According to a recent report by the 2030 Water Resources Group, global water requirements will increase to 6,900 billion cubic meters with no efficiency gains and average economic growth. That’s 40 percent more than the current accessible and reliable supply. Under this scenario though, in some areas of the world, water scarcity would be worse than in other parts. One-third of the global population would live in basins where the deficit is more than 50 percent.
Companies that invest in water sustainability will have an advantage over those that do not. In addition to reducing risk, water sustainability improvements can also have financial benefits. According to a Boston Consulting Group report, having strong environmental, social, and governance (ESG) practices, in which sustainability plays an important role, correlate with improved financial performance.
The following tips can help business use water more sustainably.
Set Goals and Review Water-Related Issues
The first step to improving water sustainability is to take a broad look at the relevant risks and opportunities facing your business. You should explore the possible water scarcity risks facing your company and review the major water issues in the areas where you’re located. Different parts of the world are facing different water challenges. In some areas, for example, drought is the most significant risk, while other regions face a higher risk from pollution. Different types of businesses also use water differently and in varying amounts.
Defining opportunities can be helpful as well, as it can help you to establish a direction for your water sustainability program and provide motivation for following through with your initiatives over the long term. Some examples of opportunities including decreasing water scarcity risks, reducing costs through resource conservation and achieving a competitive advantage through improving environmental performance.
Conduct a Water Audit
Next, take a closer look at how your company uses water. If you don’t already keep detailed records of your water usage, gather data by installing meters and taking readings at regular intervals. You can also collect data from your water utility company. Make sure that you have a complete picture of your water-related costs including utility bills, equipment operation and treatment costs.
One option is to hire a professional to conduct a water audit, an analysis of water use from the point where it enters our facility to its discharge. The audit will identify every point of water use within your company. It will provide estimates of water usage and water losses as well as an analysis of water quality. A water audit may also provide information about potential savings and the costs to implement sustainability improvements.
You can also create an internal team to conduct a water audit. This team will need the right expertise and access to all information related to water use. A benefit of this approach is that it encourages employee participation in the company’s water sustainability initiative.
Analyze Results and Create a Plan for Improvement
Once you have the results of your audit, you should analyze this data to determine where your most significant uses of water are. Compare those numbers to industry benchmarks. You can use this information to create a water management plan and set targets for reducing water consumption and costs. Creating an actionable plan may help create buy-in from stakeholders. In your plan, you should include the strategies you will use to meet your targets. Potential opportunities and strategies are discussed below.
Be sure to keep your employees informed about your water management plans. Providing training on water conservation can help employees reduce their water usage. Keeping them informed will also increase engagement and increase the likelihood that you’ll reach your conservation targets.
Reduce Water Usage
Finding and fixing leaks in pipes, fixtures and equipment can be a simple and low-cost but effective way to reduce water usage. Repairing leaks does not require you to adjust your operations but prevents you from wasting water.
Another strategy is to switch to low-flow fixtures. These devices reduce the amount of water that flows through your appliances but allows you to continue using them in the same way. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the standard water flow for a sink is 2.2 gallons per minute. A sink with the WaterSense label, which certifies a device as water-efficient by the EPA, reduces water flow by 30 percent or more to at most 1.5 gallons per minute. You can also find other water-efficient fixtures and appliances by looking for the WaterSense label.
Landscaping is another area in which businesses can often reduce their water usage. Consider native and drought-resistant plants, as they require less water. You can also replace some grassy areas with pebbles, sands or other features. Additionally, you can reduce water use by planning your watering around the weather. For example, if you track rain forecasts, you can skip watering when it’s going to rain. You can also do your watering when it’s cooler out so that less water evaporates. If you want to make a larger upfront investment, you can invest in a drip irrigation system.
Another area in which you can reduce use and costs is in water treatment. Typically, businesses add various chemicals to their cooling systems to prevent the accumulation of scale and contaminants. The systems may also include a sidestream filtration system which removes some water to get rid of suspended solids. Using this approach, companies must deal with water loss and substantial chemical costs. There are other treatment options, however. The HydroFLOW unit, for example, emits a 150 kHz frequency that prevents scale and biofilm from building inside the plumbing system. The frequency also gradually removes existing deposits. Using this approach reduces energy use, chemical costs, water loss and maintenance costs. Lowering costs in all of these areas can provide an ROI in 12 to 24 months.
Reusing water is another way that businesses can improve their environmental performance and reduce their costs. When businesses reuse water, they reduce the amount of wastewater they discharge into the environment, potentially reducing negative impacts. They may also be able to reduce the amount of water they purchase. With proper treatment, water may be reusable many times, significantly improving efficiency.
Businesses can reuse water for heating and cooling, site irrigation, cleaning, fire protection and more. Water used for heating and cooling is especially simple to treat, making it easy to reuse it.
Water treatment is an important consideration when it comes to reusing water. You need to ensure that water is treated to the standards required for the application in which you plan to use it. Today, there are various technologies available for water treatment including filtration, reverse osmosis, distillation, ultraviolet disinfection and more. While effective, this equipment can be costly to install and can be energy-intensive. You should compare the costs and benefits of installing such a system to those of purchasing more fresh water before deciding on a treatment system. If you don’t need your treated water to be exceptionally high-quality, you may be able to use a lower-cost treatment option.
If water scarcity becomes a more significant problem in the future, water treatment and reuse will become more common. A report from Bluefield Research forecasts that water reuse in the United States will increase by 58 percent over the next ten years and that capital expenditure investment in water reuse will total $11 billion from 2016 to 2026.
Track Progress and Seek Continuous Improvement
After you’ve created your water management plan and taken the initial steps for improvement, you should continue to measure your progress toward your targets and adjust your plans as needed. This will help ensure optimal results. To help with this, you should establish a monitoring and control plan for measuring success and reporting progress. This plan should also include strategies for keeping employees engaged in your water management initiatives. Be sure to keep employees informed about the program’s progress. You may also want to recognize and reward employees who make contributions to the initiative and meet their targets.
As you monitor your progress, you may discover opportunities for improving your water management plans. You may find that some strategies are achieving their intended outcomes, while others are not. Continually improving your strategies is important for achieving optimal results from your water sustainability program.
Additionally, you should create a plan for promoting your company’s commitment to water sustainability. As mentioned earlier, strong environmental, social, and governance (ESG) practices can improve your company’s financial performance and enhance its reputation. To achieve these benefits, you need to promote your water sustainability commitments and efforts. Always strive for honesty and transparency in your promotions. You may want to seek a certification from a third party to improve the credibility of your claims to customers and other stakeholders. The rewards of promoting your efforts may also help motivate company leadership and employees to continue supporting the program.
Water use is an important environmental issues, but it doesn’t get as much attention as some other issues do. However, water scarcity presents significant risks to businesses, and improving water sustainability practices can provide numerous business benefits. Taking concrete steps to improve water sustainability is both environmentally responsible and a smart business move.