This is the third in a series of posts highlighting key takeaways from our latest eBook, Best Practices: Water Management Programs For Facilities, outlining insights from our section on water usage.
As population growth, climate change, and pollution increase, the world’s freshwater supply has become increasingly at risk. Water efficiency standards for non-residential facilities were introduced into federal law by the U.S. Energy Policy Act of 1992, signaling the increasing pressure to implement water conservation measures. In 2006, the EPA created WaterSense, a voluntary program that provides resources to residential and non-residential water users for water conservation.
While the case for improving sustainable water practices may be clear to environmentalists, businesses must still weigh the costs and benefits of major changes to their facility infrastructure and management practices. By embracing sustainable water management strategies, organizations can realize cost savings in the variable costs of water as well as energy costs associated with storage, heating, and movement of water throughout a facility. Sustainably managing water centers on reducing overall consumption through enhancing facility infrastructure, educating water users, and implementing other best practices for water use.
In planning, you should evaluate the amount of water your facility currently uses, identify areas where you can reduce that amount, craft an action plan, and collect data to monitor and track progress.
An initial step to allow you to evaluate the consumption of existing equipment and fixtures is to conduct a water audit, usually by a utility, plumber, outside consultant, or by a company’s own facility managers. Specifically, your water audit might identify leaks, excessive consumption patterns, and inefficient equipment or maintenance practices – ultimately, it should provide benchmarks for improving water use efficiency.
Once a manager has an understanding of the current picture, they should identify areas where water can be more sustainably managed and set measurable, time-bound goals for water use – for example, a goal may be to “reduce outdoor water use by 20% from the current baseline by Q4.”
A facility manager should review efficiency standards for existing and new facilities – essential regulatory standards provide a guideline for minimum requirements, while green building standards can be a valuable resource for a proactive water usage initiative.
Benchmarking is an effective exercise for facility managers setting new water use objectives – calculating the total amount of water used per square foot or other relevant units. The Us Energy Information Administration Commercial Buildings Energy Consumption Survey provides useful benchmarks for facility managers setting water use objectives.
After setting appropriate and attainable water use goals, a facility manager should create an action plan to address areas of inefficiency, including activities that will detect and repair leaks, a plan to replace or repair inefficient equipment, and a plan to educate water users on strategies to reduce water consumption.
Monitoring & Tracking
The most important factor in sustainable water management for facilities is accurately measuring water use and collecting data to show how you’re progressing toward your goals. Consider what qualitative objectives may require facility managers to collect data through observations or surveys.
Many water use objectives can be tracked and monitored through proper metering and submetering. The AWWA sets standards and guidelines for meters installed by any water utility in the US – facilities should review the FEMP Technical Water Meter Selection Guidelines for assistance in selecting the appropriate size, type, and placement of meters and submeters.
Facilities should install separate submeters for any evaporative cooling towers, which can account for 20-50% of the total water used, as well as submeters for registering outdoor water use or irrigation.
At a minimum, facility managers should commit to collecting meter and submeter data on a monthly basis, evaluating trends regularly to track toward goals.
Organizations should develop a communications strategy in parallel with their action plan for sustainable water management. Overall goals, objectives, and the action plan should be communicated to organizational leadership, employees, and visitors.
Engaging leadership to solicit their personal commitment to your sustainable water strategy can help cultivate an organizational culture that prioritizes those goals. Having leadership write or record a statement about the importance of the program can encourage other employees to participate more readily.
Educating water users themselves on sustainable behaviors can encourage the small changes in behavior that lead to substantial changes in water use. Whether it’s asking users to turn off the water while soaping their hands, report leaks, or use water saving settings on appliances, those tweaks can have a big impact. Communicate with visual reminders, digital notices, or announcements during staff meetings to keep these behaviors top of mind. It’s also important to communicate the proper use of new technology when it is installed to maximize water savings, holding training sessions when necessary.
To go more in-depth, download our full eBook here.