The BWCA (British Water Cooler Association) is an important and valuable body. And we rarely have an issue with its opinions. Just occasionally, though, we can’t quite see eye-to-eye with it. Take for example, it’s recent forecasts for the UK water cooler market. This started growing in earnest around the end of the 1980s and, since then has (according to the BWCA) grown to about 700,000 water coolers, to become the largest market in Europe. It’s a market that consists of both bottled water coolers and Point of Use (POU) coolers which are plumbed in and dispense filtered chilled mains tap water. According to the latest statistics (2013), POU (mains-fed) water coolers now account for approximately 50% of the market, as users become aware of their advantages over bottled systems.
So far, no problem. These figures sound about right to us. But the BWCA go on to claim that the migration from bottled to POU coolers has all but ceased, and that over the next four years, there is likely to be little or no change in the product mix between bottled and POU coolers. Here, we can’t help but feel that this projection is off the mark. Of course, we don’t have a crystal ball, and we can only express an opinion based on our experience, but that experience tells a rather different story. Over the past few years, we have seen a steady rise in the interest in POU water coolers, largely because of the massive cost and ease-of-use benefits they offer over bottled systems. And that increase in interest shows no sign of abating. In fact, in some sectors, such as retail, there has been a particularly significant rise in interest in POU systems – a change probably driven by the need to minimise costs to increase competitiveness. Other types of business, such as hair & beauty salons, prefer mains-fed water coolers because they’re highly space-efficient compared with bottled systems (as there’s no need to store bottles). But there are other sectors, too, where plumbed-in systems are gaining a real foothold. Even the domestic segment of the market, traditionally a small fraction of the total market (around 1%, according to Zenith International) is showing signs of growth. This is probably because coolers offer health and taste benefits over plain tap water, and bottled systems are too bulky (and expensive) for the typical home. So, just for once, we’re at odds with the BWCA – we’d say that the POU segment of the water cooler market isn’t just alive and well, but will continue to increase its share for the foreseeable future.
Of course, we’re not looking at the world through rose-tinted glasses. We fully recognise that customers are – rightly – extremely sensitive to price and service levels, and that companies such as ours need to get these right if the POU market is to continue gaining share. But we firmly believe that the fundamental advantages of mains-fed water dispensing systems over bottled systems are great enough to give us the opportunity to establish our technology as the dominant product type in the cooler market. And it is an opportunity we are determined to grasp.
Remember that old phrase “He’s such a drip”, and its variations? It’s meant pejoratively, of course, to indicate that someone’s ‘wet’ or pathetic. But, as it turns out, it’s almost literally true: we are drips. Very nearly, anyway. All of us. That’s because the average adult human body is 57-65% water, and a newborn baby, until it’s about a year old, is up to 80% water. Which is a lot. But it’s necessary, because without a high proportion of water, our bodies just wouldn’t function – cells would die, nutrients wouldn’t be carried around, vital chemical reactions would stall, our temperature would be unregulated. In short, water’s an essential part of us, helping us to digest and absorb food, carry blood around the body, and remove waste and toxins. Every day, you lose an average of around five pints of water from your body, and if that water’s not replaced, then your body will react by pulling it from other places, including your blood. This causes the closing of some smaller vessels (capillaries), making your blood thicker, more susceptible to clotting, and harder to pump through your system. This can have serious implications, causing problems such as hypertension, high cholesterol, and heart disease. Some recent studies have also linked a lack of water to headaches, arthritis, and heartburn. No wonder it’s said that ‘Water is life’.
Given this importance of water to our health, it’s perhaps understandable that, ever since 1992, it’s been mandatory (under UK Health & Safety legislation) for all UK employers to provide easily accessible water for their staff to drink, free of charge, along with the cups to drink it from, unless the water machine in question is fitted with a drinking fountain style tap. Obviously, the water provided must be clean and free from contamination, and, according to the words of the Act, ‘…may be sourced preferably from the public water supply, though bottled water dispensers are acceptable as a secondary supply.’ However, the Act also goes on to say that, if water is sourced from a bottled water cooler, employers must ensure that ‘there are adequate supplies, taking into consideration the temperature of the working environment and types of work activity’. So, now, the question becomes: what’s the easiest way to ensure ‘adequate supplies’ of fresh, chilled, uncontaminated water? And the answer, as more and more organisations of all types are recognising, is a plumbed-in water dispensing system. Not only easier, in fact, but cheaper – by a long way. Plus, mains-fed systems offer a host of other advantages, too. We won’t list them all here, as they can easily be found elsewhere on our website – suffice to say that they’re very significant advantages.
So where does all this take us? Well, it leads us to natural and inescapable conclusion that the law, in practical terms, is recommending mains-fed water coolers in the workplace. This seems eminently sensible to us.
The way that society should source the energy it needs is at the heart of one of the most intense political debates of recent years. There are many proposed solutions to the problem, ranging from committing ourselves to a future of nuclear power, to focusing on renewables. Passionate voices are often raised in favour of, and against, all of them. But, whichever fuel source is chosen as a long-term solution to our energy requirement, one thing is for sure: it will take decades to build an infrastructure able to satisfy demand – nuclear power stations take decades to build, and the technology behind renewables is, many claim, not yet sufficiently mature. This leaves the question of our short and medium term energy needs.
One solution to this is shale gas – a gas composed mostly of methane, and which is often trapped inside hard-to-penetrate source rocks deep in the ground. It can be used to generate electricity, as well as for domestic heating and cooking in the same way as natural gas, and is already responsible for 20% of the gas supply in the USA. Early indications show that there may also be many shale rich areas in the UK, and prospecting at sites across the country has already begun. Shale gas is sometimes called a ‘bridge fuel’ as there is an abundant supply, which can be relatively easily extracted over the medium term.
But the method of extraction it, a process called fracking (a contraction of hydraulic fracturing) is itself a subject of enormous controversy. On the one hand, there are those who claim that the fracking process can cause small earthquakes, with the potential to cause significant damage to surrounding homes and infrastructure, and that it also has serious environmental consequences. Others, the pro-fracking lobby, maintain that there are many advantages of shale gas, including the fact that it’s plentiful, relatively cheap and cleaner than oil or coal. These benefits, they claim, easily outweigh its disadvantages. It is, for sure, a complex argument.
One potential danger of fracking is that the process could result, according to experts, in the contamination of drinking water with methane gas and other harmful chemicals. This is because gases (such as methane) can permeate into water sources, either through cracks created by the fracking process, or by poor handling of waste water on the surface. The result could be contamination of the drinking water aquifers that lie above shale gas reserves. This, it needs to be emphasised, isn’t a necessary by-product of fracking, and shale gas companies are keen to point out that there are no proven cases of aquifers being contaminated by fracking. But, given that the energy market is competitive, and it’s therefore important for energy providers to control costs, there’s a possible temptation to use ‘cost-effective’ processes – in other words, to cut corners and compromise standards. If this happens, the likelihood of contamination of the drinking water supply is much more likely. We urge the Government, and local councils that back fracking, to take all possible steps to ensure that the very highest standards.