Incorporating water-efficiency into new buildings has many advantages, very few downsides and can be done at a relatively low cost. More and more, the world of real estate is beginning to recognize the importance and potential of water-saving strategies as it is rising up in the priority list.
The impact of buildings on water and energy
Buildings are responsible for around 40% of overall energy consumption and 20% of water consumption globally. Because of this, there has been a shift in policy focus in recent years to design and construct new buildings – both commercial and residential – more environmentally friendly.
The EU has a green building policy that requires new buildings to be energy-neutral by 2020. In practice, this means a commitment to ensure that buildings are:
- designed efficiently, and with the use of environmentally-friendly materials
- energy-efficient, making use of things such as wall insulation and solar panels
- water-efficient to reduce water consumption
- of high air quality, with fewer impurities
In terms of improving the water-efficiency of buildings, there are a number of affordable technologies that can be used. These include:
- Rainwater harvesting systems that collect, filtrate and reuse water for a variety of building uses
- Wastewater recycling systems which treat and purify the wastewater and then return it for reuse
- Low-flow plumbing on taps, showers and toilets which can reduce the amount of water used by around 80%
- Sensors which can detect leaks, reduce water pressure and even control how much water is needed for things such as irrigation of gardens
The growing impact of water in the sector
Although water-efficiency has arguably lagged behind energy efficiency with the transition to green buildings, the real estate sector is now beginning to wake up to the options available. There are numerous ways in which water is now featured in improving building standards. Examples include:
- Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) standards – with universal access to water and sanitation one of the UN sustainability goals for 2030, the GRI – which helps businesses understand their impacts on sustainability issues – has updated its standard on water management so that businesses can monitor their impact on water resources and improve their water management techniques
- European Public Real Estate (EPRA) assessments – measures buildings on water consumption, in terms of overall cubic meters and use per person, with awards given to good performers.
- Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) reporting – many real estate companies are now including water-efficiency in their buildings as part of their annual commitments.
- Well-being measures – housing quality and sustainability feature strongly in global well-being indices, with the OECD Better Life Index including measures on water quality, sewage systems and access to clean water, although there is scope for more focus on water sustainability in these assessments.
- Well Building Standard – which dedicates an entire section on the water to advance human health and well-being in buildings.
The potential of sustainable water management in buildings
With a worldwide water shortage predicted by 2040, the role of water-efficiency in buildings will play a key part in years to come. Potential benefits include:
- rainwater harvesting and wastewater recycling systems ensuring that buildings have a more independent water supply that safeguards a steady supply in situations such as droughts or water restrictions.
- economic benefits. Although the installation of recycling, harvesting or sensor systems incurs a cost, the result is a reduction of water use and thus cheaper bills
- the opportunity for real estate developers to take a lead and utilize water-saving technologies to market themselves as sustainable and innovative producers in this area
Water Experts can assist the real estate industry by helping them devise a tailor-made sustainable water management strategy, carry out water audits and access cost-efficient recycling and treatment products.