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Improving your bottom line with water conservation

Posted: July 11, 2012 7:53 p.m.
Updated: July 11, 2012 7:53 p.m.

Controlling or reducing expenses can always help the bottom line. However, many companies often overlook one area to improve efficiencies — their water use.

There are multiple benefits to saving water in your business. 

Cost benefit
Water is still relatively inexpensive when compared to other utility-related costs. That may be one reason companies overlook water when considering efficiency measures and investments.

Additionally, some water-saving solutions for companies initially may appear as too costly in terms of upfront expense and eventual return on investment.

Obviously, the size and type of your business makes a difference. Because of investments in on-site water recycling, Frito-Lay has saved 1 billion gallons of water (and counting) at a major food manufacturing plant in Texas.

The Staples Center in Los Angeles is saving seven million gallons a year just through the installation of waterless urinals.

Where to begin?
Interested companies should focus on where you can get the most bang-for-your-buck in water savings. Take an end-to-end evaluation yourself or ask for a professional audit — many water agencies offer commercial water audits for free. Outdoor landscaping can account for up to half of a company’s water use. Dishwashing is the largest use of water at restaurants. Cooling tower operations at many warehouses and commercial operations are often overlooked as an area to save water because they are “out of sight.”

Next, take a look at the “total” cost savings. For instance, a drought-tolerant landscape might avoid maintenance costs (mowing, sprinkler repair). In terms of washing operations (e.g., food plants, industrial sites with rinse baths, cooling towers, and truck yards) there would be avoided costs like wastewater fees, wastewater testing, and compliance and reporting associated with high-volume sewer discharges.

All of those fees far exceed the cost of water. The return on investment is important, too. Restrooms represent about 30 percent of a typical company’s water use.

Switching to water-efficient plumbing fixtures could save an office of 10 employees between $50 to $100 a year on water and wastewater bills, according to research conducted by the Green and Save organization, which promotes green offices.

The return on investment for installing high-efficiency toilets and waterless urinals would take about six to seven years. Replacing faucet aerators with more-efficient versions provides more immediate returns.

Many water districts are currently providing rebates on installation of high-efficiency irrigation sprinklers and spray heads, and some are giving away weather-based irrigation controllers and timers.

These measures typically result in 30-percent less water use without impacting appearance or the health of plants. The return on investment here is less than three years, on average.

Positive image
A sustainability initiative, such as saving water and energy, has proven to have significant economic and social benefits for businesses. Saving and protecting natural resources, reducing carbon footprints and similar measures began under the auspices of being a good corporate citizen.

Today, companies in California and around the world recognize that sustainability programs are now part of a core financial strategy. A recent Massachussetts Institute of Technology Sloan Management survey found most corporate managers believe a sustainability strategy is a competitive necessity.

Consumers are increasingly making market choices based in part on a company’s overall sustainability scorecard.

Within the past year, water has been added as a critical new chapter in voluntary corporate sustainability reporting and even in some financial disclosure reports. 

Surveys indicate that a company’s sustainability initiative — as a function of their overall corporate social responsibility effort — is a factor in some employment recruitment and job searches.  
Where to begin?

In many cases, saving water can be easy and inexpensive for companies. Even a few small measures can have both a positive economic and corporate image impact. A good starting point is to contact your local water district for information, or ask for a comprehensive evaluation of your water use.

Maria Gutzeit is a board member for the Newhall County Water District. The views expressed represent her own, and not necessarily those of The Signal.


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