Last week, California adopted a statewide requirement to reduce urban potable water consumption by 25%. The response to Governor Jerry Brown’s April Executive Order to cut water use comes as the state continues experiencing one of its worst droughts on record, with implications for industries from tourism to homebuilding. Alongside water-saving options for homeowners, restauranteurs and corporate offices are pressed now more than ever to employ water-saving tactics.
Ecova, an energy and sustainability management company with over 700 multi-site clients—the majority of them impacted by the drought—has managed more than 100 trillion gallons of water nationwide. Their strategies exemplify that beyond basic interventions to save water, a holistic approach to energy management is perhaps the best way to reduce resource consumption overall, water included. While this work is on a grander scale, similar tactics are applicable at the homeowner or small business level. Here are three key strategies to reducing water consumption in drought-affected regions and beyond.
- Remember energy and water are not mutually exclusive
“When you’re reducing heated water consumption, you’re also reducing electric and natural gas,” explains Brooke Mittermann, energy and sustainability program manager at Ecova. “Our ultimate goal is to reduce expenses and resource consumption for our clients.” By working to cut costs for hundreds of corporate clients (including 20% of the Fortune 500), Ecova handles each client on a case-by-case basis with more than 50% now collecting and monitoring real-time energy data. This allows companies to utilize both historic utility use data, as well as current information to pinpoint peak resource use and highlight opportunities for improvement. Partnered with ENERGY STAR, Evoca monitors both energy and water performance in tandem for more than 70,000 buildings per month, producing benchmarking reports that help business reach a specific goal like 25% water use reduction. Even where water conservation is not the primary goal, pairing energy and water efficiency measures yields greater returns and mitigates the risk of increasing water rates, an ancillary, but equally important, benefit.
- Make it easy to get back to basics
“After energy, water is the second greatest opportunity for savings,” says Mittermann. When it comes directly to water, a comprehensive plan starts with the basics. “Aerators are a great place to start, yield immediate benefits, and don’t require extensive employee training or education.” One of the many pieces of the water strategy for Ecova client Shari’s Café and Pies is the installation of aerators, which have provided between seven and 10% reduction in water costs during non-irrigation months. For Arby’s Restaurant Group, Inc., another restaurant chain who have a strong focus on commercial kitchen use, water consumption from 2011 through 2013 at company-owned restaurants was reduced by more than 75 million gallons of water, which equates to 115 Olympic-sized pools.
In order to boost the attractiveness of some measures, Ecova works with utility incentives programs that vary state-to-state—such as those offered by California natural gas companies—which make it more financially advantageous for clients to adopt new measures to cut consumption. Beyond indoor water reduction measures like low-flow aerators and shower heads, targeting irrigation is critical, particularly for West Coast companies with golf courses and other landscaping needs. Mittermann says incentives like for turf removal are available in drought-prone climates, and those incentives are expected to continue growing.
- Get everyone involved
Employee engagement is vital to a comprehensive plan for efficiency. Employee training identifies problem areas for energy and water consumption and educates staff about ways they can reduce it. “Small changes to existing policies or cleaning procedures can make a big difference. If we can increase awareness and give employees the tools to [get involved], there is absolutely willingness,” asserts Mittermann. In a client survey conducted by Ecova, water remained the second greatest area for savings among clients in 2014, but water conservation rose in priority 10% year-over-year.
In specifically addressing the drought in California, Mittermann says that helping clients through the complexity of unfolding regulations is a priority, but believes that similar regulations and incentives to reduce consumption will not be exclusive to the state. “In the past five years, we’ve seen a 30% increase in water costs and we expect this trend to continue,” says Mittermann, “it’s going to affect our clients across the country.” As prices climb, adopting strategies like a resource-wide approach, metering and monitoring that leverages real-time data, and community involvement will be three important ways to reduce water consumption, and save money.