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3 ways to make sure your water strategy holds water

3 ways to make sure your water strategy holds water

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As sustainability managers dip their toe into corporate and public water management concerns, more businesses are setting water-intensity reduction goals. Here are ideas for getting started.

I have been noticing heightened interest in water management and consumption reduction as part of corporate sustainability strategy for months; this post from last fall is a synopsis of why the private and public sector is waking up to the fact that while water may be a fundamental requirement for survival, we have managed to dilute its value to the point where we've got some serious shortages looming.

Even though carbon footprints and energy management manage steal many of the headlines, you'll find corporate water goals within the corporate social responsibility reports of most large companies. In particular this is true of businesses with large manufacturing footprints, agricultural interests or that rely on beverages for a sustainable portion of their revenue (ala The Coca-Cola Co. and PepsiCo.)

But really, every company needs to think about water management, which was the subject of a recent symposium called "Sustainability: Through the Lens of Water" hosted by EBI Consulting, a company in Burlington, Mass., that offers management consulting related to environmental health, safety and sustainability issues. I couldn't make it to the event in person, so I spoke with two EBI Consulting directors (David Lachance, senior program director, and Peter Crawley, director of sustainability services) about the business practices that were discussed as well as why water resource management isn't just a "green" issue, it's an operational consideration that will be a real factor in future growth. They offer an example in which Alcoa was denied a production expansion permit in California until it could demonstrate ways in which it would manage its water usage more rigorously and reuse wastewater more effectively. "What we are seeing is resource constraints. Companies are bumping up against the limits to water availability," says Crawley.

This is especially true in California and the southwestern states, he notes. "We find very often that businesses are very ignorant about where their water comes from," Crawley says.

Incidentally, last year when it released its corporate sustainability report, Alcoa announced a heightened focus on its water usage. Each of its business units is targeting an average reduction of water-use intensity of 10 percent by 2020 and 25 percent by 2030. Those goals are set against a 2005 baseline.

With that in mind, here are three considerations the Crawley and Lachance offer for sustainability directors that need to make sure their water management strategy holds water:

  1. Calculate your organization's water balance. Lachance says companies can't really know where to save water if they don't know how they are using water currently. That means being able to track where every drop of water that comes into a building goes out of the building. It requires your team to track sanitary wastewater (ala toilets, sinks, showers), process wastewater (such as what comes off a manufacturing line), water that is evaporated (for example, water used in a data center or cooling system) and water that is locked into products. "Often, you will find unknown leakages," he says.
  2. Look into how broader green building management practices can improve your water position. Many companies are already focused on retrofitting at least some of their facilities according to the specifications of the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design program. There are a lot of points to be earned through better water practices, Lachance notes.
  3. Understand the ties between energy consumption and water usage. It takes a lot of energy to heat water, which is something that most of us probably don't think about. So, you can address the amount of power you use for certain processes by looking at whether hot water is really necessary or whether there are ways to heat water through waste heat (perhaps from your data center).

Here are some related SmartPlanet posts as you consider your own water management strategy.

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Heather Clancy

Section Editor

Heather Clancy has written for United Press International, ZDNet, Entrepreneur, Fortune Small Business, the International Herald Tribune and the New York Times. She holds a degree from McGill University. She is based in New Jersey. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure