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Sept 2016

  Ana-Maria Millan has been a policy manager at the Consumer Council for Water (CCWater) for nine years. Her main areas of work are water efficiency, climate change and abstraction reform. Before joining CCWater she worked for six years in academia and consultancy in the UK and in Colombia. 

Is saving water really just ‘common sense’?

Many of us take action routinely to save water. But are we really thinking about what we’re doing or, as new research by CCWater suggests, are we just relying on our ‘common sense’?

Our research, ‘Attitudes to Tap Water and Using Water Wisely’, reveals that two-thirds (66%) of adults in England and Wales have made a conscious decision to use less water in the past three years.

These so called ‘conscious deciders’ seem to be taking the easy route to saving water. This involves doing simple and convenient things such as:

•    Turning off the tap while brushing their teeth – 73%
•    Waiting for a full load in the washing machine or dishwasher – 67%
•    Only putting the right amount of water in the kettle – 65%
•    Taking showers instead of baths – 64%
•    Spending less time in the shower – 35%
•    Flushing the toilet less often – 34%

Conscious deciders are also more likely to make water saving part of their everyday lives, for example by using water efficient washing machines, water butts in the garden or water efficient shower heads.

But what motivates them to do these things?

Around 32% of conscious deciders save water to save money on their water bill. However, when we asked these conscious deciders how they found out about reducing their use of water the majority (55%) said they hadn’t looked for information because saving water was just common sense or normal behaviour to them and they didn’t need to find out.

Only a quarter had looked for information about how to save water on their water bill, with 14% looking at their water company’s website, 16% taking their lead from family or friends and 14% having ‘seen something on TV’. 

Even though the conscious deciders have clearly given some thought to their water use and how potentially to use less, they are relying on things that are familiar and possibly rooted in their upbringing rather than seeking new ideas or information.

It’s certainly good news that many people are taking steps to save water - particularly in areas where water resources are under pressure.

But is common sense a barrier to many people seeking help with water saving, and particularly more innovative ways such as water saving devices and technology? 

And if common sense is getting in the way, what can the water industry and its partners do to encourage consumers to adopt new ideas and different approaches to saving water, rather than relying simply on their routine activity?

In theory, conscious deciders should be more open to new information and advice, and more ready to act on it.

Our research suggests that the message ‘save water to help the environment’ may not be resonating with consumers. When we look at what motivates people to save water, it seems that half as many would choose to save water for environmental reasons (such as conserving water for wildlife), as would choose to save water for financial reasons.

It may be that the water industry collectively needs to develop messages for different groups of consumers to explain clearly what’s in it for them when it comes to saving water. For example, around a half of homes in England and Wales now use a water meter*. Is saving money still a strong enough motivation for them to save water?

But the first step is to persuade people that ‘common sense’ is not enough and that they should become ‘informed consumers’, actively seeking out water saving practices that fit their lifestyles and acting on advice that has been shown to make a difference.

CCWater is keen to play its part in this. After all, it’s common sense. Isn’t it?

Why are fewer people drinking tap water?

Our research has thrown up some surprising findings about people’s attitudes to drinking tap water versus consuming more expensive bottled water.

There have been falls across the board in people drinking tap water at home, at work and in cafes and restaurants.

Fewer people - around two-thirds (67%) - say they usually drink tap water at home, down from more than three-quarters (78%) in 2015. The proportion of people who drink tap water at work has also fallen, down to 39% compared with 51% last year. And fewer people are drinking tap water in cafes and restaurants, 25% down from 32%.

These findings are interesting when you consider that two litres of tap water cost around two-thirds of a penny compared to about 90p for the equivalent in premium branded bottled water.**

Most people say they drink tap water at home because it’s convenient for them but further analysis shows that actually the cost of tap water compared to that of bottled water is a stronger motivating factor - 45% rank this as the main reason, making it nearly twice as important as convenience (26%).

So despite these concerns about cost why do more people prefer to drink bottled water?

Nearly twice as many people are drinking still bottled water at home (14%, up from 8% in 2015). Our analysis reveals that the main motivating factors from this are:

•    Tap water has a poor taste and/or smell (27%)
•    Unsure about the safety of tap water (22%)
•    Bottled water is healthier than tap water (18%)
•    Bottled water is more convenient than tap water (15%)

Consumption of bottled water by people while they are at work has also increased (36%, up from 24%), with fewer people stating that it’s easy to access tap water while at work (75%, down from 87%). And more people are drinking bottled water while in cafes and restaurants (28%, up from 24%), with slightly fewer saying it’s easy to get tap water while they are dining (53%, down from 56%).

About half of the people who prefer to drink bottled water at home believe their tap water is of poor quality or has a poor taste or smell. This is despite a slight rise in water company compliance with EU Drinking Water Directive standards to 99.96% in 2015.

The taste and smell of tap water can be improved simply by placing a jug of tap water in the fridge to chill. Any residual chlorine in tap water, which is there to protect consumers’ health, will disappear, leaving the water tasting and smelling better.

But there’s clearly a challenge for the water industry to do more to tackle some of the underlying attitudes towards tap water and to promote the health and economic benefits of drinking it.

*This figure was 51% for 2014-15, according to data provided by water companies to CCWater.
** Figures taken from the water industry performance dashboard at

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