THE BASICS OF WATER EFFICIENCY
By Rives Taylor
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:
- Between 1950 and 2000, the U.S. population nearly doubled while the public demand for water more than tripled. Americans now use an average of 100 gallons of water each day—enough to fill 1,600 drinking glasses. This increased demand has put additional stress on water supplies and distribution systems, threatening both human health and the environment.
- A recent government survey showed at least 36 states anticipated local, regional, or statewide water shortages.
- A 2014 Greenbiz report found that the average U.S. business uses over 49,000 cubic meters of water per million dollars of revenue.
- The true value of one cubic meter of water ranges between $0.10 where it is plentiful and $15 in areas of extreme scarcity.
- Corporations are the world’s largest water users, with nearly two-thirds of all water consumption going into producing ingredients for corporate supply chains.
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:
- Reduce waste – for example fixing leaks in the system is the easiest and cheapest way to save water and lower costs
- Reuse every drop of water – rainwater, condensate and ground water
- Enlist the aid of consultants- architects, engineers, etc. – who have experience reducing water usage and create a corporate culture that values conservation and reuse
- Make sure cooling towers are operating efficiently, cooling towers typically use 20-30 percent of the water in buildings
Buildings can be designed to incorporate a variety of potable water saving features such as:
- High efficiency fixtures
- Climate/weather responsive irrigation
- High efficiency cooling tower (minimized blow down)
- Rainwater collection
- Purple pipe network (recycled water, non-potable)
- On-site graywater treatment
- On-site blackwater treatment
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.