Water scarcity and environmental sustainability are pressing global concerns, and it is imperative that universities, as heavy water users, take an active role in using less water, wasting less water and recycling more water. University campuses have tremendous potential to implement water-saving measures that can make a significant impact – using less water whilst also reducing the carbon footprint and energy use of the university.
In this blog post, we will explore various opportunities for saving water across university campuses, highlighting the importance of collective action and offering practical suggestions for creating a more sustainable campus environment as well as cutting water usage (and associated water bills) by anything from 20% to 50%, whilst also reducing energy use and carbon footprint.
While universities have great potential to reduce water usage, they also face specific challenges when implementing water conservation measures. Understanding these challenges is crucial for developing effective strategies to overcome them. Here are some common obstacles universities often encounter.
Complex infrastructure and heavy water usage requirements
University campuses are typically large and diverse, consisting of numerous buildings, facilities, and infrastructure systems. Managing water usage across such complex networks can be challenging. Campuses may have outdated plumbing systems, multiple water supply sources, and decentralized decision-making processes. Coordinating efforts to implement water-saving measures throughout the campus can require significant planning and collaboration among different departments. Smart leak detection solutions and tools such as the Aguardio leak sensor can massively reduce the amount of water wasted through the kind of undetected leaks that are common in aging infrastructure.
How much water a particular university uses is strongly related to the courses that it offers and the facilities that it has. For example, science labs or medical facilities require substantial water usage for experiments, equipment cooling, and maintaining sterile conditions.
Universities with extensive sports facilities, swimming pools, and fitness centres tend to have higher water consumption. Pools require continuous water circulation, and showers in locker rooms contribute to overall usage. Irrigation needs for sports fields and maintaining landscaping around these facilities can also be substantial. Similarly watering lawns, gardens, trees, and maintaining ornamental plants can result in significant water demands. Implementing water-efficient irrigation systems and installing greywater and stormwater recycling systems can have a significant impact on water use in these areas.
Student housing and halls of residence typically have high levels of water usage. Daily activities like showers, laundry, and kitchen facilities contribute to the overall consumption. Ensuring water-efficient fixtures and promoting sustainable practices among residents is crucial in reducing water usage in these areas. For example, digital showers that are set to turn off after a fixed period of time are proven to reduce shower times significantly. Waterless urinals, low flow taps and water efficient toilets can also significantly reduce the amount of water used – just a single waterless urinal can save up to 100,000 litres of water per year.
Dining facilities and food preparation areas consume significant amounts of water for cooking, dishwashing, and cleaning. Efficient kitchen equipment, water-conserving dishwashers, and staff training on water-saving practices can help minimize water consumption in these areas.
Implementing water conservation initiatives often requires upfront investments in infrastructure upgrades, retrofits, and technology installations. Universities may face budget constraints that make it difficult to allocate funds specifically for water-saving projects. Limited financial resources can hinder the implementation of more extensive and efficient water management systems, delaying progress in reducing water consumption.
However, saving water is not only an environmentally responsible choice, but it can also have a significant impact on an organisation’s financial health. The true cost of a university’s water use goes far beyond simply what it pays via its water bill. Reducing water usage can lead to lower water bills, as well as reduced energy costs associated with pumping and heating water. In addition, saving water can also reduce the amount of wastewater a university generates, leading to lower treatment and disposal costs.
A structured water management strategy is needed
As universities grow and expand, their water demand increases. New buildings, research facilities, and student housing developments may put additional pressure on water resources. Balancing the need for expansion with sustainable water management becomes a challenge. It requires proactive planning to ensure that water conservation measures keep pace with campus growth and maintain a sustainable equilibrium. To develop effective water conservation strategies, universities should conduct water audits and data analysis to identify the departments and facilities with the highest water consumption. This enables targeted efforts to optimize water usage and implement water-saving measures in the areas that have the most significant impact on overall consumption. Development of an effective water management strategy is crucial.
Behavioural Changes and Engagement
Encouraging behavioural changes among students, faculty, and staff can be a significant challenge. While many individuals may be receptive to the idea of water conservation, it can be difficult to ensure consistent adoption of sustainable practices. Overcoming apathy, promoting a sense of responsibility, and instilling sustainable habits require continuous education, awareness campaigns, and engagement programs. Sustaining student involvement beyond the initial enthusiasm can also be a challenge.
Resistance to change is a common obstacle when implementing any sustainability initiative. Universities, like any large organizations, may face resistance from stakeholders who are hesitant to embrace new technologies or practices. Overcoming this resistance requires effective communication, stakeholder engagement, and highlighting the benefits of water conservation in terms of cost savings, environmental impact, and the institution’s reputation.
Despite these challenges, universities have a unique opportunity to lead by example and foster a culture of sustainability. University campuses are microcosms of society, and their commitment to sustainable practices can inspire change beyond their boundaries. Saving water on campuses not only helps address the global water crisis but also educates and empowers future leaders to embrace sustainability in all aspects of their lives. By raising awareness, implementing efficient infrastructure, fostering behavioral changes, and leveraging technology, universities can unlock the immense opportunities for water conservation and create a more sustainable future for all.
How Ecoprod can help
Ecoprod works with many universities – read our case study from Leeds Beckett University to find out more. If you’d like to talk to us about how we can help with any of the issues raised in this blog post please get in touch.
Here are some additional resources you may find useful.