Much is made of ’greenwashing’ - the slightly sneery term levelled at businesses accused of hooking on to environmental schemes and painting themselves as tree- huggers. But for once, companies are being asked to take the term more literally and greenwash more. To do this, they need to be washing less.

Confused? Put simply, manufacturers are being urged to take a more green approach to washing, effluent disposal and other uses of water. Food and drink production accounts for around 10% of all water used in UK industry and targets have been set to cut water usage by 20% by 2020, as part of The Federation House Commitment.

It hardly needs pointing out that this cut, targeted by the Food & Drink Federation (FDF) with resource efficiency advisers Envirowise, would also mean 20% off the water bill. So how far down the line is the baking industry on water efficiency?

a no-brainer

Forward-thinking businesses are already tackling it; to them the benefits are a no-brainer: water costs around 1% of a firm’s turnover, while advisory body Envirowise estimates that resource wastage can cost up to £1,000 per employee. "We have a number of projects under way to recycle water and reduce our usage. Such actions make sense for our business and the environment," says Robert Schofield, CEO of Premier Foods, owner of RHM and British Bakeries.

While bakers may not use as much water as, say, fruit and veg, usage, extraction, heating and pumping of water all have an environmental impact. David Fish, executive chairman of United Biscuits says: "As a company we are not heavy users of water, but this does not mean it is not important to reduce the amount we use."

So why commit to an industry-wide scheme? While most mana-gers are now aware of green business issues, their eyes are often too glued to sales spreadsheets to systematically tackle the issues. "The environment is a broad-reaching topic and you can become stuck in the discussion around the environment and less focused on the action you need to take," says Fiona Dawson, MD of Mars Snackfood UK and chair of the FDF’s steering group on sustainability.

This new scheme is supposed to offer a structured framework for companies to take action - an approach that has paid off for Scottish baker R Mathieson & Sons. It introduced a waste minimisation programme at its Falkirk bakery, appointing a "waste champion" to raise awareness and come up with initiatives. This reduced water consumption and effluent disposal costs, and all new employees at the 400-strong firm now undergo a waste minimi- sation training programme as part of the induction process.

measure and manage

The trick is to treat water as if it were any other resource, much as Walkers Crisps now says it does. But far too many don’t even measure how much water they use. And if you don’t measure it, you can’t manage it. One of the first steps in the Commitment is to establish a baseline; the next is to measure site-specific water usage; action plans are then put in place against each site; and, finally, Envirowise will collate that data and publish it annually to show how much progress is being made.

Savings in effluent and water costs of 20-30% can be made with almost no investment, claims Envirowise. Apart from using water meters and monitoring effluent at its commercial site, 40-shop Waterfields (Leigh) has installed a 3-cubic-metre box to collect the water off the office roof, which is then pumped through to clean the vans. "It might not be saving a huge amount but it’s a contribution," says 2007 Baker of the Year John Waterfield. "It’s good practice to reduce it."

Greggs has also installed water meters in all of its bakeries, as well as taking water usage measurements on key pieces of equipment, such as tray washers. While the initial focus has been on tackling the bakeries, the next step will be rolling this out to its estate of shops.

A spokesperson for Greggs says: "In all our newly-built bakeries we’re aiming to reuse water wherever possible. For example some of our grey water is used for washing our vehicle fleets. And we do have a small number of shops that are metered and that’s something that we’re looking to improve further in 2008."

More companies are investing in ’cleaning-in-place’ technologies - systems designed for automatic cleaning and disinfecting plant without major disassembly and assembly work - that need less water without compromising health and safety. Others are switching to non-water cooling technology, as Mars has done, bringing a 40% reduction in water used per tonne of product made.

capital investment

Such changes may need capital investment; Envirowise runs the Water Technology list for HM Revenue & Customs; this gives enhanced capital allowance for expenditure on the equipment featured on the list. So it helps with the payback time by improving the cashflow for companies that qualify.

But it’s not just about plugging expensive gizmos into your plant. It is simpler - and cheaper - to change employees’ attitudes. Phil Annandale, Macphie’s environment manager, says equipment has been modified on-site and leaks fixed, but crucially, a water-saving culture is being promoted to achieve ongoing reductions.

Water is not often seen as an expensive resource, and one which should be treated with great respect. "This Commitment shows attitudes are changing - but not in every company yet," says Dr Stuart Ballinger, strategy director for Envirowise. Turning off taps, installing spray taps and water control devices all help.

"The baking industry is no different to any other sector: you’ve got the ’washed and the unwashed’ - a proportion of businesses that are setting the standards and others that are further behind. But just through low-cost or no-cost initiatives, businesses can make savings. Measuring the successes and cele-brating that is very important to keep people improving."

invitation to take part

The FDF now wants to extend the initiative by inviting businesses, small and large, to take part in the scheme. Fiona Dawson of Mars says: "If this commitment were to be rolled out, not just to FDF members, we estimate that the savings could be up to the equivalent of 56 Olympic-sized swimming pools."

Paul Freeston, CEO of commitment signatories Apetito, parent company of pastry products manufacturer Waldens, adds that the environmental benefits of cutting water use go beyond the factory’s four walls: "It’s easy to take water for granted - but it’s a scarce and finite resource. It also requires energy and resources to collect, purify, distribute and clean up after we’ve used it." n

* To sign up to the Federation House Commitment visit: []