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Water surrounds us.
Around 72 per cent of the earth’s surface is water, from the oceans, seas, and icecaps, to rivers, streams, and lakes. It is contained within the atmosphere as clouds and vapour, falling as rain, while vast amounts are stored underground below the water table.
In this way, water moves across our planet in a cycle that ensures it is forever in circulation.
The vast majority (96 per cent) of all water on Earth is saline and is stored in the oceans.
Human life, however, depends on access to freshwater, which is unfortunately becoming increasingly scarce while our needs are rising. Water scarcity leads to water shortages, and potentially water crises.
A lack of clean water and sanitation poses significant risks to human health and it is one of the UN’s stated sustainable development goals to achieve universal and equitable access to safe and affordable drinking water for all.
The urgency of the water crisis and its devastating consequences are why Kingspan has included sustainable water management within its 10-year “Planet Passionate” strategy.
Our intention is to harvest 100 million litres of rainwater per annum at Kingspan offices and manufacturing sites by 2030, with an interim target of 50 million litres by 2025.
Plus, we are partnering with several charitable foundations to support their work – ranging from ocean clean-ups to the provision of freshwater for communities around the world.
The Water Crises: From Shortages to Flooding
The UN has highlighted that 4.8–5.7 billion people could suffer water shortages by 2050. The problem is growing, and it means that ultimately a lack of freshwater will impact on human health, the environment and sustainable development.
The causes of these water shortages are many and complex. In part, they are being attributed to global warming and climate change, which has dramatically altered weather patterns.
However, water shortages are not the only water crises the world faces. An excess of supply in some areas means the number of people at risk from flooding is expected to rise.
Flooding is expected to affect around 20 per cent of the world’s population by 2050. Just as water scarcity is attributed to climate change so is flooding, because of higher rainfall and rising sea levels across the world.
But flooding events are, in part, man-made and a product of the built environment caused by rainfall run-off from hardstandings such as roofs, roads, and pavements. Hardstanding does not absorb water, instead, it channels the resulting run-off through drainage systems (some dating back to the 1800s), which can quickly become overwhelmed.
As prime development sites on well-drained land run out, building and areas of hardstanding have extended onto marginal areas around river valleys, or floodplains. All this contributes to higher volumes of rainwater flowing directly into watercourses.
Kingspan’s Sustainable Water Commitment
The construction and operation of the built environment clearly plays a significant role in allaying or reducing the risks we face. As urban areas spread, and the earth continues to warm up, there is an urgent need for us to manage our water resources better. This includes tailored, localised strategies both to reduce the impact of future droughts and to lower the risk of future flooding.
It follows that urban building design along with changes in how buildings use water can become an integral part of the solution.
Kingspan has undertaken to play its part. We are conserving water at our sites through process recycling, and we are aiming to harvest 100 million litres of rainwater every year at Kingspan offices and manufacturing sites by 2030. This will help us to reduce mains water use, lower rainwater/stormwater runoff, and improve the quality of local waterways.
All the collected water will be either used by Kingspan in our operations or sold/donated. Harvested rainwater can be used for a number of non-potable (i.e. non-drinking) applications - from washing vehicles, to watering plants, and flushing WCs.
A policy of sustainable water use has other benefits. Processing water in treatment plants consumes energy so reducing our dependency on mains water will reduce energy use and C02 generation.
ECOALF Foundation Partnership
We are also mindful of the need to clean-up our oceans, removing tonnes of man-made debris and plastic waste. The UN, at its Ocean Conference in June 2017, stated that more than 8 million tonnes of plastic enter the oceans each year, and that as much as 80 per cent of all the litter in our oceans is plastic waste.
Kingspan has joined forces with the ECOALF Foundation – a not-for-profit organisation whose main objective is to promote the selective recovery of ocean waste, allowing it to be recycled and avoiding its harmful effects on the environment. Under the terms of the 3-year partnership, Kingspan will help to remove up to 150 tonnes of plastic waste from the Mediterranean each year through the ECOALF Foundation’s network of 2,600 fishermen in Spain. Our aim is to reuse as much of the ocean plastic recovered as we can in our production plants.