fmME Case study: Etihad Airways' water savings

fmME examines the nitty-gritty of Liquid of Life’s contract with Abu Dhabi-based Etihad Airways

Flying colours: Liquid of Life and Etihad Airways have achieved remarkable savings through their deal.
Flying colours: Liquid of Life and Etihad Airways have achieved remarkable savings through their deal.

The Middle East’s residential water treatment devices market is expected to be worth $855.3m by 2025. In a study released earlier this year, Future Market Insights (FMI) found that the sector was worth $414.1m in 2014, and will expand at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 6.8% through to 2025.

FMI’s Residential Water Treatment Devices: Middle East Industry Analysis and Opportunity Assessment 2015-2025 report stated population and per capita income growth in countries such as Saudi Arabia and the UAE would drive the GCC’s residential water treatment devices sector.

The transition away from plastic bottled water has already begun in the UAE, with one of the country’s largest organisations adopting water dispensers to encourage greener and healthier operations.

Etihad Airways contracted Dubai-based organisation, Liquid of Life, in 2014 for the supply, installation, and support and maintenance of bottle-free dispensers and filtered drinking water systems to reduce the need for plastic bottled drinking water. Liquid of Life’s bottle-free units comprise a water filtration system and are directly connected to the building’s existing water supply.

The dispensers are provided with a service agreement – which guarantees that the units are maintained every year – and come with a five-year guarantee on refrigeration.

Under the five-year contract, Liquid of Life installed 84 dispensers across all Etihad locations – including the company’s head office, the Etihad Airways Centre, training academies, sales centres, and back of house operations – in Abu Dhabi, Dubai, and Al Ain. Additional 46 water softeners and filtration units were also installed in pantries to fill hot water urns for tea and coffee.

Liquid of Life’s data shows that Etihad consumed 461,502 litres of filtered drinking water in 2015, thus eliminating the consumption of 23,667 five-gallon plastic bottles and reducing the company’s carbon footprint by 47.3 tonnes.

Lab tests completed this June with Etihad indicate the safety of filtered water, with zero bacteria detected in it – a particularly laudable achievement given that water samples from bottled plastic coolers often fail anti-bacteria tests.

Returns on investment (ROI) on the capital expenditure were achieved in 12 months, with ongoing savings amounting to 70% over previous plastic bottled water costs, Rukhsana Kausar, partner at Liquid of Life, tells fmME.

The installation project was led by Linden Coppell, head of sustainability at Etihad Airways, and Ciaran Doran, manager of FM engineering at the company, Kausar explains.

“They were both very proactive in getting this project completed and done well because they saw the benefits in terms of eliminating plastic bottled water,” she continues.

“From a CSR point of view, it’s about the environment and the people, and they wanted to reduce plastic consumption and related waste, and provide better quality filtered drinking water to Etihad staff. From the FM angle, managing water on a daily basis for a large organisation like Etihad is a job in itself, so having dispensers that offer continuous supply of filtered water is fantastic.”

Once Liquid of Life had installed the systems, training was provided to Etihad’s office staff in terms of how the dispensers worked and electrical requirements, as well as to encourage best practices in terms of maintaining the water coolers.

Support and maintenance operations, such as those provided for Etihad, form a crucial part of Liquid of Life’s business policy, which is aimed at developing client relationships with a long-term view, Kausar says: “Ever since we started the business we’ve noticed that once a client has switched to filtered water, no one really goes back to plastic bottles.

“We really pride ourselves on providing ongoing maintenance, because once you’re in an initiative and you implement something, then it is important to provide the support required to look after the assets, because that’s where the benefits come in.

“Installing a water dispenser is easy, but you need to be able to respond to needs like providing maintenance operations, changing the filters on time, and dealing with any issues that might arise [during the life cycle]. Even with Etihad, in the last 12 months or so, we’ve installed additional dispensers or transferred them across locations based on the company’s requirements.”

Client requirements are accounted for in Liquid of Life’s earliest dealings with the company, Kausar explains: “The starting point for us is to understand what the drinking water requirements are – whether we’re going to an office building, a school, a labour accommodation, or a hotel, each facility will have different drinking water requirements.”

This review is followed by a feasibility study that sets out all cost benefits and analyses of switching from plastic bottled to filtered water. Site visits are also carried out to understand installation locations and enhance the overall offering.

“We also make recommendations and listen to what our clients have to say,” Kausar adds.

“We have noticed that there’s a trend towards centralised drinking water systems. It is common to find lots of bottled water coolers placed in many locations around an office, but centralising access to drinking water helps to encourage people to move around the office more and maybe walk that little but further to get drinking water.

“At the start of any project, we carry out an assessment of the drinking water needs and requirements in full and discuss with the client where best to place the filtered drinking water solutions.”

Kausar says education is the key to encouraging the move away from plastic bottled drinking water.

“The cost and culture of consuming plastic bottled water is generally just accepted,” she continues.

“Liquid of Life always carries out a feasibility study that provides a full cost and benefit analysis of switching from plastic bottled water to filtered drinking water. Typically, the ROI on the capital expenditure tends to be achieved within 12 months, and on-going costs can be reduced by between 60% and 90%.

“For businesses, the cost of providing drinking water to staff is a cost that no one can generally cut down on unless they negotiate a cheaper price with the bottled water company – because you can’t tell people to reduce the amount of water they drink,” Kausar concludes.

“Switching to filtered drinking water not only helps to provide everyone with access to quality drinking water, but also helps businesses to save money and reduce operational costs associated with ordering, storing, and consuming plastic bottled water.”

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