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Getting personal

Save Water Save Money's aqKWa Savings Engine is helping people around the world to understand precisely how they can reduce water consumption. Robin Hackett reports.

The water efficiency message is gaining ground, with headlines about shortages highlighting the dangers of complacency and national campaigns helping to underline water’s value.
Raising public awareness is vital if the industry is to cope with the challenges to come, but equally important is the need to help people understand where and how the necessary efficiencies might be made.

“Any noise in the industry is always good to raise awareness around water efficiency,” Save Water Save Money founder and CEO Tim Robertson says. “However, we would argue that in order to deliver the call to action, it needs to be personalised to each individual.

“If you walk past a poster that says, ‘Take a short shower’, you might notice it but think it doesn’t apply to you, since nobody’s ever told you what constitutes a short shower.”

Save Water Save Money therefore, takes a bespoke approach to driving down consumption. Set up in 2007, the company has a long history of promoting water-efficiency products and helping water utilities manage home audits but has stepped up its efforts on individualisation in recent years with the aqKWa Savings Engine.

The web portal enables members of the public to provide data on their household consumption – such as how long people spend in the shower and how they go about washing their car and watering their garden – and offers guidance on where improvements could be made that can save them money as well as benefiting the environment.

As part of the free service, users can revisit the site, update their consumption information and chart their progress.

“The key element is that water efficiency is something people adopt over time,” Robertson says. “We’re trying to change people’s behaviour. If people take a 10-minute shower, they’re not going to take a four-minute shower just because it says you’re going to save a few hundred quid. You might go from 10 minutes to six minutes, though, and it might take you three years of coaching to get you there.”

The aqKWa Savings Engine was launched in February 2016 and the initial version brought in around 300,000 users. It was updated and enhanced two years later, primarily to ensure that it was fully optimised for mobile phone users, which comprise around 70 per cent of visitors.

As a result of the improved design, Robertson says more than 82 per cent of those who start the process now complete the questionnaire, and they have data from around 500,000 users.

“The Savings Engine provides us with absolute granularity on fixtures and behaviour in people’s homes,” he says. “We believe the insight we have is unique around the world because, although there’s been research, there’s nothing that’s on that level to understand how people use water in the home.”

For example, Robertson says 50 per cent of users say they are unsure whether everyone in the household turns off the tap when they brush their teeth. Those users can then be informed of the potential savings by making that simple behavioural change.

“As you go into your portal, you see a number of ‘nuggets’ on your saving section that flip up and you’ll get those because you as an individual have room to save across all of those areas,” Robertson says. “If you add all those up, the average household could save more than 60,000 litres a year.”

While the Savings Engine was created to bring about greater water efficiency and help people save money, it could also facilitate a greater level of interaction with the public. Given that Ofwat wants to see companies building better relationships with their customers in AMP7, Robertson suggests it could be an important tool in the coming years.

“We can provide our water company clients with a point of contact so they can enter into and continue a dialogue with their customers,” he says. “Water companies do engage customers, but they have little ongoing dialogue.

“A lot of the current requirements set by Ofwat are about providing customers with more targeted water use plans, better customer service around their water usage, getting customers to understand the value of water and helping customers reduce their water consumption.”

Several water companies in the UK are making use of the Savings Engine and it has also expanded overseas, with contracts in Australia and America.

“We’ve designed it so we can deploy it anywhere in the world,” Robertson says. “We also have a business savings engine that we’re about to launch in California, which has comparable regulatory obligations to the UK. Then there’s a bunch of other overseas water utilities dotted around that we’re talking to.”

Amid growing global awareness about the need for water efficiency – as well as the wider concerns over the state of the environment and climate change – Save Water Save Money believes the ability to empower individuals to help drive change is timely.

“I would argue that we as individuals are bombarded by lots of information about what we should be doing but very little is about what you can personally do,” Robertson says. “If we can provide facility to help people reduce the impact then that can help the environment.

“In 2004, I went to the west coast of America and became a volunteer National Park ranger on a beach. At the end of my three-month tour, although it was just me on a 17-mile stretch of beach, I added up all the effects that my time there could have had and came to the conclusion that one person can definitely make a difference. We all have to start somewhere, and I passionately believe that the software we have can help people make a difference.”

Topic: Sustainability & social value , Water resources
Tags: Water Efficiency , water , Data , environment

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