Sustainable Water | Water conservation in offices and institutional buildings

During the literature research for this post I started asking myself: where is the water used in offices and institutional buildings? The answer wasn’t as straight forward as in the case of households. In fact it is difficult to see water usage in offices or school. Better, the amount of water we see is minimal, compared to the one that is used. We in fact use the toilets and wash our hands, then maybe prepare a tea or coffee [if we have the facilities in our office] and do a little washing up [if we bring lunch from home in reusable container. As we all do, isn’t it!?]. But what else? I couldn’t see any more water used in my office. But then I started to think that floors needed to be washed, and windows too [and there are so many windows usually in offices…] and the heating and cooling system… So all the water used started to add up. Let’s see it in particular.

Water is a key resource for industrial and commercial sectors, nearly all of which pay for water through meters. This means that most businesses have a financial incentive to reduce the amount of water they use. The food industry, for example, is a major water user, taking around 10% of all industrial abstractions and another 10% of total industrial water use from the public supply. Although agriculture uses only 1% of our water resources, this masks significant seasonal and regional differences. In East Anglia, for example, agriculture uses 16% of abstracted water, and in some rivers all the water abstracted is for agriculture. In summer, daily irrigation can exceed abstraction for public use and damage habitats.

Water is used by commercial, institutional, and industrial buildings for four primary purposes:

  • indoor domestic use (restrooms, kitchens, and laundries)
  • cooling and heating
  • landscape irrigation
  • processing of materials
Source: EPA, U. S. (2009)  Water Efficiency in the Commercial and Institutional Sector: Considerations for a WaterSense Program.

Water saving tips

The majority of water saving opportunities lie at the management level. Examples of water savings opportunities include [but the list is not complete]:

  1. Indoor/Domestic Water
  • Install high-efficiency dishwashing equipment and run only when full.
  • Retrofit restrooms with high-efficiency toilets, urinals, lavatory faucets, and showerheads.
  • Assure that steam sterilizers are equipped with tempering water flow controls.

2.   Cooling and Heating

  • Optimize cooling tower performance to achieve the maximum cycles of concentration.
  • Consider alternative sources of water for cooling tower make up.
  • Return steam condensate to the boiler.

3.   Outdoor Water Use

  • Use a weather-based irrigation control or soil moisture sensor for automatic irrigation system control.
  • Choose native, drought-resistant plants for landscaping.
  • Audit and optimize irrigation systems to achieve maximum distribution uniformity of water.

However, there are many water-saving behaviours we can all implement in our daily routine, also in the office. They are similar to the actions you probably already do in your home.

  1. When washing dishes by hand, don’t let the water run while washing.
  2. When washing your hand in the toilet don’t let the water run.
  3. Use one mug or glass for drinking water in your office, you’ll cut in washing up. And yes please drink tap water, instead of bottled water. Unless you need to go to a lecture or the gym. In that case refill your bottle.

Do you have more tips for the office!? I’d be very happy of hearing them!!

Water saving @DeMontfort University

Understanding the importance of water conservation, De Montfort University (DMU) took a strategic approach to monitoring and measuring water and energy usage by installing half-hourly metering for gas, electricity and water. Since February 2008, when the AMR system was installed, DMU has discovered benefits beyond monitoring and measuring consumption. For example, leaks can be identified immediately using alarms set up on the AMR system. In winter 2010, the system enabled DMU staff to detect leaks in unoccupied buildings within hours, significantly reducing damage to the properties. In addition, the consumption data also proved useful when claiming a rebate from the water supplier due to leaks. Following a major water leak at De Montfort in 2009, the consumption data generated by the AMR system were submitted to the water suppliers as evidence, enabling rebate entitlements to be calculated accurately. Furthermore, some systems automatically calculate each building’s carbon emissions. As water usage is a good indicator of building occupancy, an AMR system which measures water along with energy use can also be used to identify electricity and gas wastage. It is possible to see DMU’s water consumption here.

From the metering system we discovered that De Montfort University uses 3.63kl water per person [in 2011/12]. 0.5742% of De Montfort University’s water comes from grey or rain water sources. In Hugh Aston Building, DMU collects rainwater in an underground tank, from where it is pumped around the building to flush toilets. This system reduces the amount of fresh water it is used and reduces the amount of energy and chemicals used to treat the water by the supplier water company.


HEFCE (2012). Measuring scope 3 carbon emissions – water and waste. A guide to good practice, Higher Education Funding Council for England. (2012). “100 Ways To Conserve “. Retrieved 11.11.12, from

DEFRA (2011). Water for life. Presented to Parliament by the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs by Command of Her Majesty. London, DEFRA.

EPA, U. S. (2009). Water Efficiency in the Commercial and Institutional Sector: Considerations for a WaterSense Program.

DEFRA (2008). Future Water. The Government’s water strategy for England Presented to Parliament by the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs by Command of Her Majesty. London, DEFRA.

NMOSE (1999). A water censervation guide for commercial, institutional and industrial users, New Mexico Office of the State Engineer.


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