In this article, we discuss how business ties to water sustainability, the dangers of water scarcity, along with strategies for lowering water usage.
Impacts of Water Scarcity
Water scarcity has been a threat to many regions of the world for decades but now it’s beginning to reveal itself in cities that have never before felt the effects of climate change. It is estimated that by 2025, half of the world’s population could live in water-stressed areas, propelling the demand for water past available supply.
There are many factors that contribute to water scarcity, including population growth and a rising demand for freshwater, pollution and water waste, overused aquifers, climate change and natural disasters such as drought and flooding.
Water is a vital element of global and economic sustainability. It should be no surprise that the agricultural, textile, mining and energy industries use some of the largest amounts of water. However, all businesses across all industries rely on water! Even those that we don’t normally think about being water-intensive such as data centers and tech companies. In fact, a typical data center uses 3-5 million gallons of water per day in order to keep servers cool and running properly.
On a global scale, it is estimated that $260 billion is lost annually due to lack of basic water and sanitation. Continued water scarcity could cost some regions 6% of their GDP by 2050. Not to mention the risk of international conflict and the millions of climate migrants that are displaced due to resource scarcity.
Far more than just an economic issue, water scarcity can have devastating impacts on human health, ecological balance, and community and cultural resilience.
What is Water Sustainability in Business?
Water sustainability refers to the responsible management of water resources to meet the needs of today and those of future generations. Water sustainabIlity in business takes shape in several different ways:
- Conduct a water audit and identifying operational inefficiencies
- Develop a water conservation plan and reduction goals
- Use water-efficient equipment and products such as WaterSense® low-flow plumbing fixtures
- Replace water-cooled equipment with air-cooled equipment if possible
- Install a water refill station in place of single-use water bottles
- Use certified non-toxic products and less pollutive processes
- Routine maintenance and repair to prevent and fix leaks
- Dry sweep or use a water broom instead of hoses
- Less water-intensive landscaping methods such as drip irrigation and drought-resistant plants
- Minimize runoff with vegetative buffers or rain gardens
- Install a rain catchment or gray water system for water reuse
- Use pervious paving materials (e.g.interlocking pavers, porous asphalt, etc.) instead of conventional asphalt and black top
- Provide employees with training and resources on best water conservation practices (Consider these water efficiency tips and resources from the EPA)
- Post “Turn It Off” stickers near sinks and other high-use fixtures to remind users to be mindful of their consumption
Business Benefits of Water Sustainability
With the demand for freshwater rising, businesses can expect their utility bills to increase too. Investing in water conservation measures does more than just lower your water bills however.
Sustainable water management lowers the constant use and stress on equipment which helps improve operational efficiency and reduce the costs associated with repair and replacement. Using water-efficient devices such as cut-off valves also reduces the costs from water wastages, ensuring water is only used when it is needed.
Saving water inside your business means feeding water resources outside in the community. Water sustainability practices help conserve local water supplies and support the people and wildlife that depend on them. This is particularly important in regions prone to water shortages from over-exhausted aquifers or prolonged droughts. Helping conserve and replenish local water supplies is a powerful step towards building community resilience.
Businesses working to reduce their water use can get credit towards sustainability certification which is slowly becoming a global standard across all industries. More than just a seal of credibility and trust, sustainability certifications are tools designed to help organizations lower their environmental/social impacts and reap the benefits of such improvements.
There are also tax credits and rebates available for businesses investing in water-efficiency products. Check out the WaterSense® Rebate Finder to locate product rebates offered in your area. ENERGY STAR certified dishwashers and washing machines also qualify for rebates along with federal tax credits for ENERGY STAR certified electric and gas water heaters. Research tax incentives in your city for water reuse and recycling programs (e.g. rain water harvesting).
Water sustainability efforts can enhance your company reputation as well. Making an active effort to conserve resources and consume responsibly shows stakeholders that you’re looking out for the greater good. This boost to your reputation gains stakeholder trust, positions you as a green leader among competition, and can attract new customers and passionate employees.
Water Sustainability Resources to Share with Your Team
Water Footprint Implementation in collaboration with the Water Footprint Network provides an assessment tool for businesses to calculate their water footprint including both direct and indirect water use in their operations and products.
UN-Water, which coordinates the United Nations’ work on water and sanitation, highlights global efforts towards Sustainable Development Goal 6 “Clean Water and Sanitation” including data and progress reports.
The U.S. Geological Survey provides a wealth of educational material on the global water cycle and how it is impacted by human activities, water quality, ground and surface water, among many other water-related topics.
Water – Use It Wisely (WUIW) offers newsletters and online content full of water-saving tips and projects.
Consider donating to one of these organizations combating the global water crisis:
- Charity: Water
- Water for People
- Water Aid
- Blood: Water
- Thirst Project
- Drop in the Bucket
- H20 for Life
Even with a growing body of environmental regulations to hold industries accountable, there is still some uncertainty on how best to create a world that is equally sustainable and economically thriving.
In regards to water sustainability, a global water market in which governments and industries trade credits for water use has been proposed to help address the water crisis and hold the largest consumers accountable.
Taking action to better manage and conserve resources, in whatever form that may be, is a responsibility that all businesses have. Collectively, the changes businesses make internally to reduce their impact adds up and makes a difference. There are a variety of ways to pursue water sustainability as a business and even investing in just one conservation measure is beneficial to your business, community, and beyond. So really, there is no excuse for not taking any level of action.