Special Topics in Environmental Management

The Business Case for Water Conservation

We have all seen water waste—sprinklers running during a rainstorm, dripping restroom faucets, and toilets that won’t stopping running—and think, “Boy, I’d hate to have to pay that water bill.” But more and more, business and industry are facing the fact that harnessing and controlling water usage is a line item that can no longer be overlooked.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), for the past decade, the costs associated with water and wastewater services have increased “at a rate well above the consumer price index.” In the future, those costs will likely continue to rise to offset the investments we must make to replace our aging water infrastructure. But there are other factors to consider as well.

For starters, the EPA notes “Water waste is often a sign of inefficient production and non-value-added activity and it frequently indicates opportunities for saving costs and time.” For example, water- efficiency programs also save energy related to:

  • Heating and cooling water,
  • Transferring and pumping water,
  • Operating water-consuming equipment, and
  • Treating water and wastewater.

Combined, the EPA says the cost of implementing measures to address these opportunities offer great return on investment and shorter payback periods while reducing a facility’s impact on local water resources.

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Another factor that is fast becoming a primary concern in some areas of the country is that of reduced risk. While forward-thinking companies have been making great strides in reducing energy use, many have yet to address the problems associated with limited local water resources brought on by drought, pollution, and other natural and man-made events. Water conservation measures that improve efficiency also help neutralize some of the impacts of water scarcity on a facility, as well as on the water resources of the community at large.

Regulatory compliance can also be impacted, especially when wastewater discharges are factored into the mix. Finding ways to minimize wastewater through water conservation can reduce or eliminate the need for discharge permits, saving on the considerable costs of energy and labor associated with permit-related activities such as tracking and reporting. Moreover, minimizing discharges can also cut costs for wastewater pretreatment including labor, energy, materials, equipment, and chemicals.

Water efficiency is also a big part of corporate sustainability worldwide. In areas where water is scarce or vulnerable, particular emphasis may be placed on water usage providing businesses with an opportunity to leverage their water-saving practices within their corporate sustainability profiles and reporting activities. As more consumers, investors, and clients consider sustainability as a factor in purchasing decisions, promoting conscientious water management practices can help keep a company in a positive light and increase competitive advantages.

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This is especially true when it comes to green product procurement and choosing venues for meetings, conventions, and other events. Many government agencies and private organizations have instituted environmental requirements regulating such purchasing and use. Documented water-efficiency practices help to strengthen a company’s overall environmental offering, again providing a competitive advantage or at least a level playing field as more and more companies do the same.

Unlike energy, water supplies cannot be created with solar panels or wind turbines, and as our climate changes, it may become less available and more vulnerable. Although water-efficiency measures must be tailored to the type of business (commercial/industrial/agricultural), types of processes and equipment, location, and other unique aspects, there are many general best management practices (BMPs) that should be considered. Tomorrow we will examine several essential  BMPs for water conservation.