Guest Column | March 9, 2023

The Importance Of Water Efficiency In Enhancing Economic Development Strategies

By Eric Meliton


Establishing water efficiency measures with commercial, industrial, and institutional (CII) sector partners has a lasting effect if positioned from a standpoint of cost savings, utility footprint reduction, and overall economic development benefits.

For economic development offices and governmental stakeholders who advocate public-private partnerships, CII sector water efficiency is very important in maximizing resources (especially for companies in drought-stricken regions of the U.S. and Canada), reducing operational costs (e.g., process water, wastewater treatment, non-compliance, and regulatory sanctions), and improving corporate citizenship within a municipality, region, or as part of a broad industry landscape. Not only do CII companies benefit from improving their environmental measures by addressing freshwater uptake and downstream impact of their wastewater discharge volumes, but effective water efficiency measures also have an indirectly positive impact on social engagement with their stakeholders and their industry reputation.

For many years, economic development leaders have focused on the primary goals of economic development support — improving the local economy, encouraging sectoral industry investment, attracting business growth, and creating new jobs — and in doing so, increasing local taxation.

Progressive economic development leaders work with governmental and/or industry proponents who advocate water efficiency within the CII sector, leading to network development capacity in expertise and support that typically is the focus of technology vendors or engineering firms. By providing access to these types of support systems, economic development offices in North America have an opportunity to solve CII process water and wastewater challenges by leveraging existing conservation programs in many forward-thinking municipalities.

Companies within the CII space could then access supportive efficiency incentivization, maximize utility savings, and improve and enhance reporting key performance indicators linked to corporate sustainability, such as environmental, social, and governance (ESG), UN Sustainable Development Goals (UN SDGs), and Task Force on Climate-Related Financial Disclosures (TCFDs). These metrics are becoming important to investor relations for publicly traded companies and can influence where large national and multinational firms elect to set up manufacturing and headquarter operations in progressive cities in North America. Strategically linking to progressive governmental conservation measures that have long been in place but have not been effectively deployed in this fashion is the basis of the examples to be shared.

Economic Development Challenges Related To CII Water Efficiency Engagement

Although progressive governmental economic development programs that are matched with water efficiency programs are effective in obtaining buy-in and implementation capacity for CII companies to proceed, most companies do not have sufficient access to these types of engagement programs in North America.

Compounding the lack of access is the lack of regional, provincial, state, and even federal funding to implement innovative best practices for freshwater use, better service and technological advancements, and effective ways to treat wastewater. Even when proven in a regional context, adoption of innovative solutions is still one of the main industry barriers in the water sector. The overall resistance to change is less likely to come from CII corporations as competitiveness and economic growth factors encourage companies to adapt to the needs of the sector and learn how to remain ahead of the curve.

Engagement programs listed in the next section have helped CII companies obtain consensus buy-in at the corporate and operational levels, strengthened and/or repaired governmental relationships, and maximized the use of incentivization available to CII entities, thus mitigating the challenges and barriers to adoption typically experienced with water efficiency opportunities. True public-private partnerships, with economic development offices providing awareness and advocacy of existing partnership engagement and stewardship programs, are something that can be effectively replicated in the CII sector.

CII Water Efficiency Engagement Programs

From a Canadian context, a cluster of Ontario-based municipalities has worked together to establish the progressive approach described above. Through the Ontario Water and Wastewater Association’s Water Efficiency Committee1 and the Municipal Water Efficiency Eco-Cluster2 established by Partners in Project Green’s Water Efficiency program,3 sharing of CII engagement best practices and showcasing industry case studies of implementation success has been a collaborative municipal water efficiency program network dating back more than 20 years. The leading Ontario municipalities that have adopted effective water efficiency design include the Region of Peel,4 York Region,5 City of Toronto,6 City of Guelph,7 and Region of Waterloo.8

In the U.S., the Alliance for Water Efficiency conducts a policy tracking scorecard,9 rating the statewide programs offered by municipalities for water efficiency and sustainability, which encompasses program capacity offered to CII sector participants. States adopting the Alliance for Water Efficiency’s G480 Standard10 provide a framework for critical design of water efficiency and conservation measures that municipalities can adopt along with ways to incorporate stewardship and engagement with residential homeowners and CII companies. States that scored high on the 2022 scorecard embedded effective best practices from the G480 standard. A historical list of progressive municipalities that have adopted the G480 standard is included for reference.11

From this 2022 ranking, the following were the top 10 U.S. states in policy and program offerings for efficiency and sustainability: California, Texas, Arizona, Washington, Georgia, New York, Nevada, New Hampshire, Colorado, and Minnesota. Looking at this list of states through a water use lens, many of these states have water use restrictions imposed on both residential homeowners and CII companies due to drought concerns and parallel water rights issues.

Progressive states featured in this scorecard have statewide water efficiency measures, such as the Texas Water Development Board,12 which serves as an integrated supportive resource offered to municipal water conservation program initiatives, which aligns with the notion of CII water efficiency enhancing economic development strategies.

From the North American perspective, CII companies are not restricted to utilizing regional governmental programs but can seek out stewardship and engagement programs customized for the corporate sector. Many national and international non-profits and non-governmental organizations have established these customized programs, built by CII facing leadership to provide guidance and educational support for adoption of complex water stewardship and efficiency initiatives. The Alliance for Water Stewardship’s International Water Stewardship Standard 2.013 has been adopted by many national and international corporations that want to improve their freshwater use, mitigate their wastewater volumes generated, and lessen their downstream impact. Similarly, The Water Council recently launched its WAVE Water Stewardship Verified program,14 which effectively looks at water use risks, policy development, and corporate communication strategies. If strategically linked to progressive governmental efficiency programs available for CII companies to access, these national stewardship and engagement programs could further enhance the overall economic benefits a company can gain.


Reaching the primary goals of governmental economic development can be established through facilitated adoption of water efficiency program support or utilization of customized national and international standards. In doing so, CII companies that seek out better ways to use their water resources, reduce the downstream impact of their wastewater volumes, and mitigate their regulatory and non-compliance issues related to water use to improve the local economy, enhance regional and sectoral investment, and generate new business growth through marginal improvements, are more likely to hire and ultimately contribute to the local taxation growth. If water efficiency can be at the core of all these economic benefits, why aren’t we doing more of this in North America?



About The Author

Eric Meliton is a thought leader and industry conduit with over 20 years of experience comprised of industrial manufacturing, regulatory and compliance, water and wastewater treatment technologies and governmental stakeholder engagement. He continues to analyze cleantech trends, execute corporate sustainability objectives, and maintain a trusted rapport with multinational corporations and industry trade associations, which complement an accomplished portfolio of strategic research projects and publications. Eric has served on Water Online’s Water Intelligence Panel since 2018.