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. Last year’s record-breaking heatwave, which marked Europe’s hottest summer on record and its second warmest year ever, serves as a stark reminder of the escalating climate challenges. As heatwaves and droughts grow more frequent and extreme, the depletion of water reserves has become a matter of mounting concern for policymakers, business leaders, and the European population alike.
The construction industry in Europe can play a crucial role in addressing this pressing issue by implementing water-saving strategies at every stage of development. Water scarcity not only affects human consumption, agriculture, and energy production but it also poses economic and environmental challenges. According to the National Audit Office, the growing risk of drought from climate change will necessitate an additional 4 billion litres of water per day by 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 has shown that water consumption in Europe has surged, resulting in an annual water loss of over 84 gigatons since 2018. In response to this escalating problem, efforts must be made to reduce water demand by implementing water-saving techniques throughout the construction process. Some approaches include capturing and recycling greywater, investing in water-efficient infrastructure and equipment, and exploring alternative sources of water. 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. Sustainable building materials that require less water during production and have a lower environmental impact can help conserve water resources. 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. By adopting materials and designs that produce less wastewater and incorporating water-saving appliances like low-flow showerheads and efficient washing machines, the industry can further minimise water consumption, contributing to the long-term alleviation of water scarcity.
One of the key components of sustainable post-construction strategies is the implementation of greywater recycling systems. Greywater, which is wastewater from non-toilet fixtures such as sinks and showers, can be treated and reused for non-potable purposes like toilet flushing or landscape irrigation. By harnessing this resource, buildings can significantly reduce their reliance on freshwater sources and minimise the burden on water treatment facilities. 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, leak detection systems, and real-time water monitoring can help identify inefficiencies and enable prompt action to address water wastage. 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 should introduce policies that incentivise water conservation, promote the use of renewable resources like rainwater harvesting, and invest in research to explore further innovative water-saving solutions. 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. By offering financial incentives, tax breaks, or grants to construction projects that prioritise water efficiency and sustainable practices, governments can encourage the widespread adoption of water-saving measures. 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. By embracing water-saving strategies and sustainable practices, the construction industry can be a driving force in mitigating water scarcity for the foreseeable future. It is crucial that all stakeholders collaborate in optimising water resources and adopting eco-friendly methods. While the changes might seem incremental, collective efforts within the construction industry can serve as a catalyst for more profound changes that will contribute to a water-resilient future for Europe.