The award winning Water Design Challenge asked 11-14 year olds in the South East of England to come up with new ways of saving water. The project, created and managed by the Design Council in association with Southern Water, ran in 2010 and 2011.

Sustainability can seem an abstract challenge - one that school children are powerless to help with. The Water Design Challenge gave them the tools with which to get involved.

Mat Hunter, Chief Design Officer, Design Council

The problem

With ever more pressure on the water supply and the effects of climate change, it’s vital that as a nation we manage our water consumption better. South East England is a water stressed area. It has less water available per person than Sudan and Syria. As summers are becoming hotter and drier and our population is increasing, we all need to find a way to reduce the amount of water we use. As Southern Water embarked on the biggest meter installation programme in the country, the Water Design Challenge aimed to help schools reduce their water usage, drive behaviour change in the next generation of water customers and come up with innovative new ways of saving water.

Our response

Fifteen schools from across Southern Water’s supply area were asked to address two questions: 1. How much water does your school use? 2. How can you use design to reduce wastage? To help tackle these questions each school was partnered with a Design Ambassador. The Design Ambassador, an experienced practicing designer, worked in a voluntary capacity to mentor students in design thinking and idea development.

How it worked

The project kicked off with an Inspiration session, where teachers and designers got to know each other, learn about issues related to water conservation, as well as find out about the Double Diamond design process and deepen their understanding of the role of design in behaviour change.


The project kicked off with an Inspiration session, where teachers and designers got to know each other and learn about design methods.

Schools ran the project in a number of different ways. Some worked on their ideas solely during class time, whilst others took a week off timetable, or ran it as part of an after school STEM Club. Alongside the range of resources provided, including a Water Calculator and an online workspace to share ideas, schools had access to water experts and visited local water treatment plants.

The results


Five schools were shortlisted to attend the final event at Bewl Water and pitch their ideas.

In 2011 five schools were shortlisted to attend the final event at Bewl Water with a chance to win a share of the £20,000 prize fund to help implement their idea. The five schools selected were:

Full-Flush, Mini-Flush from Fort Pitt Grammar, Rochester

Adapting current toilets to create mini-flush and full-flush cubicles for staff and students in the school.

Aqua Monitor and Aqua App from Midhurst Rother College, Midhurst

A water monitor and app to help families save water in the home, and a fun water saving game for 10-14 year olds.

Aqua Palz from Sholing Technology College, Southampton

A constant reminder to help save water, Aqua Palz remind you to save water today and everyday.

H2 Know from Thomas Aveling School, Rochester

A hand washing system that reduces the amount of water we use washing our hands and clearly shows the user how water efficient they are.

Water Mania from Thomas Bennett Community College, Crawley

A fun computer game which allows people to learn about saving water by playing as a water saving superhero.

The judging panel for the Water Design Challenge

The schools skilfully pitched their ideas to a dragons den panel of judges, which included representatives from the Consumer Council for Water and Barclays Business Woman of the Year Emily Cummins.

The schools skilfully pitched their ideas to a dragons den panel of judges, which included representatives from the Consumer Council for Water and Barclays Business Woman of the Year Emily Cummins.

The winning team

Pupils from Fort Pitt Grammar School in Chatham, Kent were crowned winners of the Water Design Challenge 2011, scooping £9,000 in prize money. Their entry demonstrated how their solution would reduce the amount of water used in the school’s toilets by a third, saving around £5,000 on the school’s annual water bill.


Pupils from Fort Pitt Grammar School in Chatham, Kent were crowned winners of the Water Design Challenge 2011, scooping £9,000 in prize money.

Their design centred on the concept of having two different types of toilets to reduce the amount of water needed for flushing. The urine only toilets were fitted with a special float device so that they only used 2 litres of water per flush, whilst the other toilet had a standard 6 litre flush.

The other finalists were Sholing Technology College, who were awarded £3,500 for coming second, whilst runners-up Midhurst Rother College, Thomas Aveling School and Thomas Bennett Community College were all allocated £2,500 to develop their ideas further.

“Sustainability can seem an abstract challenge and one that school children are powerless to help with, but the Water Design Challenge gave them the tools with which to get involved, says Mat Hunter, Chief Design Officer at Design Council. 

It really can be as simple as observing that your school lavatories are using too much water and then designing and installing a simple modification. The educational benefit of this cross-disciplinary, action-oriented, team-based working is significant as we prepare children for 21st century challenges and styles of working.

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