalents, or FTEs.  This is a standard measure of occupancy levels, which takes account of hours – so a part-time staff member working half the normal hours would count as 0.5 FTE.  Here’s the Wikipedia entry on FTEs, if you really want to know more.

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Comments: 11 Comments on Water and waste
Posted on: Oct 29 2012

11 Responses to “Water and waste”

  1. Hi James, we were pleased to recently provide the new energy efficient hand dryers to your Whitehall HQ buildings.Now they have been installed for 4 months or so I wondered if you have any figures available on the energy/waste savings since paper towels have been removed and low energy dryers have replaced the older ones that existed.
    We are regularly asked by organisations large and small for guideline figures to help them make the same changes as you have so any feedback would be most helpful.

    Many thanks


  2. Astute says:

    Will you be ensuring that all work teams and contractors will be using energy and cost effective equipment when implementing these changes? Otherwise the whole improvement will just be an exercise in redundancy and vanity.

    • James Lee says:

      Of course, it is absolutely critical to think carefully about all the costs and benefits of any planned sustainability improvements. We always produce a business case, taking into account the financial case, sustainability impacts (including energy consumption) and more. Projects will only go ahead if the business case is strong enough. The business case analysis is used to draw up tender specifications to ensure that projects are delivered as required.

  3. Hi Ian, yes would gladly share. What is best contact e-mail address.

  4. roger parker says:

    I assume the figure of 6.7m3 is annual consumption per year per person, which is 6,700litres per person per year.

    Taking an employee 47week year/5day a week attendance, that works out at using 28.5litres a day every day of the year for every employee.

    Is there a leak somewhere? or are there automatic flushing gent’s loos everywhere and staff taking baths!!

    • James Lee says:

      Thanks for your comments Roger. I agree that 28.5 litres per person every day certainly sounds like a lot. However, according to Environment Agency figures (, the average daily consumption per person in the UK is 150 litres, so by comparison our consumption (for around half a person’s day) is better than average.

      Our water audit in early 2012 confirmed that we don’t have any significant leaks. Our urinals are waterless, so no water is wasted there. Many of our staff cycle into work regularly and take showers when they get into the office, so that is contributing to our water use. However, we don’t want to discourage staff from sustainable travel into work, so we simply make sure that the showers are as efficient as possible.

      There are definitely opportunities for us to reduce our water consumption, but the savings will come from making many small changes – there don’t appear to be any opportunities for big savings.

  5. ian hall says:

    Hi, I am a tutor at an FE college in Manchester, I am piloting a similar programme could you please let me know which taps etc…you are using? I am installing rain water harvesting in a number of departments soon and would like to install water saving ouutlets as well as the flush saving devices too. Any assistance would be very much appreciated.
    Ian Hall

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