A thirst for savings

26th August 2015

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Lis Stedman talks water efficiency with Heineken, Berendsen and Whitbread

Water efficiency is too often regarded as the Cinderella of sustainability and efficiency initiatives, with most organisations focusing first on energy as their major cost. Water is often considered relatively cheap, but is it really? Many UK companies, particularly major consumers, think differently, although they acknowledge that generating real and sustainable water efficiency needs a considered strategy.

At a corporate water risk conference in 2014, Julian Carr, director at industrial laundry services group Berendsen, outlined the water efficiency steps the company had taken over the previous five years, from developing the idea and setting out its plan to designing and implementing a programme to achieve the Carbon Trust standard for water. “Embarking on a project such as this requires careful planning,” he told delegates. “It’s not simply about investing in new equipment. We have implemented changes across the company including, for example, updating the composition of some products, changing our internal production processes and engaging, training and empowering our teams. We’ve also put in place a monitoring system to ensure that we retain and build on the gains made. It’s a complex project, which affects many different areas of our organisation.”

Heineken, the Dutch-owned brewing giant, is a major consumer of water. It does not differentiate between energy and water when seeking efficiencies. “Water efficiency in general is not treated differently from energy. It’s about being as efficient as possible, and as efficient as the existing equipment will allow,” says Peter Jonkers, green brewery programme manager at Heineken.

Major savings

Berendsen UK was one of the first four companies to sign up to the Carbon Trust standard for water and helped to develop it. The company has invested over £4 million in energy-saving and £2 million in water-saving measures in recent years, which gives some idea of what is possible. As a result, Berendsen has reduced its carbon footprint by 5.8% and cut its water use by 60.4%, a yearly saving of 1.6 million cubic metres. The annual carbon saving is 32,645 tonnes.

Peter Woolstenholmes, the firm’s energy manager, says there are two reasons behind Berendsen’s focus: “First, reducing the amount of water we buy, heat and then dispose of helps us to control our costs. Second, we want to reduce our environmental impact.

“We get asked quite a bit with tenders about what we are doing for our environmental credentials, so we’re able to say how well we are doing with our energy and water reduction strategies, and we are also able to keep our costs down.”

The company started reducing its water consumption in 2005. “We made some remarkable savings in the first few years, but as time goes on it gets harder to make the savings. We have got very efficient processes now, which makes it difficult to
find more efficiencies but we are still probing and trying new things.

“We have changed to more water efficient processes and we have also installed a lot of water recovery systems for the laundry process. The rinse water, for instance, is good quality and you can use that in the wash section of our process.” Woolstenholmes says effluent recovered is reused it in the wash process. “We would normally send it down the drain, but some is of a quality that we can reuse, so we recover and filter it. We have also got reverse osmosis, which gives us very high quality water from the effluent, and we get very good recoveries from those.”

He adds: “If we reuse water, it means we don’t have to buy as much, so we get savings from that, and we also get a saving because we haven’t disposed of the effluent. We get charged more for our effluent than we do for our incoming water.” Because it is hot water, Berendsen is able to recover and use the heat. “One hidden benefit is, because we have lowered our water use to the point where we are now very efficient, our operators are very much more aware of the process,” says Woolstenholmes. “Because we’re using so little water, if things are not right, then things are quite badly wrong; whereas, if you are using a lot of water, if things are a little bit out it doesn’t really make much difference. But when using very little water, if things aren’t perfect it does make a significant difference to our process.”

He points to the advantages of raising awareness and understanding among operators. “We have had to go through a lot of training to get there, but we do benefit; we have people we can talk to about water efficiency and they understand it.”

Energy costs too are reduced. “Because we are using less water, we have got less water to pump around our plant so we use less electricity. There are quite a few hidden benefits that aren’t immediately obvious,” says Woolstenholmes.

An efficiency culture

Jonkers says Heineken tries to use water in the
most optimal way to arrive at low water consumption figures. This starts in the brewery with culture that is aware of and strives for efficiency (see panel, left). Jonkers warns that this can be a complex equation: “You can use new technology, maybe – water regeneration [treating the brewery effluent to be partly reused within the brewery itself] is nice – but you have to be aware of the possibility of higher energy use. It is a balance.”

Heineken has more than 150 sites around the world, including three breweries at Edinburgh, Manchester and Tadbury and two cider mills in Herefordshire. This spread allows it to benchmark performance. “Theoretically, we are able to tell what the level of water consumption should be, given the local conditions of a specific brewery,” explains Jonkers. In practical terms, achieving the ideal has entailed changing production processes, including equipment and the positions of water nozzles in the pasteurisation funnels.

Challenges are also an opportunity to learn, Jonkers says: “If a brewery has a problem, we will find a solution based on experiences and knowledge in the Heineken group and share the practice to get even better performance.”

These efforts do have a financial benefit, he stresses, but the impetus for Heineken is not purely economic. “If you reduce water consumption, you reduce costs, but you also improve your eco-efficiency. So this is both an economic driver, as well as part of our sustainability agenda, which makes us want to deliver these efficiencies.”

Heineken has a programme called “Brewing a better world” and water has a prominent place, with a target to reduce consumption per hectolitre of beer and to undertake water balancing. It takes about 3.9 hectolitres of water to produce a hectolitre of beer, says Jonkers. “Water use simply says we take in water and it goes out as product and wastewater, though most of the time it goes back to the watershed in a treated way,” he notes. “The water balance is the part of the figure that does not go back to the watershed as our beers can move anywhere, outside the local watershed area. The beer itself is of course 1 hectolitre per hectolitre and the other part, lost for the watershed, is water evaporated by boiling and in waste streams such as spent grains. These two together account for 1.5 hectolitres per hectolitre, and it is this volume that we try to balance.”

Heineken does this by planting trees and encouraging farmers in the same watershed as the brewery to reduce the amount of water they consume in growing crops. “The company does things for the environment that are not solely on Heineken’s account,” says Jonkers. “It has to be a collaborative action – it doesn’t make sense for Heineken on its own to change water management in an area. We can’t change the world on our own.”

Heineken has just increased its commitment to reduce water from an original 2009 target of 25% by 2020, raising it in 2014 to 30%. Jonkers believes in spreading the message to other companies: “They can learn from us or join us, and we are open to learn from them.”

Premier returns

Whitbread is another major UK-focused business that is enthusiastic about water efficiency. Its brands include Premier Inn, Costa Coffee, the Beefeater Grill, Brewers Fayre and Taybarns. It is the UK’s largest hotel chain, restaurant and coffee shop operator.

Environment manager Ben Brakes explains that the group’s “Good together” corporate responsibility programme has three pillars, one of which relates to environmental management; and its work streams are carbon, water and waste reduction.

In 2010, Whitbread developed a strategy against a 2009 baseline to deliver a 15% reduction in water consumption by 2017. The original strategy incorporated an annual 2% reduction through a variety of water efficiency measures. In 2013–14, the group exceeded its own targets by achieving a 21.2% water consumption reduction relative to sales against the 2009 baseline. It has now adopted a new target; to achieve a 25% reduction in relative reduction in water consumption by 2017.

Brakes explains that the first thing Whitbread did
to tackle water use was to install automatic meters [AMRs] across its hotel and restaurant estate. “Until you do that, you can’t understand your water use,” he argues. “The meters enabled us to understand where water was used and then to look at ways to reduce it, which range from a simple ‘switch it off’ requirement to new technologies and equipment.”

He says that it costs about £300 to install an AMR and that the investment has paid for itself several times over. “We have had five-figure rebates. We found leaks that without AMR we would never have identified.”

The group undertook a MACC – marginal abatement cost curve – analysis to understand what it could achieve in water savings if it invested a set amount of time and capital. Given the payback for investment, it is possible to see which technologies may be adoptable. It is not a simple calculation, however. “There is not a simple payback for a major piece of equipment. There is a 10-year depreciation,” says Brakes. “The trouble with water is that it is very cheap, and [if you are] trying to build a business case based purely on savings … the figures don’t look particularly good. You have to build a broader business case.”

Nonetheless, Whitbread is engaged with the process. It takes a long-term view of water as a commodity, and builds it in to its sustainability targets, treating it in a similar way to carbon. “It helps that Whitbread have very strong public targets,” says Brakes. “We had water in mind when we did the initial materiality assessment, and we decided it would be one of the key areas.”

Whitbread is currently undertaking a review, rerunning its MACC analysis to see what more it can do. This, says Brakes, will hopefully put rainwater harvesting, which it has been trialling, into the spotlight, and the group is looking at ways to introduce heat exchangers as a retrofit solution. It is also looking at the pumps used to take water to rooms to see if energy reductions are possible. Sensor taps and urinal controls are also being adopted, and a number of Premier Inn sites now include a “green screen” in reception that displays real time information about the hotel’s energy and water use, as well as top tips. “There is always new stuff coming along, and we are always looking. It is all behind the scenes – as a guest, you wouldn’t know. It wouldn’t impact your stay at all. That is how we know we’ve been successful.”

Heineken in the UK

Veolia Water Technologies has supplied a bespoke water recovery system for Heineken’s cider mill in Hereford. As part of its water efficiency drive, Heineken identified a potential saving from the water loss in the concentrate stream from its borehole water treatment reverse osmosis (RO) system. Using Veolia’s RecoBLUE online calculator, Heineken found it could recover about half of the RO losses at a quality suitable for use as boiler make-up water.

It was essential that the recycling process should not increase energy and chemical consumption, so Veolia produced a specially configured Sirion mega recovery RO unit (pictured). This does not need additional chemicals for conditioning ahead of recovery and uses low-pressure, high-rejection membranes with low energy consumption.

The solution has reduced the mill’s water footprint by more than 130,000m3 – an annual saving of more than £100,000 that will repay the capital cost of the system in less than four years.


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