Already grown six-fold throughout the 20th century, global water demand is projected to increase by 55% between 2000 and 2050. In conjunction, global water supply faces increasing strain as worldwide per capita water resources more than halved from 1962 to 2014, and are forecast to slump to a third of 1962 levels by 2025. With the daily per capita domestic water consumption of many major international cities exceeding the world average of 110 liters (see figure below), water security has gained greater priority on many governments’ agendas, particularly in large cities with dense populations that face pressure from urban growth and impact of climate change. Cities and property owners need to anticipate and be prepared for oncoming water challenges when they invest in buildings and infrastructure.
International Best Practices
As outlined in a recent study by Civic Exchange,
one of the world’s top 50 environmental think tanks, many cities have already applied
policy tools to improve data collection, repair and enhance infrastructure, as
well as promoting conservation as components of water demand management.
Smart Meter Installation
Smart meters are used in cities like London and New York as technical measures to close data gaps and ensure more efficient water conservation.
- Their water
strategy (2011), aimed to meter all houses and blocks of flats by 2020 and all
individual flats by 2025, has prompted regulators to require water utilities to
install property/boundary-level smart meters and to provide free leak detection
and repair services for first-time issues.
- The government
recommends a mandate that requires companies to implement compulsory water
metering in water-stressed zones by 2030, along with amendments to relevant
regulation by the end of 2019. Outside of these locations, smart meters can be
introduced when the property’s occupier changes or when customers request
- The City rolled out automatic metering systems on water use. Immediately, the frequency of meter readings changed from four times a year to at least four times a day – and in many places, hourly.
- Property owners with smart meters monitoring their water pipes are eligible for a high-efficiency toilet voucher program. The initiative offers eligible property owners a US$125 voucher that can be redeemed at participating vendors to purchase a high-efficiency toilet that uses 6.05 liters per flush. This encourages broader participation in collecting water usage data by incentivizing customer uptake and water conservation efforts.
Improving overall sustainability of building function, reducing unnecessary waste
In addition to installing smart meters to close data gaps, some cities have taken measures on data disclosure, incentivizing or even mandating building owners to regularly report standardized water performance and efficiency figures so that these can be tracked against overall city targets.
- The City’s
Greener Greater Buildings Plan requires owners of large buildings (over 50,000
ft2 for private structures and over 10,000 ft2 for public
ones) to annually measure and report their energy and water consumption for
public disclosure, analysis and mapping.
owners have accounts that digitally and automatically report data for energy
measurement, as well as to a tracking tool (Energy Star Portfolio Manager) for
monitoring water usage patterns over time. Property owners must make annual
compliance updates to ensure that data is uploaded correctly to avoid a penalty
incorporates mandatory water submetering into building codes, regulating both
water usage and the installation of more accurate measurement tools.
- Since 2004,
the regional government requires all new residential buildings to commit to
mandatory water, energy and greenhouse gas reductions.
- Sydney also
makes detailed water demand profiles for different building types (varying by
industry) publicly available in order to facilitate its goal of retrofitting
old structures to improve water efficiency (i.e. reduce total water consumption
by 20% at the end of 2030, compared to 2006 levels).
The impact of data transparency
should not be underestimated. The requirements for buildings to disclose potable
and non-potable water usage statistics could potentially increase demand for
buildings that are more water efficient and resilient to drought through
reduced reliance on mains water. This would allow buyers and tenants to compare
the relative performance of different buildings.
What can Hong Kong do?
Cities facing increasingly prevalent issues of
water scarcity can learn from the wide array of best practice examples of their
international peers, and adopt a more holistic and strategic approach to water
For example, here in Hong Kong, we can target
unmetered properties – instead of installing traditional meters, property
owners can move straight to adopting smart meter technology to better monitor the
water usage of individual units. The city could also set targets for smart
meter installation at different types of buildings.
In addition to making all leak detection and repair services free like London, the Hong Kong government could further incentivize general repairs and awareness by granting attractive discount for first-time issues or making their costs redeemable. As with New York, property owners should also be able to receive vouchers with an attractive discount for implementing upgrades that improve water conservation.
Similar to Sydney, Hong Kong could integrate goals
for reducing water consumption into its mandatory building codes for new
construction. Units, estates or structures that achieve those water efficiency
standards could be marketed as such to the public, providing an incentive for
stronger performance for both developers and customers. More than that, meeting
specific water efficiency standards can be a benchmark for buildings’
sustainability ranking. When years of water usage data is consistently made
available to the public, building developers and operators will become
increasingly aware that resource efficiency is not simply an additional bonus,
but a core asset that boosts competitiveness.
Globally, governments have been
dealing with similar fundamental issues in water management for many years. In 2014, C40 Cities published an urban water
blueprint for mapping conservation solutions. For the nearly 30 member cities
with significant power over water assets and policy, their top priorities and
actions included reducing water leaks, promoting more extensive adoption of
water-efficient appliances and using incentives to introduce water efficiency
measures. The importance of this global cohort should not be underplayed and
the property sector, one that has a significant contribution to global water
consumption, should join hands with governments in handling this multi-faceted challenge.