Climatic uncertainty threatens the reliability and quality of water supply, so management strategies that secure water supplies have become a high priority in the public and private sectors. Rebecca Gale of Waterscan Ltd. explains various approaches that have reduced water use and maximized available supplies.
Water management strategy to minimize corporate risk
Climate change has been a hot topic over the last decade, as extreme weather events have increased around the world. Temperatures have risen, glaciers have melted, ecosystems are out of sync, and weather events have become more frequent and more intense. In 2007 alone, monsoons caused floods in South Asia that displaced an estimated 20 million people, heavy rain in China killed 66 people in flooding and landslides, and the United Kingdom (UK) floods cost the economy US$5.3 billion, according to BBC News.
Climatic uncertainty threatens the reliability and quality of a continuous water supply, which is imperative to industry. Before devising a water management plan, all risks – operational, reputational, regulatory, and financial – should be analyzed to ensure a robust strategy, with a collaborative approach to a shared problem.
Operational risk can be either a direct physical risk to a business, an indirect risk from an unsustainable supply chain, or both. Using flooding as an example, a flooded site’s indirect risk is the potential loss of revenue if the site cannot operate, while the direct risk is associated with the expenditure required to repair flood damage. In times of water scarcity, the operational risk to a business is that production will cease, stores won’t open, and employees cannot work.
Reputational risk encompasses the customer experience and the public’s view of the company’s brand. It is more imperative now for a company to have a good corporate social responsibility policy. Consumers are becoming increasingly aware of the environmental implications of products they buy and seek to purchase goods from ethical companies. In 2004, protesters in Kerala, India, accused Coca Cola of depleting the groundwater and polluting the local environment, which led to the shutdown of their plant.
Coca Cola denied these allegations, but the brand in this region was irrefutably damaged. Since then, the company has been carrying out one of the most sophisticated corporate social responsibility global water strategies in the beverage industry.
Regulatory risk encapsulates current and future local water regulations and legislation surrounding water supply and wastewater. Failing to meet these requirements can lead to the termination of the business’s water supply or large fines for environmental degradation. In China, between 2008 and 2009, there were 8,179 legal disputes on water-related issues. In 2010, a mine belonging to the Zijin Mining Group leaked 9,100 cubic meters of contaminated wastewater from the plant into the Ting River. Thousands of fish were poisoned, drinking water was affected, and operations were suspended. The company was fined $4.5 million and the five employees directly responsible were fined and imprisoned.
The financial risk to business is the accumulation of the operational, reputational, and regulatory risks, and is often the driving force behind a business seeking to mitigate their water risk. Companies can be fined millions of dollars for non-compliance with regulations, and loss of revenue from operational and reputational risks can also be substantial amounts. The other financial risk a business can face is the potential increase in supply or wastewater company charges, plus abstraction and discharge licences.
Compared to the financial implications of the other risks, the price of water does not currently reflect its true value. It is anticipated that water will be treated more like a commodity in the future, much like oil.
Good water management begins with measurement and transparency. Adapting to climate change, mitigating water risks, and effective water management is about knowing how much water is being used, where and when, and then setting priorities on where water reductions can occur – this is referred to as water footprinting.
A water footprint of a business is defined as “the total volume of freshwater that is used directly or indirectly to run and support the business,” according to the Water Footprint Network (WFN). A water footprint is divided down into many subsections. For example operational, supply chain, product, and end-use water footprints are subsections, which are further broken down into blue, green, and grey waters. Blue water refers to the consumption of surface or groundwater. Green water refers to the consumption of rainwater that does not become runoff. Greywater is an indicator of pollution.
To optimize water resources within a business, initially it is better to look at operational water consumption as the company has a direct influence over reductions. The best way to monitor a business’s water consumption is through automated meter reading. Irregular and estimated water company charging systems provide poor data if the site is billed at all. Data loggers monitor consumption from revenue and sub meters and provide remote meter readings up to every 15 minutes. Unusual patterns in water consumption and leakage can then be immediately identified and rectified.
The success of any water management project can be evaluated using this accurate data. For Whitbread’s Premier Inn hotel chain in the United Kingdom, the automated meter reading identified peaks in consumption at approximately 11 am that was caused by inefficient housekeeping practices, which led to a preventable wastage of water. Whitbread also saved $665,700 identifying and stopping 11 major leaks.
Successful water management is about identifying and prioritizing significant high-water consumption and reducing it to a best-practice benchmark. Full water audits of sites can show where technologies need maintenance, where processes and behaviors are inefficient, and where water reductions can be made.
Automated meter readings can monitor savings to determine which technologies are the most effective in terms of water consumption savings and return on investment, before implementing the technology solutions across the whole portfolio. Changes to employee and customer behaviors are the most challenging, but often the cheapest way to save water. However, many technologies available in the market generate significant water savings with an impressive return on investment.
All water points should be considered for improvements. For example, hotels that install low-flow showerheads and taps, and dual-flush toilets, and encourage guests to wash towels only when necessary, can significantly reduce the water use per room. Premier Inn saved approximately 500,000 cubic meters (m3) of water per year by installing low-flow showerheads in 40,000 rooms throughout its hotels. In companies where there is a high level of domestic water use, such as offices, considerable savings can be made through urinal controls and generally the return on investment is evident within a few months. For Sainsbury’s Supermarkets Limited in the UK, the annual water saving from urinal controls and new-build waterless urinals amounted to 50,310 m3.
Rainwater harvesting and water recycling
Recycling water creates a sustainable, dependable, and controllable source of supply, which is essential for business stability. It reduces the pressure on less renewable sources, such as groundwater and surface water, which is needed for continued ecosystem functioning. Furthermore, potable water is not used for non-potable applications, which reduces the supply energy cost per cubic meter.
All rainwater harvesting systems work on the basis of using rainwater as their primary source of water, with mains water as a backup source. When accounting for rainwater-harvesting water use as part of the water footprint assessment, rainwater is considered blue water – simply because it would have eventually become run-off if it was not captured by the system. Even though blue water is less sustainable than green water, the use of rainwater is more sustainable than surface or groundwater, and is a useful means of reducing the demand on mains water. It can also act as a preventative measure of surface water flooding due to the improved management of surface water runoff. The supply of water is dependent on rainfall, so regions that are water stressed, due to a lack of rainfall, are not suited to this technology.
Rainfall replenishes other sources of water, so by collecting the water it is no longer available for other users. Installations need to be analyzed on a case-by-case basis – for their effect on the local watershed, the increased carbon cost, and the benefit to the site. Systems vary from the basic water butts for irrigation, which require no treatment, to systems for non-potable water use, and systems that filter the water to potable water standard.
Rainwater harvesting should not be a substitution for other water efficiency measures. All cost-effective technology should be implemented before alternative supplies are considered. Rainwater harvesting does not reduce water consumption, but water efficiencies will.
Unlike rainwater harvesting, greywater recycling saves mains water regardless of external environmental factors and reduces water consumption within a business more consistently. Greywater recycling reuses water used in baths, showers, and hand basins, for use in flushing toilets and irrigating gardens. Therefore, it is suited for installation in buildings, like hotels, that have the potential to meet a significant proportion of domestic demand for water. Greywater is generally installed in new-builds since retrofitting a system is costly and ineffective. Many greywater systems have an increased energy cost due to the ultraviolet disinfection used to treat the water. Some systems are designed to use less energy, and instead of using ultraviolet they use an ultra-membrane filtration technology. A cost-benefit analysis should be carried out to see if the system will meet the demand, produce a shortfall, or would have water stagnant in the tank. Premier Inn installs greywater systems in all newly constructed properties, which can reduce water consumption in hotels by 40 percent.
Operational water use can be reduced to almost zero in most industrial systems. Bespoke recycling systems, custom-designed for specific processes, can reuse significant volumes of water. Located in the UK, Walkers Crisps (PepsiCo) plans to stop water intake at all manufacturing sites in the next 10 years by capturing, treating, and reusing water extracted from potatoes during slicing and frying.
Sustainable drainage systems (SuDS). All new buildings in the UK have a mandatory requirement for sustainable drainage where feasible over conventional drainage. The reason is to retain surface water runoff on site and release it at a controlled rate. SuDS are designed to reduce the potential effect of new and existing developments on surface water drainage discharges. Urbanization has caused areas of vegetation to be replaced with impermeable surfaces that do not have the ability to absorb rainwater, which overloads the drains and causes flooding. These drainage systems aim to replicate natural systems to drain away dirty water run off through collection, storage, and cleaning, before slowly releasing it back to the environment. They should be easy to manage, require very little energy input, be resilient to use, and should be environmentally and aesthetically attractive. They should also use the following techniques: source control, permeable paving, water detention, infiltration, and evapotranspiration. This water can be recycled for use in buildings by using underground attenuation tanks for storage.
Holistic water management maximizes available water resources on a large scale beyond one company’s needs. Water management should focus on the allocation of water on an equitable basis to satisfy all demands in a catchment area. Businesses share similar water issues, such as availability and quality, but each water management approach should be unique depending on its location and water-consuming processes employed. Water reduction and efficiency is the first step towards achieving water stewardship, and the influences and drivers can be varied for each regional area.
Historically, business’ overuse of water had minimal effect on global water resources. However, businesses cannot afford to ignore the potential risks that can occur from the lack of understanding of their water use, its effect on the local catchment, and of the importance of a strategy to reduce freshwater dependency.
Numerous water management strategies can be implemented to suit different businesses. Every saving made is a step closer to a more sustainable water environment, not just for the business, but also for the local community.
Sainsbury’s Supermarkets Limited achieved a relative reduction in their water use through an operational water management strategy that included installing automated meter reads, efficiency measures, rainwater harvesting and bespoke recycling.
Due to the company’s commitment to sustainability and corporate social responsibility, a target of 50 percent relative reduction against sales area, compared to a 2005-2006 baseline, was set.
This strategy has saved one billion litres of water compared to the baseline. Annual savings from some of the water-saving techniques implemented include: pre-rinse spray taps that saved 29,000 m3, remedial works that saved 119,064 m3, urinal controls that saved 50,310 m3, shared supply that saved 50,000 m3, account analysis that saved 147,000 m3, and rainwater harvesting RWH at Sainsbury’s Swansea saved 1,300 m3.
All new stores aim to be 50 percent more efficient than the baseline year, and install a suite of water-efficient technologies and rainwater harvesting systems as standard.
Sainsbury’s aims to be the UK’s greenest grocer, and has consequently opened two new stores that are water-neutral. The UK Environment Agency and government define water neutrality as no net increase in water use after a development in a pre-defined area, which encompasses the new development and surrounding area.
The company reduced water consumption at the Leicester and Weymouth stores as much as possible before offsetting the remaining water used in the stores in the local community.