How Businesses Can Survive Water Scarcity and Rising Costs

Martin Sieh, Chief Operating Officer at ENGIE Insight

Energy is critical to nearly every business function and is one of a business’ top utility expenditures. But more and more, businesses—particularly those in the restaurant and hospitality industries—are challenged to monitor and manage their water use. Water scarcity, aging infrastructure and quality impairment are increasing regulations on water use as well as water costs. Since 2008, the price of water has steadily increased by an average of 40 percent across industry verticals.

Purveyors, governments, and media are starting to address current and future water challenges, including the impacts of climate change on the sustainability of our water supplies, toxic material in aging pipes, and water quality degradation.

Growing water scarcity (particularly in California and the Southwest) has spurred regulations on water use—that when not adhered to can attract hefty fines. And the law of supply-and-demand also applies—the tighter the regulations on water use, the more expensive that precious water becomes.

Scarcity and rising costs have driven an increased focus on water usage measurement, reduced usage, and long-term risk planning. Some emerging trends include on-site water recycling through several innovative solutions, including cooling water treatment, graywater recycling, and rainwater harvesting. Smart meters and IoT devices help businesses monitor use and implement actions when usage thresholds are reached.

Business can use the Water Risk Monetizer—a free tool developed by Ecolab in partnership with Trucost and Microsoft—to help determine the cost of current water use and future water risks and align business strategies around improved water management.

In the face of these water pressures, there’s a silver lining: organizations can take appropriate cost and usage control measures. According to our report, Energy and Sustainability Predictions: Findings from Leading Professionals, the most popular corporate response to rising water bills was low-cost hardware improvements such as the installation of efficient faucet aerators or flush valves (28 percent) and behavioral changes through training and awareness programs (27 percent). Overall, 57 percent of respondents indicated they had implemented more than one water reduction initiative in 2015. Among those intent on seeking no cost/low-cost energy and sustainability management opportunities, water efficiency was noted as one of the smartest investments. In fact, those listing water conservation efforts as their smartest no cost/low-cost initiative more than doubled from 9 percent in 2014 to 23 percent in 2015.

Arby’s provides one example of a successful water management system. The restaurant chain integrated the Weathermatic irrigation control system (a connected system that offers an online platform to monitor and manage irrigation) into their existing energy management system across 85 pilot sites. Weathermatic allowed Arby’s to reduce irrigation by 40-70 percent, reducing water consumption by 25 percent per site. Each site also saved an average of $1,150 annually. Within one year, Arby’s achieved a reduction of 7,400,000 gallons.

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