BSI / Waterwise insight highlights tackling water stewardship as much a priority as climate change, as using water efficiently offers the potential to reduce Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions and help Australia reach net zero.
Australians use more water per person than most other countries in the world, despite Australia being one of the driest populated continents, new research by BSI and Waterwise reveals.
With water usage per person in Australia one of the highest in the world, action to increase water security through global collaboration and innovation could help tackle this. Doing so will bring wider benefits – including reducing drought risk, supporting climate goals and advancing social development to meet the UN Sustainable Development Goals.
Thirst for change: securing a water positive future notes that water provision and use contribute to around 10% of global carbon emissions, while drought could affect as many as 75% of the world’s population by 2050, meaning that action now to increase water availability could make as positive an impact to the planet as tackling the climate crisis.
The report sets out the key steps that could help society meet this challenge, including recognizing that tackling water scarcity could be a sustainability opportunity as large as reducing carbon emissions, making it easier for consumers to choose water-saving products and embedding a circular economy mindset.
The study by BSI, the business improvement and standards company, in partnership with Waterwise, a leading voice on the efficient use of water, includes an Indicator evaluating water security in 40 locations, including Australia, with the US, China and India receiving the highest possible rating (representing higher risk of water insecurity).
Alongside Singapore, Australia is one of the two leading consumers of water, with sales accounting 504 litres and $386 per capita in 2021. Notably, Australia’s Indicator score (19) is lower than many European countries (representing lower risk of water insecurity), including the UK, due largely to high levels of renewable water available per capita, with about 1.7 million households having fitted rainwater tanks. More than a quarter of Australian homes collect and store rainwater for domestic use, contributing around 177 billion litres to residential water supplies.
Whilst water is abundant on Earth, just 0.5% is available as fresh water, and the report finds that a combination of population growth (with rises projected for Australia), climate change and economic development is driving demand and putting growing, unsustainable pressure on this supply.
Yet in a positive sign, the findings come amidst recognition of the importance of water management. According to polling commissioned by BSI, two-thirds of consumers and 80% of small business leaders identified clean water and sanitation as ‘part of sustainability’, while half of the former and 44% of the latter placed it in the top five issues to focus global resource and effort on.
The research identifies that using water wisely can bring important benefits, including enabling equitable global access, protecting precious habitats and making us more resilient to climate change and drought. It makes a series of recommendations, including:
- Recognize water wastage as a serious challenge – Acknowledge the issue and act, with utility companies leading the way to reduce network leakage.
- Ensure it is easy to choose water-saving products and make sustainable choices – for example learning from countries including Australia and Singapore, which apply mandatory product water efficiency labelling systems, aligned with the relevant standard.
- Embrace innovation and make better use of data – smart meters have the potential to be a game changer when it comes to saving water.
- Encourage a water saving culture – Prioritize protecting our planet through water management, whether that is at home or in the workplace, and across different sectors.
- Close the loop – Make water recycling and reuse the norm where possible, using techniques such as water recycling and water reuse in new buildings, or rainwater harvesting.
- Partner for impact – Collaborative effort across a wide range of players from government and regulators to the water industry and ultimately all of us as water users can help us address the growing challenges around water availability.
Collaboration and a move towards a water-saving culture can accelerate progress towards a sustainable world. The report sets out affordable and accessible actions by individuals, organizations and society to address water scarcity, including the increased use of smart meters and installing alternative water supply systems (rainwater harvesting, greywater recycling) or sustainable urban drainage solutions (SuDS) into new buildings.
Martin Townsend, Director for BSI Centre of Excellence for Sustainability, said: “Water is one our most fundamental, precious and undervalued resources – it is the blue thread that connects our world – and using it wisely can bring important benefits, helping us to maintain good health, a biodiverse natural environment, ensuring we have sufficient food supplies and contributing to economic growth. But it is becoming increasingly clear that it is not sustainable for the demand for water to continue to rise without action to ensure we are managing it efficiently.
“Many countries and individuals are already highly alert to the impact of water scarcity and the importance of conserving water, but now is the moment to come together as a global population and give this the same attention we give other environmental issues. If we partner, we can turn ambition into action and secure a water positive future.”
BSI provides support across a number of areas of water management, including Water Safety Plans, which is a critical foundation for effective risk management and control for all types of biological, chemical, physical and radiological hazards.
Download a copy of the report here.
About the research
BSI commissioned Waterwise to collate credible, referenced and traceable data related to water availability, water use and water efficiency/wastage data from a number of target countries. The report covers the UK, USA, Japan, China, Australia, France and Germany, noting that these are net water consumer countries, while also looking at the role of specific sectors, including retail, health sectors and the built sectors. Where possible the information gathered is comparable between countries.
The research was developed by Waterwise’s expert team, and involved consultation with the NGO’s international partner networks, including the American Water Association, the International Water Association and The Water Conservancy in Australia.
The BSI Water Security Indicator, a tool created in partnership with Waterwise, which sits within the report, assesses 40 countries on seven markers. It rates seven countries to be facing the highest possible risk, and even countries like France, Germany, the UK and Australia to be facing medium risk. With the urban population expected to increase to 6.7 billion by 2050, the report highlights that using water wisely is critical to support economic development and social needs and meet the UN Sustainable Development Goals.
BSI is the business improvement and standards company that enables organizations to turn standards of best practice into habits of excellence, ‘inspiring trust for a more resilient world’. For over a century BSI has driven best practice in organizations around the world. Working with over 77,500 clients across 195 countries, it is a truly global business with skills and experience across all sectors including automotive, aerospace, built environment, food and retail and healthcare. Through its expertise in Standards and Knowledge, Assurance Services, Regulatory Services and Consulting Services, BSI helps clients to improve their performance, grow sustainably, manage risk and ultimately become more resilient.
The partnership with Waterwise sits alongside work underway internally at BSI to gather information about the organization’s water impact in terms of consumption and ownership, and to identify what is done currently to preserve water. These data will then be used to set a company-wide strategy for water preservation at BSI.
Waterwise is the leading independent voice in the UK for using water wisely, for the benefit of people and the planet. Our vision is that water is used wisely every day, everywhere, by everyone. We are the UK’s conscience on water efficiency, on behalf of people and the planet, and are experts in water efficiency policy, regulation, research, behaviour and campaigns. Waterwise is a people-led organization which prioritises the wellbeing of its staff.