Global firm of engineers and scientists SRK Consulting have long been in the business of helping clients manage their water sustainably; now it has brought water-saving closer to home with an innovative web app that can get individuals to reduce their domestic water use – introducing fun and competition to the exercise.
The brainchild of two young SRK colleagues – environmental and civil engineer Xanthe Adams in Cape Town and civil engineer Whelan Naidoo in Johannesburg – WaterWar is an app that goes beyond just calculating water use; it uses peer pressure as a motivator for saving water. The app allows people and companies to compete with each other, while keeping the interface simple and easy-to-use.
“The idea was to get people interested and engaged by playing a game – so our concept is really a combination of water sciences, programming and psychology,” said Adams. “To work as a game, the output needed to be comparable between users; we settled on the calculation of litres used per person per day, based on the household water bill.”
They also realised that the data input needed to be quick and easy, and therefore based the calculation on how many people live in the household. If users want to get into more detail a few other simple variables – such duration of showers, half-flush toilets and dishwasher cycles can be input.
“Input of information takes the user less than five minutes, and can all be seen on one page with an immediate result,” she said.
The attraction of the app was quickly recognised, as it was chosen as a finalist in the Hack4Water ‘hackathon’ – a 2016 initiative by the Department of Water Affairs and the Open Government Partnership South Africa to encourage efforts to address the country’s water challenges.
The app was taken further by an SRK partner, Graham Mayer, who helped convert it to WordPress pHp. By the end of 2016, it had evolved to a standard where it was given the SRK Chairman’s Award for Innovation.
“Along the way, our SRK colleagues gave valuable input and encouragement – and of course they were our first targets for testing the app!” said Adams. “Setting up competitions between our SRK branches was a useful learning experience – both for us as developers and the participants.”
For instance, most people had no idea how much water they used on a daily basis, she said, with many being quite shocked at the amount of water they actually consumed. Interesting information emerged that was new to most people, such as the fact that a front loader washing machine used as much as 50 litres less per load less than a top loader.
“Importantly, we saw significant reductions in water use among our sample groups over time, as they competed with each other,” she said. “In 2016, there was an 8% decrease in water use over six months with a sample group of 14 people; this dropped even further in 2017, with SRK participants in Cape Town using less than 80 litres per person per day. This was below the 87 litre limit at the time; the limit has since been reduced to 50 litres.”
The Cape Town group has saved a total of 1730 kilolitres since they started using the WaterWar app in 2016, she said, enough water to supply 10 families with water for approximately two years.
Adams highlighted the potential of the app to galvanise action within companies and organisations which are looking for innovative and effective ways of kick-starting or revitalising their water-saving efforts.
“While there is scope for water-related organisations to embrace and sponsor the app for broader use, there is nothing stopping any company from using the publically accessible portion of the tool (link below) or approaching SRK to use the tool in its sustainability journey,” she said. “Large businesses can arrange competitions between its branches or regions, or even challenge its suppliers to compete; the possibilities are endless.”
The app would need to be fine-tuned and branded to suit the needs of the sponsoring organisations, and SRK has the scientific and technical skills to walk the client through this process.
“Tools and techniques like this could even be adapted for dealing with water on an industry or mining site,” she said. “To help deal with the ongoing drought in the Western Cape, we can also offer the app in a competition format for businesses, culminating in a certificate showing how much water they saved. This will be a good indication of how much water the city, province and country can potentially save using these strategies.”
For background information: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DRPS61S3lmY
WaterWar (Public Portion): Take the 50 litre challenge – a quick test of how much water you use and how to reduce it: http://www.waterwars.co.za/50LitreChallenge.html
About SRK www.srk.co.za
SRK is an independent, global network of consulting practices in over 45 countries on six continents. Its experienced engineers and scientists work with clients in multi-disciplinary teams to deliver integrated, sustainable solutions across a range of sectors – mining and exploration, water and waste, environmental and social impact, civil and infrastructural engineering, and energy. SRK’s focus helps clients to grasp the opportunities and embrace the risks now emerging as commodity prices improve with signs of economic recovery.