Clean water has been relatively inexpensive in the U.S., and for that reason water usage has not been as closely scrutinized by corporate America. Many companies might not even know the true cost of water – they pay for the water they consume in their facilities and operations and they also pay taxes to clean and return ”used” water to the system.
Access to an abundant supply of clean water is something most Americans take for granted. However, water, particularly potable water, is a finite resource. Water conservation is not just something corporate America should be doing to boost their public profile, it should be a key consideration in every facet of their operations.
Just to put this in perspective, here is some data on water usage:
Water, or the lack of it, can pose a significant risk to corporate America. Not only have there been numerous examples in the past 10 years of states and regions at less than half their annual rainfall. Projections show for the next 50 years the western continental U.S. may have decades of drought.
Without water, power plants can’t generate electricity, buildings can’t be cooled and plumbing doesn’t work – all leading to business interruption. Without water for manufacturing or business processes, factories, refineries and other facilities cease producing. And, as with all commodities, as supply tightens, costs rise.
As the water supply becomes stressed, governmental regulation could have a dramatic impact on a company’s operations. There could be increased tension between corporate water use and community water use. On the positive regulatory side, in Texas, various tax exemptions are available for companies that conserve water.
Businesses can mitigate these risks by knowing the water system in which their operations are located and educating themselves on the part they play in insuring the system does not get overloaded. For instance, large corporations looking for a new home for thousands of employees and/or a new location for major manufacturing or testing processes need to look beyond the cost of the land to the availability of water within the public water system. They also need to assess the quantity and type (potable, non-potable) of water they need for their operations and processes.
In buildings, water and energy use operate hand-in-hand. To reduce the company’s water footprint, consider these steps:
Buildings can be designed to incorporate a variety of potable water saving features such as:
Companies proactively responding to the challenge of freshwater scarcity, create product and process transparency, and formulate specific and measurable targets with respect to water footprint reduction can realize significant savings and rewards.
Rives Taylor, FAIA, is the Regional Sustainability Leader and a Principal at Gensler. Rives directs the Design Performance teams and is based in Houston. He has been a faculty member of both Rice University and the University of Houston for 25 years and holds a B.A. in Architecture from Rice University and a Masters from MIT.
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