As water-dependent companies seek to cut their usage and survive through punishing droughts, Costco is finding solutions with the help of the latest computing technologies – the cloud, data algorithms, wireless tech and low-cost sensors. Through a partnership with Washington-based startup Apana, the retail giant is employing innovative water-conservation technology to cut water use and generate significant cost savings.
Costco first tested the Apana technology on several of its buildings in Mexico. After saving thousands of dollars at each facility, the company has now expanded its use of the technology to over 50 buildings in North America.
Apana’s technology gives Costco a minute-by-minute look into the amount and time of buildings’ water use, using data from sensors and water meters. Algorithms are designed to issue alerts when the system detects unusual spikes in water use, which might result from faulty equipment or wasteful behavior by employees.
Costco VP Todd Thull told Fortune that the water-efficiency systems have been a “tremendous benefit,” helping to cut the company’s water use by 22 percent. According to Thull, the savings already outweigh the cost of installing the system.
Many companies have employed similar data alert systems for electricity use in their buildings, but fewer focus on water use because of its historically low cost. This is changing as droughts continue, risks of water scarcity increase, and the public takes notice. Companies such as Lagoon, Dropcountr, WaterSmart, WatrHub, and Ecolab, among others, are starting to build software to manage and reduce water use. And just last month, SABMiller reported saving US$17 million in 2014, compared with 2010, through water- and energy-reduction initiatives. While growing its production volumes, the brewing giant cut water use per liters of beer by 28 percent to 3.3 liters, exceeding its 2015 target.