Northumbrian Water's Innovation Festival 2023
Event date: 10 Jul 2023
A few weeks ago I was fortunate enough to be part of the WRc team who attended the Northumbrian Water Group Innovation Festival. It was a brilliant few days filled with inspiration, chatter, deep technical conversations and crucially also a lot of laughter.
Whilst many colleagues were involved in the ‘Turn the Tides’ sprint which WRc sponsored and organised alongside Northumbrian Water and Octo-Design, I took the opportunity the join the P&G sponsored ‘Cleaner Greener Sheets’ sprint.
Immersing myself into a world of laundry for a few days was quite an experience – I have previously written about my concerns on how little we really know about how much water these machines use for different types of wash – and if we don’t know this information, how can we help people doing laundry make sustainable cycle choices? However, this sprint and the knowledge and experience from the P&G team blew me away – I think after the first short afternoon session everyone in the room was utterly convinced we had all been doing laundry wrong.
“But how?” I hear you ask. Well, thanks to P&G we learnt more about the science of laundry detergents and washing than I ever thought was possible. The Sinner’s circle was examined – which outlines the concept of balancing chemistry (from detergent), mechanics, time and temperature to provide an acceptable wash. Changing any one of those elements – such as reducing mechanical action – results in a requirement for more input from one of the others. This circle is the concept behind how eco-cycles work – they put less temperature or mechanics into the wash, resulting in the need for longer wash time with more ‘soaking’ action. We also talked about detergents – from powders to liquids and the contentious issue of fabric conditioner! The great thing about the Innovation Festival was the collaboration between people from all sorts of backgrounds and also – crucially for a discussion on laundry – life experience.
I think what was fascinating is the mix of different approaches that we had as a collective. From one participant with two laundry baskets – one for ‘can wear again’ clothes – to the person who always used fabric softener regardless of the load type. We had adults who still relied on taking their washing to mum’s house – because she knows best – and people who’s habits had changed completely upon having children. It was very clear that there definitely isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach to doing laundry effectively and efficiently, but consistently there was a lot of interest in the answers to questions.
“How do I….
Wash my black jeans and keep them from fading?
Keep my gym kit from stinking?
Help keep clothes wrinkle free?”
There’s so much that, as we grow up and take responsibility for household tasks such as laundry, we just don’t know, or know where to access the best information. This isn’t confined to the topic of household laundry – the same exists across many other aspects of our interactions with water both at home and at work. Currently there is a swell of activity in the ‘water literacy’ space – relating to the culmination of water-related knowledge, attitudes and behaviours. There is a broad recognition that if we can do more to reach individuals across different communities and at different life-stages we will stand a much better chance of achieving more sustainable water using practices day to day, helping to solve long term water supply-demand balancing issues.
For my part, I am pleased to be working as part of the Waterwise task-and-finish group in support of the UK Strategy on Water Efficiency on ‘life long learning’, and linked to this supporting the Northumbrian Water Group led OIC catalyst funded project on the same topic. As part of the task and finish group I have volunteered to co-ordinate case studies and insights from across the globe on approaches taken to water literacy. To kick this off, in September I’ll be hosting a workshop at the International Water Association Efficient 2023 conference in Bordeaux, where we’ll be hearing examples from across the globe and encouraging all participants to contribute their experience into a collection which can be shared far and wide.
With all of this though, I’m not letting the topic of laundry specifically go. At WRc we are currently developing the next round of collaborative research projects under our ‘WRc Portfolio’ brand, and I’m hoping to gather interest from the water sector in partnering to really tackle the lack of information available to help us understand our washing machines, and in turn help us equip our customers to get the best out of theirs. After all, I think the collective aim of cleaner, and greener, sheets is something we all should have an interest in working together to achieve.
Carmen asks: "If we don’t have basic information to make informed decisions, how can we possibly empower ourselves and others to be making consciously sustainable decisions?"
With increasing pressure on our water resources, the industry is again revisiting ideas and options for managing demand – including the topics of metering, tariffs and affordability.Read Carmen's article
Director of Commercial Services
Carmen is a Chartered Environmentalist and formerly a Principal Consultant in Demand Management. With over 15 years at WRc, she draws on cross-sector knowledge, contacts, and experience in senior technical, commercial, and management roles to lead a team focusing on effectiveness, efficiency and risk management. Carmen is also a Fellow and Committee Chair of the Institute of Water South West Area.