It’s all about behaviour

03/12/2013 | Contrary to popular belief, the European Water Label is not “justabout water efficiency.” No, it’s much morethan that. It’s about informing and educating so that anyone who is in the market for water-using products can make an informed choice to suit their circumstances. It’s also about giving them the opportunity to change their behaviour towards the most precious of all our resources. And it’s about reducing waste. The award winning CEO of the Bathroom Manufacturers Association, Yvonne Orgill, reviews the labelling scheme, how it has developed, how it is transforming the industry and why our behaviour to water has to change. What is the European Water Label? Simply put, the European Water Label, through its easily recognisable graphics and searchable online database, quickly shows the water-using characteristics of bathroom and kitchen products so that would-be purchasers can choose those which ideally suit their circumstances. The Label carries information for12 product categories including the flush performance of toilets, the flow rate of taps and showers and the capacity of baths. It has grown rapidly into an award-winning benchmark scheme which shows the water consumption of those products. A database, stored in a secure environment www.europeanwaterlabel.eu holds the details of almost 4000 products. The scheme is increasingly recognised by consumers and professionals and from the UK government’s point of view it is now an important tool in their drive to meet their‘green’commitments. The scheme expanded into Europe during 2012, and during 2013,DEFRA and WRAP put their full weight behind itannouncing that an agreement had been reached with bathroom retailers, merchants and manufacturers to join together to support and promote the Label. Supporters include Saint Gobain, Wolseley, Kingfisher, the Independent Merchant Association, Home Retail Group, and Travis Perkins. Over 1000 stockists have registered their details with the scheme. The key to Label is its overall design which is similar to the familiar labels found on white goods, other electrical goods, tyres, garden machinery, housing etc. It clearly shows the volume of water that the product will consume provided it is correctly installed according to the manufacturer’s instructions. So, for instance, for taps and showers, those products which use more than 13 litres per minute will be shown in the red band. (This band ties in with the current harmonised British/European standards which ask for a max 12 litres per minute with a 10% tolerance to accommodate most flow regulators.) At the other end of the scale products using no more than 6 litres per minute will be shown in the green band. Consumers can see, at a glance, the performance of each product. A similar label for baths shows the volume they contain. Large baths with a volume greater than 200 litres to the overflow are highlighted in the red band. Lower volume baths are shown in the relevant bands below. Transforming the Industry One of the major effects of the European Water Label has been to act as a catalyst for invention. Bathroom manufacturers have responded vigorously to the drive to reduce wasteand save water and they are playing an increasingly important role in creating products which at their peak of efficiency yet still provide the performance which the consumer demands. WCsFor years the WC has been regarded as a poor performer in the bathroom because of its water guzzling characteristics. When the Label was first launched around 30% of the water consumption in an average UK home was attributed to the toilet flush. Today consumption is down to around 20%. A massive reduction and something to be celebrated. Real progress has been made. Flush volumes of 2.6 litre short flush and 4 litre full flush are available at realistic prices and are no longer ‘special.’ One innovative product listed in the Water Label database combines the function of the washbasin with the WC. Waste from the basin is diverted, disinfected and stored in the cistern prior to being used for the flush. This type of breakthrough thinking is both surprising and effective. The move to low volume flushing has also given manufacturers the chance to re-visit the fundamental design of the WC suite. Low volume flush has allowedthem to create ‘rim-free’ pans. Clever design of the rim without the usual invert or box section is now possible since lower volume flushing is more easily controlled and causes less splashing. The resulting improvement in hygiene and ‘cleanability’ has been jumped upon by busy and careful householders. Commercial versions are being installed in medical establishments. Another, and very recent development, has been the ‘cistern-free’ WC. This award winning design has done away with the traditional cistern (or tank) since flush water is stored within the body of the toilet itself. The reduced flush volume has enabled the manufacturer to completely rethink the theory behind the humble loo. TAPSTaps with built-in click-stop technology and hot water temperature regulation have become freely available within the last decade. These not only save water but save energy since hot water is not wasted. They are also ultra-safe in the family bathroom. The styling and functionality of these new taps is blossoming and the choice is greater than ever before. Specialist manufactures have invested heavily in designing products which are reliable, sustainable and easy to install. Low flow units with the click-stop function give both a tactile and an audible click so that the user can easily tell when the tap is on full flow or half flow. The more advanced units control the temperature – safety and energy saving being in the minds of the designers. For gadget-lovers taps with built-in temperature sensitive LEDs glow red or blue depending on the temperature of the flow. Aerated-spray taps are particularly useful in the cloakroom or ensuite rooms for simple hand washing. These achieve a minimal flow rate, way below the taps from a decade ago, but still maintain satisfying use and an effective wash. SHOWERSHigh-tech is evolving rapidly in shower controls and shower heads. These new devices show huge savings in both water and energy consumption. Digital shower technology has advanced to such a degree that its precise temperature control can be accurately set to a safe maximum and play an important part in reducing utility bills by ensuring hot and cold water is not wasted. Energy and water supply costs are kept to a minimum. Some members of the BMA now produce shower units with special showerheads which cleverly blend air with water. The result is a satisfying and refreshing shower which uses less water than ever before. These showerheads can reduce water waste and reduce energy costs compared with a traditional handset, even at the same water pressure. Thermostatic mixer showers ensure that hot water is not wasted since the temperature of the water flow can be set to suit the individual. Some digital showers can even be set to switch off after a set period. Instantaneous electric showers are also great water and energy savers. They heat water as it is required and a typical 9.8 kW shower uses around 10 litres per minute maximum. BATHSIt was not so long ago when the average new bath needed more than 200 litres. Today, without much effort, a consumer can find a really comfortable bath with a capacity as low as 120 litres. It’s all in the design.Clever internal shaping reduceswater volume and reduces waste. The Water Calculator The product data stored in the Water Label database has been put to good use in the accompanying Water Calculator, online at www.thewatercalculator.org.uk which is designed to make it easier to meet the new water-efficiency requirements. The tool is designed for building industry professionals. It is now used by architects, planners, specifiers, contractors, installers and others who are affected by the rules laid down in the Building Regulations Approved Document G (Building Regulations, 2010) and the Code for Sustainable Homes (DCLG, 2006) ; both give strict rules about water usage in a new home. The calculator makes it easier for the professional, at the planning stage, to calculate how much water is theoretically consumed in the new property based on the products which have been chosen. The Water Calculator is the first of its kind and users simply select from a drop-down menu of products to calculate the water consumption. The tool auto-completes the calculations, enabling quick and easy specification without the hassle of gathering data from product manufacturers. When printed off they can be submitted to the planning authorities and Building Control inspectors as proof of a building’s water consumption. It’s all about behaviour. Our behaviour But outstanding design and gorgeouswaste-preventing products are not the be all and end all. Manufacturers will continue to push technology and their invention will be rewarded, but the focus is now moving from the product to the purchaser and it is here that the European Water Label will make its mark. As we have seen, the Label is being supported throughout Europe at the highest levels in government. Additionally merchants and retailers are embracing the new technologies and trade associations as far afield as Russia and Israel are on board. During 2014 Labelswill appear in catalogues, on packaging, and on shop shelvesand Point of Sale materials. The Label will become increasingly obviousand consumers willrecognise that they can reduce waste and can save money on their household bills. Developers will use the scheme to identify those products which best help them achieve the requirements of the Building Regulations and Code for Sustainable Homes. It is this voluntary European Water Label which is carrying the accurate and truthful message about a product’s water consumption. It is free from marketing ‘fluff’ and it is the Label which educates and informs and is allowing purchasers to make their own choice. It is giving them ‘permission’ to choose, free from expensive mandatory interference. The Label and its information is here to stay but the next link in the chain is our behaviour. Water users now have to be persuaded to use less and waste less. They need to know that if we continue to consume at current rates we will steadily and surely run dry. Beer and wine will disappear from the shelves, we will become increasingly malodorous and our health will deteriorate. Life expectancy will shorten and pension companies will smile! Unfortunately, sceptics will remain. They will continue to pedal the message that we have plenty of water around us. They will look outside and see it falling from the skies. It is these people that will need persuading more than any. The European Water Label is not just about water efficiency. It’s about informing and educating. It’s about a fuller understanding of water use and it’s about helping change our behaviour to water, the most precious of our resources, our cheapest and most wasted.

◄ Back to the List of News Items