Environment, Food and Rural Affairs CommitteeWritten evidence submitted by Wolseley UK

1. Wolseley UK welcomes the committee’s inquiry into the Government’s water white paper, and the opportunity to make a submission.

2. Wolseley UK is the UK operating company of Wolseley plc, the world’s number one distributor of heating and plumbing products and a leading supplier of builders’ products to the professional market. The company is wholly engaged in the distribution of construction products and materials through a nationwide branch network. The company is organised into trading brands, which serve distinct customer groups.

3. This submission incorporates the views of our trading brands Plumb Center and Drain Center. Plumb Center is a specialist supplier of domestic light side products including central heating equipment, plumbing, drainage, bathrooms and showers. It has more than 480 branches throughout the UK. Drain Center is a specialist supplier of drainage products including above and below ground plastics, cast iron, aluminium, polyethylene, an extensive civil range and all other products for the drainage professional. It has 90 branches throughout the UK.

4. Our principal interest is in providing practical and economic solutions to allow both households and businesses to become more water efficient. Our response focuses on water management and conservation.

5. A summary of our key recommendations is provided below:

Establish a cross industry group with representatives from government, the utility companies, distributers, manufacturers of water products and their associated installers to ensure an integrated and co-ordinated approach.

There are five practical initiatives that should be introduced to help with water management and conservation. Some of these measures were recommended in the Independent Review of Charging for Household Water and Sewerage Services, undertaken by Anna Walker.

Incentives need to be developed, and the issue of water conservation needs to rise up the political agenda.

Water poverty needs to be taken much more seriously and should be an issue with specific Ministerial responsibility.

We believe that the plumbing installer can play a key role in influencing the uptake of water efficient products. Plumb Center serves a wide range of professionals working in the plumbing sector, many of whom will be involved in the decision making process for both domestic and non-domestic products.

The inclusion of hot water products in the Green Deal is welcome. However, in view of the overall goal to reduce the environmental impact of our buildings we would prefer the inclusion of all measures designed to reduce water consumption. We see this as a missed opportunity, particularly in view of the fact that the programme is entirely funded from private investment.


6. The UK household sector accounts for approximately two-thirds of public water supply use, about 3.5 billion cubic metres per year. Domestic water use has grown consistently to the current figure of 150 litres per person per day.

7. Schools in the UK spend at least £70 million on their water bills each year, and use over 31,000 million litres of water. For the biggest users—a simple retrofit can save up to 20% of their water use: 3,130 litres per day, adding up to 1.14 megalitres a year. There are measures that can be taken to reduce water consumption (see case study 1), and such schemes are simple and relatively inexpensive and should be encouraged throughout the country.

Case Study 1: Rainwater Harvesting: Campion School

In partnership with both Kingspan Water and Eaga we have recently installed a SmartRain system at Campion School. We are expecting this system to reduce mains water usage by up to 85%a saving of around 250,000 litres per year.

The development is highly significant because retro-fitting rainwater harvesting offers schools across the country the chance of having their own sustainable approach to water use. Until now, only schools that were actually being built could be fitted with rainwater harvesting because of the complexities of integrating harvested rainwater with the internal plumbing of a building. This has meant the majority of existing British schools are entirely dependent on mains water; something which has both a high environmental and financial cost.

8. Wolseley shares the Secretary of State’s concerns about the stability and availability of the supply of water in the future. In fact, Wolseley has long expressed the opinion that water has been treated as the “poor relation” of carbon and energy in the emerging green economy and that such a lack of attention will have serious implications for us all in the coming years. Water is a highly undervalued asset and the drought conditions experienced in parts of the UK last year have highlighted some of the issues which are likely to become more commonplace as demand increases and supplies are affected by changing weather patterns. This twin spectre of increasing demands and reducing supplies will, as the White Paper suggests, require that “We all have a responsibility to use our most precious of resources more wisely”.

Working with Water Companies

9. Our experience in dealing with water supply companies is that they have very different agendas because of the disparate nature of the industry in terms of geography, scale and assets. This makes the promotion of water efficiency incredibly difficult especially as the perceived financial value of water is so low.

Promoting Water Efficiency

(a) Water Efficient Products

10. Although the uptake of more energy efficient appliances has been encouraging, there has been less enthusiasm for water efficient products. This is the result of both a lack of awareness and the relatively cheap cost of water. Currently, around one-third of domestic properties in England and Wales are metered. However, this varies across the country, with metering levels in some water company areas around double the national average. Unless a link between use and cost is clearly established then the appetite for improving water efficiency will be incrementally less. Levels of metering are likely to increase substantially over the next few years, particularly in the areas defined as being in “Serious Water Stress.”

11. We also have to start challenging the misconception that water efficient products provide a worse user experience. Correctly designed and fitted products can provide perfectly acceptable performances. Case studies are always powerful ways of convincing consumers about the efficacy of measures and perhaps there may be solutions in establishing a strong online presence. Allowing purchasers to see products in use is always the most powerful change agent and Wolseley’s Sustainable Building Center has received an unprecedented 16,000 trade visitors since it opened in 2008, as well as ministers, parliamentarians, officials and select committees.

The Wolseley Sustainable Building Center

The Wolseley Sustainable Building Center at Leamington Spa is a purpose designed facility to showcase energy and water efficient products to customers from the construction industry. The building features installed products and allows visitors to see them operating in a real working environment, Water efficient product installations include waterless urinals, low flush wc suites, aerated showers, low flow taps, infra red taps, rainwater harvesting and sustainable drainage system.

(b) Labelling

12. We support the adoption of a water efficiency labelling system and we already promote the use of the Bathroom Manufacturers Association scheme using the simple A-G scale. We do not share misgivings about the scale being confusing for consumers since it is used for energy as well, in fact we would argue conversely that this common format increases understanding.

13. However, we do not think that the product labelling system goes far enough because of two issues.

(i)Whilst product labels may allow consumers to compare products, which is a very positive aspect, the measure of water use requires two factors, namely flow rate and time. The purchase of a tap with a lower flow rate is only beneficial if the tap is left running into an unplugged receptacle. This may give a positive outcome in rinsing, although this is not guaranteed. However, if the receptacle is till filled with the same quantity of water then it will simply take longer. Likewise, the use of a restricted flow or aerated shower will only be beneficial in terms of water use if the user uses the appliance for the same amount of time.

(ii)Product labelling can only be successful in products which consume water whereas products which potentially reduce potable water use by substituting rainwater or grey-water will fall out of scope.

14. So whilst we remain very supportive of the labelling scheme, it does need to come with a very prominent educational campaign to explain how time and volumes as measurement factors are as important as flow rates.

(c) The Key Role of the Plumbing Installer

15. We believe that the plumbing installer can play a key role in influencing the uptake of water efficient products. The plumber is seen as an expert advisor in technical issues and whilst the bathroom products are often purchased with décor in mind, there will often be performance criteria as well. Plumb Center serves a wide range of professionals working in the plumbing sector, many of whom will be involved in the decision making process for both domestic and non-domestic products.

16. Often product choice is made without an understanding of what is available or possible. We believe that plumbers should be encouraged to provide information to help customers to make decisions with efficiency in mind. Plumb Center promotes water efficient products to trade customers through catalogues and web sites and would be delighted to work with DEFRA in a co-ordinated campaign to involve and encourage professionals to become involved.

(d) The Green deal

17. The inclusion of hot water products in the Green Deal is welcome. However, in view of the overall goal to reduce the environmental impact of our buildings we would prefer the inclusion of all measures designed to reduce water consumption in buildings. We see this as a missed opportunity, particularly in view of the fact that the programme is entirely funded from private investment.

Establish a Cross Industry Group With Five Key Initiatives

18. We feel there is real value in establishing a cross industry group with representatives from government, the utility companies, distributers, manufacturers of water products and their associated installers. The group’s purpose would be to promote a range of practical initiatives, which it believes could be extremely effective in terms of making households in the UK more water efficient. The group could play a key role in reducing water consumption and improving water efficiency as well as being at the forefront of the development of new sustainable technologies.

19. We believe that such a group would be well placed to work with the Government to ensure that the policy proposals outlined in the white paper can be practically implemented and to maximum effect. It is our view that the installer is key to the process.

20. By working more closely along the supply chain we can share experience and data which would make a significant difference in ensuring that water efficient products are purchased and installed.

21. We recommend that the department works with the industry in facilitating such a group to encourage industry action in the use and promotion of water efficient initiatives and products.

22. If a cross industry group is to be established we recommend that it focuses on five initial initiatives:

(i) Recognise water as an equally important resource as energy

23. We welcome the White Paper’s recognition of water conservation and the need to educate the public on its importance.

24. We would welcome the development of a clear and agreed message surrounding water efficiency, including the impact on energy use, and believe that all group members support this message in its market/customer communication.

(ii) Introduce a water standard

25. We believe it is crucial that the group should define and implement an easy-to-understand water efficiency standard for products and develop a roadmap for product labelling standards which progressively restricts the installation of less efficient devices.

(iii) Develop incentive programmes

26. The group would help co-ordinate water efficiency issues and ensure that water efficient measures are included in incentive programmes like the Green Deal and CERT and that the Enhanced Capital Allowances scheme is more widely promoted.

27. This would provide incentives for large scale retro-fit programmes and alongside existing programmes is an extremely cost effective way of addressing a hard to treat issue.

(iv) Promote schemes that encourage consumers to monitor their use

28. The group should work with other agencies and bodies to help consumers understand their water consumption and the direct impact of water using activities. Energy Performance Certificates (EPC) should be extended to become Resource Performance Certificates to include water use data.

29. Consideration should also be given to the introduction of a water efficiency certificate (WEC) which would work in the same way as an Energy Performance Certificate. This would help encourage behavioural change in consumers.

(v) Educating the consumer

30. It is widely recognised within the plumbing industry that the consumer is heavily influenced by guidance offered by their plumber who visits their home to carry out repairs or improvements.

31. In today’s market, guidance given by plumbers and engineers is largely driven by economics and their experience, so that typically they will recommend solutions with the lowest “up front” cost rather than the most water efficient solution. Working with agencies such as Waterwise we are seeking support for a national media campaign that highlights to homeowners what water conserving options they have from simple initiatives, such as replacing shower heads, through to harvesting systems.

32. The group would use its relationship with installers to execute the media campaign in placing it at the heart of the plumbing industry’s sustainability marketing campaigns.

33. Wolseley UK calls on the Government and parliamentarians to support the industry in the implementation of these low cost initiatives which we believe will support the proposals set out in the water white paper and improve water management and conservation in Britain.

Policy Agenda

34. Water needs to be seen as an important policy issue for two main reasons. Firstly the impact water use has on energy consumption and emissions, and secondly a growing number of households are finding themselves in “water poverty”.

35. Energy issues seem to dominate the policy agenda at the expense of water. The water industry is a major energy user, and together with domestic hot water use, has a very significant carbon impact. Saving water reduces emissions. Solutions are available now and, in many cases, are relatively easy to retro-fit to existing buildings at low capital costs. Wolseley would like the Government to ensure that practical measures are taken to implement the white paper’s proposals to ensure that UK consumers are made aware of the need to use water efficiently.

36. In England and Wales our drinking water costs around 1p for 10 litres (more than 17 pints). Most household customers pay for their water services based on the rateable value of their property. Whilst the cost of water is seen as reasonable for the majority, there are a significant (and growing) number of households where the cost of water can be problematic and the shift to meters may cause significant challenges. The emergence of “Water Poverty” has been recognised by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation in their report “Vulnerability to heatwaves & drought”. Water poverty has been defined as a concern for households that spend 3% or more of their income on water.

37. It is seen as an equivalent to “fuel poverty” but is not as widely accepted or as often used in policy discourse. Large households on low fixed incomes are particularly vulnerable. There needs to be recognition amongst politicians of the implications and escalation of “water poverty”. Measures need to be introduced to address it, such as the five initiatives outlined above.

38. Wolseley UK welcomes the opportunity to submit our views as part of the Committee’s inquiry and would be happy to discuss any elements of this submission in more detail.

23 January 2012

Prepared 4th July 2012