As a socially responsible institution, the University of Edinburgh aims to benefit society as a whole. Drinking water is an issue that concerns students and staff and connects to health and well-being, economics, and environmental sustainability. Research has linked improved hydration to better concentration and learning outcomes.

The University of Edinburgh has a policy on Drinking Water (2009) which sets out our commitments and expectations in this area.  The University’s  Good Food Policy (2016) (sec 2.2.e) commits us to “provide free tap water in all the catering outlets and buildings and encourage staff and students to use tap water in preference to bottled water”. 

In a 2016 survey of students and staff (with approx. 4000 respondents) across a variety of social responsibility and sustainability (SRS) topics, one of the top five issues raised was access to free drinking water on University premises. This was discussed at an autumn meeting of the SRS Committee with questions around whether this was a communications gap or an infrastructure gap.

In order to address this issue, a project was commissioned by Estates together with the Students’ Association and the Department for SRS.  An intern was recruited for the project and situated within the Estates Building Services team to carry out the gap analysis and provide recommendations for next steps. 

Research was conducted to create an inventory of existing drinking water points and to understand the perception of drinking water provision amongst the University community.  A specific water-related survey was completed by 467 respondents over 10 days.  Interviews were conducted with key stakeholders (Estates, Students Association, ACE and SRS). Practices of other organisations were reviewed along with regulatory requirements. The impact of the existing Drinking Water Policy 2009 was reviewed with reference to the current provision on University premises.  



  • Gaps in provision of water supplies across locations were identified.
  • Staff and students expressed a preference for tap water (bottled water was ‘last option’).
  • Our water is safe and high quality. Samples tested and complied for potability.
  • Drinking from single use plastic bottles means water for students is more expensive.
  • Single use plastic bottles costs the university both financially and environmentally. Approx.  20 percent of waste and recycling uplifted is plastic bottles.
  • Some Universities have put plastic water bottle bans in place for many years. 

The improvement project

This project has been developed to address the gaps.  The project would first focus on improving provision in areas with the least availability of water, and then roll out across the University. It is proposed to phase this across 3 years to limit the year on year capital cost.


  • 256 new installations and 74 upgrades. This would address gaps where water provision is insufficient and upgrade existing fountains to stations (subject to water pressure).  
  • A rolling water testing programme established.
  • New developments / capital projects would ensure adequate provision built in.

Communications and Awareness Raising

  • Suitable and sufficient signage.
  • Development of a Water Point App and promotion of access to drinking water stations, together with students, including water bottle development and roll out.
  • Working with ACE and EUSA to procure a standard University water bottle and sell them at University outlets 

Current project status

Report Date RAG Budget Effort Completed Effort to complete
May 2020 AMBER 0.0 days 0.0 days 0.0

Project Info

5.1 Drinking Water Improvement Project
SRS - Resource Efficiency (REF) and Circular Economy
Project Manager
Sarah Ford-Hutchinson
Project Sponsor
Michelle Brown
Current Stage
In Progress
Start Date
Planning Date
Delivery Date
Close Date
Overall Priority


Not available.

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