Amidst recent news coverage and the European Parliament plenary session titled ‘The Water Crisis in Europe’, it has become evident that the region is confronting a pressing and urgent water problem. The record-breaking heatwave of last year, which was Europe’s second warmest summer ever and marked its hottest on record, is a stark reminder that climate change challenges are escalating. The depletion and increasing frequency of heatwaves, droughts, and other extreme weather events has caused concern among policymakers, business executives, and European citizens. Water scarcity is not only a problem for human consumption, energy production, and agriculture. It also has an impact on the environment and economy. The National Audit Office estimates that the increasing risk of drought due to climate change will require an additional 4 billion litres per day by the year 2050. By taking proactive measures to reduce water consumption and improve sustainability, the construction industry can contribute significantly to alleviating Europe’s water crisis and pave the way to a greener and more water-secure future.
Rethinking Construction Practices
Water is a fundamental element in the construction process, essential for preparing mortar, mixing cement concrete, and curing work. As construction projects progress through their lifecycle, water is consumed at various stages, making it a significant resource in the industry.
Regrettably, millions of gallons of water are needlessly wasted during construction, mainly due to inadequate safeguards against excessive water use. Recent data shows that Europe’s water consumption has risen, leading to an annual loss of water exceeding 84 gigatons. To combat this growing problem, it is necessary to implement water-saving technologies throughout the entire construction process. Some of the approaches include investing in water-efficient equipment and infrastructure, exploring alternative water sources, and capturing and reusing greywater. By taking these steps, construction sites can significantly minimise water wastage and contribute to more sustainable water usage.
Embracing innovative construction materials and technologies is another essential aspect of rethinking construction practices to address water scarcity. Water resources can be conserved by using sustainable building materials. These materials require less water to produce and are more environmentally friendly. For instance, using eco-friendly concrete mixes that incorporate recycled materials can reduce the overall water footprint of construction projects.
Additionally, adopting green building certifications such as LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) or BREEAM (Building Research Establishment Environmental Assessment Method) can guide construction projects towards water-efficient and environmentally conscious practices. These certifications promote the integration of water-saving measures, such as rainwater harvesting systems and water-efficient landscaping, further bolstering efforts to alleviate Europe’s water problem.
Sustainable Post-Construction Strategies
It is equally essential to consider strategies that promote water conservation and efficiency during an asset’s operational phase. The industry can reduce water consumption by incorporating low-flow showerheads, efficient washing machines and materials that produce less waste. Greywater is the wastewater that comes from fixtures other than toilets such as sinks or showers. It can be re-used for non-potable uses like landscape irrigation and toilet flushing. Buildings can reduce their dependence on freshwater and the strain on water treatment plants by utilizing this resource. Integrating such systems into building designs can foster a more circular and responsible approach to water management.
“Smart” buildings utilise advanced technologies to optimise water use. Smart water meters, real-time monitoring, and leak detection systems can identify inefficiencies, allowing for prompt action against water waste. These technologies empower building managers to make informed decisions and ensure that water consumption remains sustainable over the building’s lifecycle.
Government and Public Support
To achieve substantial progress, collaboration between owners, the construction industry, governments, and public bodies is crucial. Governments must introduce policies to encourage water conservation and promote renewable resources such as rainwater harvesting. They should also invest in research in order to find innovative solutions for water saving. Increased educational initiatives and technical support can also foster a culture of water consciousness, encouraging individuals and businesses to adopt more sustainable water practices.
Government policies play a central role in shaping the direction of the construction industry’s water-saving efforts. Governments can encourage widespread adoption of water saving measures by offering financial incentives, grants, and tax breaks to construction projects which prioritise sustainable practices and water efficiency. Setting water efficiency standards and incorporating them into building codes can make water-conscious construction practices the norm, further contributing to water conservation efforts.
A Catalyst for Meaningful Change
Climate change remains a significant challenge across Europe, intensifying the strain on water resources. Construction industry can play a major role in reducing water scarcity by adopting water-saving practices and strategies. All stakeholders must work together to optimise water resources and implement eco-friendly practices. Although the changes may seem small, collective efforts in the construction industry will serve as a catalyst to more profound changes which will contribute towards a water-resilient Europe.