In an open letter to Sir James Dyson, Yvonne Orgill, chief executive of the Water Label, responds to the entrepreneur's comments on plumbing engineering.
Dear Sir James,
I read with interest your piece in The Telegraph yesterday calling for innovative solutions for the home to reduce water consumption.
You are correct that there is a large amount of plumbing in our homes that is outdated and wasteful. An analysis we undertook on CLG/BRE data shows there are 1 million toilets in the UK which pre-date 1960, so use 13 litres or more of water per flush. Power showers from the 80s and 90s were incredibly wasteful, getting through 20 or even 30 litres of water per minute.
But you are incorrect to say that the plumbing industry is stuck in the Victorian ages. Over 2,000 products are currently registered on the Water Label scheme, with manufacturers adding clever new innovations all the time. You can walk into 2,500 stores and showrooms around the UK right now and see products designed and engineered to be efficient and not wasteful. The big firms like B&Q are getting on board as well as many independent retailers. Defra and Waterwise both support the Water Label.
In reality, the bathroom industry has been bringing products to market to drastically reduce water consumption since 2003. Toilets no longer flush on 13 litres; modern ones are dual flush using 2.4 or 4 litres respectively. The most advanced showers use the Venturi effect to create a powerful showering experience which feels as good as a 12 litre gusher, but use only half of that.
You also ignore the fact product innovation is only half the answer to the drought issue. Engineering alone cannot solve the problem; we need significant consumer behaviour change as well.
To support the launch of the Water Label yesterday we undertook a piece of research into consumer water usage habits. Almost a third still leave the tap running when cleaning their teeth, nearly a quarter turn the shower on several minutes before getting in to warm it up, close to a fifth flush the toilet just to get rid of a tissue, a similar number keep topping up the bath with hot water during a long soak, while one in ten shower for ten minutes or more a day.
It is the combination of consumer behaviour change and engineering ingenuity – people and products – which will help make us less wasteful with water. Science is not the answer on its own.