Guest Column | January 21, 2020

Corporate Water Stewardship: How To Streamline Water Management Practices

By Varun Gowda

Saving water saves money, but it’s also important for people and the planet. Here are five steps commercial businesses should take to improve sustainability.

The U.S. water infrastructure currently faces two different headwinds: lack of investment in infrastructure modernization and the risk of a changing climate. A report card developed by the American Society of Civil Engineers found that there are an estimated 240,000 water main breaks each year in the U.S., totaling 2 trillion wasted gallons of treated drinking water annually. Additionally, climate change continues to stress-test our traditional water resources, which further puts at risk the long-term viability of water resources and supply.

Given these risks to our current and future supply levels, consumers, governments, and corporations must work to conserve water. However, the corporate sector can often overlook its influence in mitigating water scarcity issues.

The Commercial Sector Has A Water Problem

As conversations about corporate sustainability become more prominent, people tend to focus on companies’ energy use and waste practices. However, companies face a major challenge with water consumption levels. The commercial sector is the second-largest consumer of publicly supplied water, which accounts for 17 percent of the withdrawals from public water supplies. This widespread water use can negatively affect our nation’s supply, contributing to water scarcity nationwide.

According to a recent survey, the corporate sector is aware of its impact on the growing shortage, with 74 percent of large corporations agreeing that addressing this issue should be a priority. However, strategic action is not as prominent, as 44 percent of the polled companies have no plan to achieve water-reduction goals.

Businesses must adopt water management plans to successfully reduce usage rates and lower their monthly water utility costs. While businesses may find the process of developing a plan daunting, there are five steps they should follow to identify areas of water mismanagement, create innovative solutions to address the problem, and track the water management program’s results.

Taking Action: 5 Steps To Achieving Water Sustainability

Shari’s Café & Pies, a prominent restaurant chain in the western U.S., successfully implemented a strategic water management program in 2008. By 2016, the company had achieved a 30 percent reduction in water use.

Below is a look at how companies can learn from Shari’s Café & Pies’ success and implement their own water management strategies.

The commercial sector is the second-largest consumer of publicly supplied water, which accounts for 17 percent of the withdrawals from public water supplies.

Step 1 — Audit water use

Every plan must start with an accurate evaluation of the current situation. Whether done through an internal process or by working with an outside firm, companies must identify operational areas of water misuse and waste.

After conducting an equipment audit with a third-party partner, Shari’s found that its ice cream dipper well system wasted 8 million gallons of water each year — a consumption trend that the company had previously not noticed. Additionally, the team uncovered that the company’s kitchen equipment ran heated water 24 hours a day, which created an unnecessary utility charge each month.

Step 2 — Develop an action plan

While an audit provides companies with a clear baseline of where to address water inefficiencies, businesses must then work to develop a strategic and creative plan that will eliminate wasteful practices, maximize sustainability efforts, and save the company money. Plans should include clear, time-specific, and quantifiable goals that the company wants to meet and include specific tactics that will drive operational and cultural change within the company. As seen with Shari’s, part of this plan may involve investing in new equipment and technology.

Step 3 — Make smart investments

Oftentimes, successful execution of corporate action plans requires some level of monetary investment. When thinking about water plans specifically, it is often beneficial to invest in redesigned water systems and water-efficient equipment. While this may require a substantial upfront cost, sustainable equipment generates savings in the long term.

By switching to a new ice cream dipper well system that adds water in regular increments rather than allowing it to flow perpetually, Shari’s reduced water use by an average of 35 percent. This investment created $597,480 in projected savings for the company. Additionally, installing aerators onto its faucets increased water pressure while reducing volume when the water runs, which cut water consumption by 5 million gallons each year and saved the company $300,000.

Step 4 — Utilize data

Real-time data gives companies insight into their water management campaigns’ performances against their previously set targets. To start, businesses must use data to gain a true understanding of how their facilities consume water, as this will help build the corresponding water management plan. Once companies execute their action plans, they should analyze consumption trends from their utility bills from month to month, to see if the implemented changes are driving cost savings.

Step 5 — Educate employees

While action plans will drive the initial shift toward sustainability, employee buy-in is crucial to the continued success of water management campaigns. Employees must be aware of how their wasteful practices are negatively affecting the environment and then trained on how to operate the energy-efficient equipment that’s installed — whether it is large-scale kitchen equipment or bathroom faucets. Companies can educate employees through digital engagement and employee training programs.

The Big Picture

Water may seem like the world’s greatest renewable resource, but in reality, the globe already faces a water crisis. Currently, one-ninth of the planet’s population lacks access to clean, affordable water within half an hour of their homes. Domestically, if corporations continue to consume water without a concentrated effort to maximize efficiencies, the water infrastructure will continue to struggle to meet demand, and natural supplies will continue to be depleted. Developing a water-management plan is the first crucial step to creating a widespread shift in corporate water stewardship, and, therefore, a cleaner and more sustainable future for all.

About The Author

Varun Gowda is the Senior Director of Product for Global Sustainability Services for ENGIE Impact. He has over a decade of experience in turning innovative ideas into software solutions, launching them as commercial products by building successful teams and creating winning organizations. Some of his early career work across carbon management, solar, storage, geothermal, and deep water oil and gas domains, combined with his experience in designing and building analytics-driven products and launching businesses, gives him a unique perspective in designing solutions for the energy transformation currently in play.