Sidestep the Water Crisis: How to build an H20 Efficiency Business Plan

Turn the faucet on, and water comes out. This makes business possible for nearly every industry on the planet. Yet water is a commodity becoming more widely used—and more widely unavailable—than ever before.

It takes the equivalent of 70 loads of laundry to manufacture a laptop computer.

The average hospital uses about 315 gallons of water per bed each day—think cooling, plumbing, landscaping, laundry and medical equipment.

According to the Center for Neighborhood Technology, between 14 and 18 percent of our nation’s water supply is lost through leaks, outdated meters and aging infrastructure.

Natural water reserves are strained more than you may think. Forty of the 50 state water managers expect shortages between now and 2024. Parts of southeastern Georgia have already measured abnormally dry for 2016. In recent years, California has faced governor-mandated water restrictions that have resulted in the removal of green spaces and reduced the amount of grass allowed in landscaping around new construction to 25 percent.

How did we end up so strapped for water? Ninety-nine percent of all useable water comes from the ground, but rainfall and snowfall can no longer keep up with what we consume. Near the coast, rising sea levels make aquifers too inundated with salt. Monitoring wells have to keep tabs on contamination from pesticides, herbicides, road salts and landfills.

Even in agriculture the struggle is real. To grow the daily servings of fruits and vegetables the USDA recommends for a healthy American diet, it can take up to 1,000 gallons of water per person. That doesn’t even account for nourishing animals that give us meat and dairy—or the processing that puts bacon on the refrigerated shelves at the grocery store.

Here’s what water shortages means for business: There is a growing gap between the water you need and the water available for use. By 2030, global water supplies will likely only meet 60 percent of the demand.12 For some, staying profitable will rely heavily on moving toward greater water efficiency.

Whether you work in healthcare, manufacturing, education, municipalities, retail, multifamily housing or restaurants, a water efficiency business plan is key is to understanding the real potential in savings and sustainability. Here’s how it works.

Start by identifying where your money goes. In order to construct an effective cost/benefit analysis, you need to develop a business case with a list of all water outputs. Water and sewer costs are often overlooked when it comes to ways to reduce your bottom line because they rarely rank as your highest monthly business costs. You may spend money on chemical treatment for evaporative cooling. You may incur significant costs to heat water. You may be spending money to pretreat wastewater. Once you understand which related bills are up for review, you can move forward in developing a business case.

Review your utilities. Changes in water consumption over time should be explainable. Such explanations may include, but are not limited to, changes in production, changes in number of employees, drier than normal conditions, changes in water treatment, or addition or removal of processes or equipment. Changes over time that cannot be easily explained may be the result of unknown leaks and losses.

Conduct a site survey. Hire an energy efficiency professional to interview onsite personnel and identify property demographics that affect overall water usage and associated costs. This includes a list of all water using equipment and fixtures alongside the statistics of how much water each item utilizes when in use.

Develop a water balance. This is an overall look at all end uses consuming water and can be presented in the form of a pie chart. A proper water balance can also be used to identify unknown leaks and water losses.

Establish benchmarks. You want to be able to compare your facility’s water usage to other like facilities. This statistic will look different depending on type of facility. For example:

  • Hospitals – Gallons per Patient per Day
  • Manufacturing – Gallons per Unit of Product Produced
  • Schools – Gallons per Student per Day
  • Multifamily Housing – Gallons per Resident per Day
  • Restaurants – Gallons per Prepared Meal

From here you should be able to develop recommendations for reducing water consumption. A water efficiency specialist can write out a plan suggesting direct steps to lower water usage and its associated costs. This may include replacement of water cooled equipment with air cooled equipment, repair of leaks, landscape conversions, replacement of high flow toilets or shower heads, or changes in operating procedures.

A good plan should include clear, specific language in relationship to the recommended action. It should also outline anticipated water and energy savings, anticipated labor and material costs, a calculated payback period in months or years, and available utility rebates or incentives where applicable.

Several major American businesses are already taking action to protect their water supply and costs for the future.

Since 2006, Boston University has seen a campus growth of 14 percent but has managed to reduce water consumption by 7 percent through the use of rainwater harvesting, drip irrigation systems, hands-free sink faucets, sensor-based toilets and the elimination of dining hall trays.

From 2000 to 2014, Ford Motor Co. cut its total global water use by 62 percent via cooling tower technology, stormwater practices, internal water metering, and new lubricant and paint technologies.

While water covers 70 percent of the Earth’s surface, only about 1 percent is available for human use. Setting up a water efficiency business plan is the first step toward smarter business practices to ensure your industry is prepared for the environmental changes of the future.

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