Tackling Cape Town’s water shortage

Thinking of all of our team, customers and friends in Cape Town, as the beautiful city continues to battle an ongoing water crisis.

Restrictions of 50l per person per day will come into effect from 1 February, and 'Day Zero' - the date the municipal water supply will be shut down and residents will need to queue for emergency water rations – has been brought forward to April 12th. But many businesses and individuals are still doing all they can to stave off Day Zero.

I was in Cape Town at the end of last year, and I visited Virgin Active South Africa to catch up with the team. We went to lunch with Managing Director Ross Faragher-Thomas, who briefed me on what Virgin Active is doing in the face of the worst drought for a century.

Back in May 2017 we made the decision to turn off sauna and steam facilities to reduce water consumption – this intervention has resulted in around 650,000 litres less water being used per month. While some members may think that by using less water we are saving on our water bills, actually those savings are being invested more than 10 times over to tackle the crisis. This drought has required us to look across our business to see where we could reduce water consumption but also at the investment required to use water more efficiently in the long term. I am pleased to say that our efforts have paid off and that we have reduced our water consumption by 53% since 2016. 

We have fitted low flow shower heads and taps, and introduced nudges across all operations, such as adding timers to promote more mindful and shorter showering, buckets in the showers to capture water to use for flushing and encouraging members to ‘’power shower.’ We are sourcing donated non-potable water to top up our pools and we have reduced backwashing. Grey water systems have been installed, will be rolled out to additional clubs, and will be featured in all new builds. 

We will not stop there and are investing in further water efficiencies and the drilling of boreholes so that we may establish our own independent supply. A Cape Water Crisis Committee is meeting each week in order to stay on top of the situation.

Ross told me they are rethinking everything about the way the business operates, and the team are responding brilliantly. I am always amazed how the Virgin family can come together in times of crisis and this is no exception.

As others have pointed out, you cannot talk about this crisis without mentioning climate change. As extreme weather events are likely to become more frequent, many cities will be more vulnerable to drought, heatwaves, flooding. Officials everywhere will need to develop strategies to better adapt and build greater resilience into their communities. We should all think more about how we use water around the globe, not just in times of drought. Every drop counts. Head over to Virgin Active South Africa to find out more.

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