WATER SAVING: Why should we be concerned about water?

We are living in a world where there is water, water, everywhere, but also a growing imbalance in many regions between the availability of high-quality water (supply) and the consumption in our homes (demand).

As water scarcity increases, there is a greater demand for leadership in water management: to ensure that water is not wasted, that it remains accessible and safe to drink and, post-use, that it is easily treatable and reused. P&G, with its long history of research in water safety and conservation, has taken many initiatives to ensure that our use of water is sustainable now and for generations to come.

Today the environmental impact of detergents on water is greatly reduced (read more in the environmental safety section). The focus now is to find ways to reduce our water consumption. Read on to find out why it is important to save water in Europe, what P&G has done to improve water efficiency and how you can make a difference with the wash.

  • The value and challenges of water

    The value of water
    The former United Nations Secretary General Boutros Boutros Ghali has claimed water will be more important than oil this century. Unlike oil, water is something we all cannot possibly live without.

    Our demand for water is increasing, and while it is naturally regenerating, the amount we can use is getting smaller and being spread around more people every year.

    P&G has long recognized this issue and has taken many initiatives to ensure that our water consumption is reduced and those in water stressed areas have greater access.

    • What P&G is doing to save water

      More than 505,000 cubic kilometres of fresh water falls on the earth annually as rain or snow. But almost four fifths of this is on the oceans, and elsewhere much of it cannot be collected, leaving less than 0.5 per cent available as a resource.

      Western Europe has access to only about four per cent of this and the phenomenon of climate change is expected to make the supply more difficult to guarantee over time.

      A Friends of Europe report (“Saving Europe's Water: Its Place in the EU's Green Strategy”, 2006) says: "The effect of climate change on water could result in increased demand for irrigation in agriculture, reduced hydropower potential, less available cooling water, health problems stemming from water quality and economic downturn in water-related recreation, fishing and navigation."

      The report points out that warming in the Alps is already twice the world average and that as a result, runoff patterns are changing. The depth of ice on the last mountain glacier in Germany has almost halved since 1910.

      Although 75 per cent of the world's surface is covered with this precious liquid, 97 per cent of it is salty or otherwise undrinkable.

      Of the remaining three per cent, two thirds is stored in glaciers and ice caps, leaving only one per cent of all the earth's water for humanity's needs. And even tapping into this presents many problems.

      Not all water can be collected, and resources are distributed very unevenly around the globe. A fifth of all the freshwater reserves of the planet, for example, are concentrated in South America's Amazon basin.

      As a result, already worldwide more than a billion people do not have access to safe drinking water and 4 billion people do not get enough water.

      The situation in Europe is fortunately not as bad but water nevertheless remains a valuable resource. There are eight countries that can be considered water-stressed: Germany, England and Wales, Italy, Malta, Belgium, Spain, Bulgaria and Cyprus, representing 46% of Europe's population.

      Droughts are already common in south European nations such as Spain, Italy or Greece, and are increasingly being seen in central or northern Europe countries such as in certain regions in the UK. Despite this, water consumption remains high in many western European households.

      The water-stress is increasing in magnitude and impact. For example at the October 2007 meeting of the International Water Association (www.iwahq.org), the Flemish Minister-President stated that drinkable water is much scarcer in the region of Flanders than most people expect. Around 2000 litres of drinkable water is available per year for each inhabitant, which is one of the lowest numbers in Europe.

      Meanwhile, European lifestyles have changed significantly over the last 50 years. The fact we have water on tap means we use it everywhere: in washing machines, dishwashers, baths, showers, sinks, pools and gardens.

      Consequently there is a potential risk of a growing imbalance between the supply and demand for water and a need to reduce the amount we consume or see an increasing percentage of the population experiencing water-related problems.

      For the developed world, this will involve overcoming a number of water-related challenges. But the good news is that, in many cases, saving water will be as easy as turning off a tap.

    • The challenges of water

      About four thousand cubic kilometres of water are consumed around the globe every year in homes, businesses, agriculture and industrial processes.

      And households in the western world have a tendency to take more than their fair share; someone in Central Africa will use only about two per cent of the water used by someone in North America.

      Read more about what P&G is doing in the developing regions around water, such as with its Children's Safe Drinking Water programme, which has already delivered more than two billion litres of clean, safe drinking water in developing countries and at times of natural disaster.

      In Europe, the average per person water consumption (including that used in irrigation and agriculture, industry and households) is the equivalent of about 87 cubic metres of water a day.

      The level is highest in southern European countries, where the average national water consumption can be as high as 120 cubic metres per inhabitant per day.
      This high level of water use (and waste), coupled with changes in our climate, is creating challenges in Europe. According to the European Environment Agency:

      • 20 per cent of surface water in the European Union is threatened by pollution.
      • 60 per cent of European cities overexploit their ground water resources, which account for 65 per cent of all the drinking water in Europe.
      • Half of Europe's wetlands are endangered because of over-exploitation of groundwater.
      • The amount of land in Southern Europe that needs to be irrigated has gone up by 20 per cent since 1985.

      The issues with water are not just about the lack of it. Since 1998, Europe has experienced more than 100 major floods. And quality, as well as quantity, is important; as water becomes more precious its freshness becomes more critical.
      To deal with these issues, it is important to make sure water is used wisely and, where possible, contamination is avoided.
      As a water-consuming activity we do every day, washing laundry and dishes and cleaning the home are obvious areas where consumers can make a difference.
      P&G has long recognized the need to reduce the environmental impact of its products and today produces detergents that have only a minimal impact on water quality. In addition, it is now easier than ever to cut back on the amount of water used in modern appliances.

  • How P&G is saving water

    At P&G we are concerned about water. It is a scarce and precious resource, both for its manufacturing operations and for its consumers.

    As a result, P&G is proud of a long history of research around water savings in its own manufacturing sites, as well as of its work on water quality, making sure that detergents and their ingredients are safe and have a minimal impact on the environment after they are discharged into sewage treatment systems and the aquatic environment.

    In addition, P&G recognises that washing is an area where it is possible to have a significant impact on water use and has created a number of programmes to help consumers save water.

    Read on to find out how P&G supports water conservation through its Environmental Quality Policy and its Sustainability Vision (Announced in 2010 with 2020 goals for operations and products), what it has done so far in this area, how it has helped and what it intends to do in the future.

    • P&G's Environmental Quality Policy and water use

      Traditionally, activities such as hand laundry washing, surface cleaning or dishwashing have all required water. In many regions, access to good quality water supplies has been an important issue and water conservation programmes have received high priority.

      More recently, there is a growing demand for technologies that reduce water consumption even in developed regions such as Europe, especially but not only in southern countries.

      Several countries or regions experience water shortages due to systematic or seasonal imbalances between the water demand and freshwater supply.

      Against this background, P&G is committed, both within its own operations and in to helping consumers, to save as much water as possible.

      Changes in how consumers use our Fabric and Home-care products have the potential to lead to important household water savings, such as by ensuring full machine laundry loads, elimination of the need for pre-washing, selection of water (or energy) saving cycles and by using products with an improved dissolution or rinsing profile.

      P&G continues to be committed to ensuring that its products do not adversely affect water quality.
      Numerous studies on the safety of detergents and cleaning products have been conducted and published. You can download them from the P&G publication pages.

      P&G ensures that all of its products comply with relevant legislation, both at the European level and within each country in Europe. To find out more, please read the section on regulatory compliance on this Science-in-the-Box website.

    • What P&G has been doing about water quality and consumption

      P&G has long acknowledged the need to minimize the impact of detergent on the water quality in surface waters and has been working intensely on water-related matters since the late 1950s.

      It was around then that a number of concerns on the human and environmental safety of detergents and cleaning products began to appear.

      These concerns have been the basis of the very high importance that the detergent industry has since given to the human and environmental safety of its products.

      A well-known environmental example from the 1960s was the foaming of surface waters as a result of the growing use of poorly biodegradable detergent surfactants, in a period when there was no broad-scale sewage treatment infrastructure.

      Modern detergents are designed to be safe and easily removed during sewage treatment, so they have a minimal impact on the environment.

      In addition to ensuring there is a negligible impact on water quality, in recent years P&G has also focussed on the issue of water consumption.

      Part of this has involved working with dishwashers and laundry machine manufacturers to ensure detergents can achieve optimal results with the minimum amount of water. The amount of water needed per laundry wash has dropped from around 200 litres in 1970 to less than 50 now.

      The other strand of P&G's work has been around developing campaigns to help save water. Just one example of these was a campaign called 'Every Drop Counts' (‘cada gota cuenta’) that was launched in Spain, a country particularly affected by water shortages.
      The campaign had a simple premise: add two extra items to your average wash and thus cut down the overall number of washes - and amount of water - used per year. The campaign had the backing of Ana Torán, a TV expert on household matters. See below for the case study.

    • Case Study on P&G's actions on water savings: Every Drop Counts

      P&G's consumer campaigns have begun to have a real impact on water consumption. In Spain, for example, P&G helped consumers save around five million litres of water a year through a campaign called 'Every Drop Counts'.

      The campaign followed research which was carried out with the Whirlpool corporation showing that around 85 per cent of consumers should be able to cut down their total number of laundry washes by adding a couple of extra items to each wash.

      Every Drop Counts was launched with a special web site and celebrity endorsement from one of the country's leading housekeeping tips experts, Ana Torán.

      It was featured on 15 TV programmes and a similar number of radio shows, as well as being mentioned in 29 press articles and 16 web sites, helping raise a massive amount of awareness of the need to save water and offering consumers simple washing tips such as adding two extra items to the average wash.

      A total of 55,000 consumers registered to take part in the campaign, with the first 40,000 triggering a €1 P&G donation to an environmental group. The money was used by the environmental organization to help with other water-related initiatives.

      Although Every Drop Counts was primarily aimed at getting people to save water in their laundry, an accompanying booklet provided tips on water conservation in other areas of the home. Water saving tap devices were also distributed.

      The campaign gained credibility by not being linked to product purchases - in fact, fewer washes would inevitably mean a drop in detergent sales. Its success spawned the creation of a similar campaign in Portugal, which like Spain is prone to water shortages.

    • What P&G is doing to save water

      P&G will continue to develop products which have a minimal impact on the environment. As a business, P&G will continue to use water as sparingly as possible in its manufacturing processes and general activities.

      Equally importantly, P&G will continue to look for ways in which it can help consumers save water. As with energy consumption, the main potential for savings is when P&G products are being used, not when they are being manufactured, distributed or sold.

      With the Every Drop Counts campaign P&G has helped to demonstrate that P&G products can deliver outstanding results in fully loaded machine washes, and that adding an extra couple of items to each wash can lead to significant savings over the course of a year.

      There are other, similar opportunities to encourage consumers to change their habits and save water.

      For example, Ariel detergent can produce excellent results without a pre-wash. Pre-washes are still commonly used in a lot of households. For example, between 15 and 20 per cent of people use a pre-wash in France, Italy, Germany and Spain. In other countries, such as the UK, the figure is between 5 and 10 per cent.

      Persuading people to switch to Ariel and Ariel Stain Remover and leave out the pre-wash in these countries could lead to several million litres of water being saved.

      This is just one of many potential water-saving ideas that could have a significant impact on water use in Europe. As well as investing in campaigns related to its products, P&G will remain committed to helping consumers with tips on how to save water in other areas of their lives.

  • How consumers can save water

    Even though the water efficiency of domestic appliances has improved greatly over the years, washing our clothes and dishes still represents a significant percentage of everyday household water consumption. And it is something we all have to do.

    However, cutting down our water consumption in these activities is not too difficult.

    Besides choosing water-efficient appliances, make sure you follow the instructions on detergent packages to get the best results with the lowest possible amount of water, energy, detergent and packaging.

    Also load machines properly, without overloading but also without succumbing to the temptation to run a wash before the machine is full. And finally, use water and energy saving cycles where you can.
    In addition, there are a number of other things you can do to save water in your wash and save water around the home.

    • Tips for saving water in the wash

      In the past 20 years, washing machines have reduced water consumption by 62 per cent for every five kilos of clothes. The average dishwasher, meanwhile, had recently reduced its water consumption by 10 per cent in only two years.

      How can you reduce water use even further? Here are some ideas you might want to consider:

      • Many appliances have special energy and water saving cycles. Use them.
      • Check the appliance manufacturer's instructions (or ask them) to see if they provide a water-use rating for each cycle. You may find a short cycle saves even more than an eco-setting. But it is important that you get the facts on water and energy use for the most-used cycles of your laundry or dishwasher machines.
      • If you have an old machine, consider trading up to a newer model. Not only will it save water, but it will also cut your electricity bill and give you a better wash.
      • Important quantities of water can be saved with the selection of the right detergent or cleaning product with the right wash or cleaning conditions, without compromising on cleaning performance or convenience.
      • Use detergents that do not require a pre-wash or other water-draining cycles in order to get the best results.
      • Double-check your washing load before hitting the start button. If you switch on the machine in a hurry you are more likely to overlook something that may result in you having to run items through the wash again, wasting water, energy and detergent.
      • Ask whether you really need to wash each item then and there. Adding more laundry to each wash and washing more infrequently will save a lot of water. By moving from six to five washes a week, you could save 30 litres of water on 18 kilos of laundry.


      Remember that many of these tips will help you save energy, too, lowering your electricity bill and helping reduce your contribution to climate change.

    • Tips for saving water around the house

      How can you make sure you do your bit to save water? Here are some suggestions.

      • Turn off the tap while brushing your teeth and you could save six litres of water a minute.
      • Put a hippo or other displacement device in the cistern of your toilet so you do not flush as much fresh water away; alternatively, buy a new toilet with a dual flush.
      • Mend dripping taps and you will prevent around 5,500 litres of water per tap from going down the drain every year.
      • When you use a dishwasher, only turn it on when it is full. Modern dishwashers use 15 litres of water per cycle, so try not to use extra cycles.
      • When you do the dishes by hand, then try not to rinse under running water. Hand dish washing consumes an average of 63 litres per wash.
      • Fill your bath up to a third instead of up to the brim.
      • Take a shower instead of a bath, but keep it short if yours is a power shower.
      • Use a low-flow setting on your showerhead, if there is one.
      • Cool water in the fridge rather than keeping the tap on until cold water runs through.
      • Wash fruits and vegetables in a bowl of water rather than under a running tap.
      • Don't flush the toilet to get rid of items of rubbish such as used make-up tissues.
      • If you use garden sprinklers, use them early or late in the day to minimize the amount of water that gets evaporated.
      • Use a watering can instead of a hosepipe to water your plants.
      • Install a water butt in your house to capture the rain running off your roof.
      • Wash your car with a bucket and sponge instead of a hosepipe.
      • Don't throw away water if you can reuse it elsewhere, for example to water plants.
      • Check your water meter carefully over a couple of hours (without using any water) to make sure you have no hidden leaks that need repairing.


      To download a comprehensive list of tips about what you can do to make a difference, click here.

The Head Line


Illustrations from P&G's Science-in-the-Box website can be used freely for educational, non-commercial purposes provided that the source will be published as follows: "Obtained from www.scienceinthebox.com (P&G website)"


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