Prepare for Drought Now, Manufacturers Urged

Manufacturers are being told to prepare for water price rises and supply disruption as Britain faces its worst drought since 1976.

The warning comes from sustainability specialist Ceram after Environment Secretary Caroline Spelman hosted a drought summit with water companies, farmers and wildlife groups on Monday. (Feb 20)

With parts of the Midlands, East Anglia and the South East experiencing the lowest rainfall levels for decades this winter, Ms Spelman said public supplies are likely to be affected unless there is substantial precipitation by the end of April.

The Government's concerns over long-term supply were set out in its Water for Life White Paper in December - and they prompted fears that a water trading scheme is being considered.

Under such a scheme, water use could be capped and manufacturers needing additional supplies would be forced to buy unused quotas from other firms.

Joe Flanagan, sustainability expert at Ceram, said: "I think a trading system similar to the one introduced for carbon is still some way off.

"But all the signs are that Ministers are taking Britain's water supply problems extremely seriously - and rightly so.

"Several global studies analysing the number of litres available per person predict that the South East will show ‘extreme stress', which is the same classification as parts of the Middle East, Africa and the Indian sub-continent.

"Scarcity of water puts an upward pressure on prices and the need to invest billions in infrastructure like pipework and new reservoirs will undoubtedly drive up bills.

"Manufacturers need to think about this now rather than when they see their costs going up."

Mr Flanagan urged industry to analyse its water usage and to come up with ways of reducing it.

He said: "Water footprinting identifies immediate savings and it buffers the effect of inevitable future rises.

"Manufacturers like Coca Cola and retailers like Marks & Spencer and John Lewis are now including water usage as part of their sustainability and Corporate Social Responsibility policies, and that has a positive effect on marketing and image as well as the environment.

"Being able to tell the local community that you have reduced your water usage is especially helpful when your employees and people living near your factory are suffering hosepipe bans or supply interruptions."

Mr Flanagan has acted as a resources consultant for firms all over the world and he has written a number of publications for organizations including the International Energy Agency, the EU and the Carbon Trust. He is now Principal Consultant in Sustainability at Ceram where he heads up the water footprinting team.

One of the water footprinting exercises that Ceram has carried out was at Stoke-on-Trent ceramic manufacturer Johnson Tiles.

Direct and indirect water usage was analysed to arrive at a water footprint per m3 of tiles manufactured during 2010. The report identified where water is being lost and where usage could be reduced - highlighting potential cost savings of up to 70 per cent a year.

Ceram has published a new white paper called Calculating a Water Footprint - The Benefits for Your Business. The document examines the growing importance of water as a sustainability issue for businesses and it is available as a free download (box to the right).

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