5 strategies to lower your company’s water footprint

Oct. 20, 2017

Employee participation and frequent measurement of the water conservation plan are keys to successfully reducing an organization’s water footprint.

In industrialized nations, businesses consume more than half of the water available for human use, according to Alliance Energy Corporation. Because industrial and manufacturing facilities are among the leading users of water, companies are challenged to implement better water management practices that improve efficiency, reduce water waste, and lower their water footprint. Not only will this positively impact the environment, it can also increase a company’s bottom line.

Many large corporations such as Coca-Cola, Johnson & Johnson and MillerCoors have implemented water conservation programs to improve water use and reduce demand on the world’s limited water resources. Those efforts have garnered employee support and yielded significant energy savings in addition to supporting environmental sustainability and good stewardship.

For example, Coca-Cola, a Xylem customer, achieved its goal of replenishing the amount of water used to produce the company’s beverages to communities and nature in 2015. Coca-Cola’s initiative is estimated to have returned 115 percent (191.9 billion liters) of water used in its global sales volume. Additional water used in the company’s facilities and manufacturing process is treated and returned to communities and nature.

To effectively lower your company’s water footprint, it takes top-down commitment, employee engagement and a methodology for routinely measuring water use. Follow these five steps to reduce a company’s water waste:

1. Define water issues and the desired outcomes: The first step to better manage and reduce your company’s water use is to develop a problem statement with the goal your company wants to achieve. Some examples include decreasing the risks associated with water scarcity, increasing your organization’s competitive advantage or achieving cost savings. An additional benefit in all these cases is building a culture of sustainability and environmental stewardship.

2. Measure water consumption: Next, create a water management plan. Start with a review of how much water your company is using. To paraphrase the old management adage, “If you can’t measure it, you can’t improve it.” If not already implemented, measure water consumption and set tangible targets. Be sure to install meters and take regular readings to find the areas of greatest water use. Knowing your water costs is another key aspect of the measurement and target-setting phase. A water management plan grounded in potential cost and environmental savings will help generate buy-in from key stakeholders. If possible, consider hiring a professional to conduct a water audit. Not only will a professional water audit provide a better understanding of how much water your facilities use and which processes require the most water, it also enables your company to set a baseline for average water consumption and provides detailed information on opportunities for using less. If a professional audit is too costly, create an internal team to examine your water consumption. This is a great opportunity for employees to volunteer and become part of the water-saving process.

3. Analyze water consumption results: After your company has measured overall water consumption, assess where water use is most significant and compare that to industry benchmarks. This will help you identify opportunities for improvement. During the analysis step, global water technology provider Xylem suggests asking and answering the following questions:

  • Who monitors and manages your organization’s water system?
  • Have you assessed the age and efficiency of your equipment, such as faucets, toilets, water dispensers and irrigation systems?
  • If you have an irrigation system, is it optimally set for time of day, frequency and run time based on the season, geographic location and need?
  • If your facility has a cooling tower, how efficient is it and what steps can be taken to upgrade its water use efficiency?
  • For industrial and manufacturing facilities, do you measure water use? If so, have you benchmarked optimal requirements for processes such as cooling, wash down and lubrication?

Providing your management team with the tools and best practices for water conservation will assist them in selecting the best tactics to reduce your company’s water footprint.

4. Improve current water consumption: With the information gathered during the measure and analysis steps, your team will be ready to develop and implement a water management plan. Start small with a few quick wins or realistic goals that each area of the organization can easily achieve. Some water-saving tactics that are relatively inexpensive and simple to implement include:

  • Detecting and fixing leaks in pipes, fixtures, appliances and equipment
  • Making sure break room and restroom faucets are outfitted with low-flow restrictors, which emit 1.5 gallons of water per minute, compared to 2.2 gallons for standard faucets
  • Replacing older toilets with newer, higher efficiency models can reduce gallons of water per flush from 5 to 2
  • Reducing outdoor water use by creating a landscape that integrates native plants or other less water-intensive plants
  • A more involved, yet highly sustainable solution is reclaiming wastewater to meet water needs such as irrigation, cooling towers or other non-potable uses

After executing these quick solutions, a larger strategy and timetable for implementing and assessing more comprehensive water-saving measures can be developed as a part of your company’s overall water conservation plan.

5. Control ongoing water-reduction efforts: Once a company has implemented water-saving practices, the work is far from over. To ensure ongoing success, it is important to regularly measure how your business is performing against the desired outcomes established at the outset. To do so, develop and employ a monitoring and control protocol to report progress, recognize and reward successes, and most importantly, keep employees engaged.

You can also sustain engagement by promoting your company’s commitment to reducing water consumption, sharing relevant updates and publicizing when key goals have been achieved to increase awareness among employees and make them mindful of their daily water use. It is also a good idea to periodically ask employees for their suggestions on how to save water and reduce water costs. Doing so will give them a sense of pride and ownership in the program.

To ensure your organization is being a good water steward, revisit your water conservation plan often to measure and evaluate the success of current efforts, and consistently develop and execute new water-saving strategies to further reduce your water use footprint.

Wesley Lobo is the global business unit director, Industry & Agriculture, at Xylem. He has extensive experience in product development and sales. Lobo received his MBA from Duke University and holds a bachelor’s degree in Chemical Engineering from Lafayette College.

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