BLOG: The Value of Water - Brian McCarthy

26 May 2022
Brian McCarthy Holding Lightbulb

Woman brushing teeth in mirror

“Will we ever appreciate it’s value. It’s always available at the turn of a tap, it rains all the time, and it doesn’t cost the earth. Or does it?”

Brian McCarthy
Economic Demand Manager, Scottish Water
Water is just not on the average Scottish family agenda. If you ask, they will be grateful for the continuous supply of high-quality water and many will be proud to describe it as the best water in the world, but without prompt it doesn’t figure in their daily thoughts.

Is it because we don’t measure what we use? Is it because our charges are paid as part of a Council Tax direct debit rather than an individual utility bill? Is it because we receive a great service which is for the most part invisible, or is it because we think we can take water from every loch, reservoir, river, and puddle in Scotland?

Like many other countries, we have spent far more time at home in the last 2 years. As a result, we’ve been using far more water. I accept there are some who are saving by not showering every day, but their sacrifice has just not been enough to balance the books!
Even so if it’s not on the agenda will we ever appreciate its value. It’s always available at the turn of a tap, it rains all the time, and it doesn’t cost the earth. Or does it?

To value today’s water supplies we can either look back to a time of no regular supplies and sanitation or look to countries who still don’t have the luxury we are so privileged to have. We need to consider the natural environment, how abstraction effects the water environment both locally and far away and recognise the carbon footprint of treating all this water and distributing it to every home. We need to consider how much we enjoy it for exercise, recreation, relaxation, and the wider impact the service has on our personal and cumulative carbon emissions when we heat around half of what we use.

We need to have greater consideration for the link between hot water and energy consumption in the home and find ways to reduce our impact on the environment and limit the impact of increasing energy bills.

You won’t be surprised to hear that water is regularly on my family’s agenda. The eyes start rolling when I get going, talking about how we use it and the amount we use, but I am passionate about creating a more sustainable water service in Scotland and beyond.

For many years the main narrative from water companies has resulted in a request to customers. We have, in general, asked them to use less or more recently waste less but, however you look at it, this is a compromise, a restriction, a change. Maybe this explains why, in the last ten years, we haven’t yet cracked it and influenced positive water use behaviours across the board. Or maybe we just haven’t engaged with enough people?

Asking people to waste less will always remain valid but I think we need to change our position, so we find a way to help people use less as a consequence of better design. Better designed homes, better designed appliances, fixtures, and fittings that deliver desirable products that use less natural resource is, in my view, the key to sustained change and a sustainable future.

We have a lot to do and lots of people are doing a huge amount to help deliver a change. It would be great to create momentum or a movement which drives rapid change, but we cannot do it alone. Scottish Water recently became a partner in the global coalition 50L Home and are supporting some challenges in Scotland with MOBIE - Ministry of Building Innovation + Education. These people talk differently.

They are not water people, they are design people, they are global brands, they are product designers, and they are able to reach billions of consumers through their products. Most importantly they talk about a future where things are better than they are today. Better through design (there’s a bit more to it but that’s for another day).

There are a few people I know who love their Tesla car. Did they buy it purely for the reduction in their personal and global carbon footprint or did they buy it because the product was irresistible to them? Clever design that pushes the boundaries and gets people excited will draw the crowd. I am not saying that we can help to shape a future where products that use water become the next Tesla, but it is possible for us to join forces with big brands, big minds, and great designers to create the sustainable future we strive for.

Water is climate, water is life is a phrase I heard recently, and it is so true. We must all play our part in valuing what we have and ensuring it’s available to everyone in abundance both now and in the future, without destroying the environment from where it originates and cycles. I’m positive this can be delivered but it might feel a bit different to what we know now.

After all I didn’t think much of the first energy efficient light bulb!