Although summer is now officially in 2015’s rear-view mirror, water — access and pricing — is still making waves throughout the country. Water rates continue to rise in almost every major U.S. city, and in the West, unprecedented drought conditions have spurred tougher regulations and restrictions on residential and commercial customers.
Ecova has more than 700 commercial and industrial clients representing more than 700,000 individual sites across the country. Recently, Ecova polled a group of its existing clients with sites in California to better understand:
- Level of concern around water consumption and cost trends
- Level of concern around California fines and penalties
- Which conservation measures were being implemented and where
- If they had seen a return on investment from conservation measures
Poll respondents included convenience/quick serve, retail, hospitality, and senior living industries. Overall, concern about water was high across all industries. On a scale of zero (low) to five (high), respondents averaged 4.2 for concerns with water conservation. That number increased to 4.7 when asked about concerns with water fines and penalties. In response to conservation efforts in California, respondents indicated that they had begun implementing focused conservation measures at California sites and were planning to roll them out regionally, or to their entire portfolio.
One hotel respondent, which worked with Ecova to identify properties that were water usage outliers, set a reduction goal of three percent for 2015. To reach the three percent reduction goal, this hotel group implemented a water awareness campaign across all properties. The campaign includes posting best practices signage at the back of the house. Properties are also encouraged to participate in linen and towel reuse programs, where guests may opt to not have towels and linens changed daily during multi-night stays. They also plan to create a newsletter to distribute to all facility and housekeeping employees that ranks properties on water use, in order to create a friendly competition between properties and engage the employees more personally in the business success.
In our survey, respondents did not yet have quantifiable results from conservation measure implementation. However, many shared positive feedback they had heard from vendors, employees or customers. One hotel respondent noted, “Positive comments are coming back about the linen and towel program. Guests are glad to see that we are doing it.” And one convenience store chain, who rated its concern with water conservation a five on the scale of zero to five, shared that “landlords, customers and store associates all felt like part of the solution when it came to looking for ways to curb water use.”
While respondents were from diverse industries, it was easy to agree on one thing: They did not want to pay fines for water use when usage could be easily offset with simple conservation measures – which saved the company money, too.
Drought conditions or not, there are good reasons for making a commitment to water conservation. Water and sewer costs have increased an average of 40 percent across all industries since 2008. Water now comprises more than 10 percent of total utility costs for most business (even more if you consider combined water and sewer), and is the second-greatest opportunity for savings behind energy. Companies should be actively managing water use and costs, because doing nothing now will cost more later on. The good news is that many water-saving strategies take little expense or effort.
The following are some of the measures that poll respondents said they were already implementing. Most are simple, low-cost improvements that can have strong returns over time.
- Landscaping improvements, such as installing irrigation timers, reducing watering time and removing turf in favor of more drought-tolerant landscaping. Smart irrigation systems can detect soil moisture content and also track weather, which can prevent overwatering and reduce consumption.
- Restroom and kitchen upgrades, including flush valves, faucet aerators, low-flow toilets and showerheads. Today’s aerators and low-flow products save 30 percent (or more) of water used without a significant impact on water pressure.
- Water reclamation systems at car washes
- Giving hotel guests the option to reuse bed linens and towels rather than having them washed
- Training employees on conservation actions through presentations, reports and newsletters
This survey provided only a glimpse at what a select group of companies with sites in California and around the country are doing to conserve water. If you haven’t already, look for opportunities to make water conservation a formal part of your energy and sustainability strategy to save now — during crucial times of drought — as well as later, as costs continue to rise.