Facilities such as schools, hotels, retail stores, office buildings and hospitals account for up to 17 percent of publicly supplied water use in the U.S., according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
Reducing water use by adopting water-efficient products, services and practices in these facilities can have a great impact in lowering water and sewer costs, and can help to meet challenges faced by communities to meet water demands, save energy and reduce stress on natural resources.
If cost savings and social responsibility are not sufficient reasons for conserving water, consider that the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design for Existing Buildings Operations and Management (LEED-EBOM) requires a 20 percent reduction in water use as a prerequisite for project recertification and offers up to 14 LEED water-efficiency credits.
The Cleaning Industry Management Standard for Green Buildings (CIMS-GB), which provides cleaning organizations with guidance to secure cleaning-related points under LEED-EBOM, calls for organizations to have a resource conservation plan, including water.
Going through the process of building a water conservation plan helps organizations identify water use, discover opportunities for savings, set goals, take action and commit to continuous improvement, leading to a more cost-effective, sustainable cleaning operation.
Identify Water Use And Savings Opportunities
The first step in developing a water conservation plan is conducting a water audit.
This typically involves a number of steps, including:
- Analyzing the plumbing layout for a facility, including where water is brought into the facility and the number of water fixtures in the building
- Based on the number of people in the building at any given time, estimating the amount of water used at each location within the building by both occupants and cleaning workers
- Reviewing the water and sewer bills and any metering data that might be available
- Identifying any leaks or additional sources of waste (i.e. employees who let water run before filling buckets), then adding that data to the estimated water use for each fixture/location
- Assessing and quantifying water conservation devices and practices already in place.
The auditing process helps pinpoint where improvements can be made by repairing leaks or implementing water-saving systems, tools, products and equipment.
Keeping future water use and trends in mind, organizations can then start to set targets for water use and savings.
One goal could be to reduce water use by a certain percentage per year for a period of years.
Another goal could be to complete the projects identified through the audit within a set timeframe.
Or yet another goal could be to simply replace a type of equipment, system or procedure with a more water-efficient one by a certain date.
When setting goals, organizations should ensure goals are achievable and measurable.
Then they can communicate their goals to building occupants and stakeholders to gain support and raise awareness regarding water conservation.
Once goals are set, organizations can put together an action plan for achieving them.
Part of this process is identifying projects and preparing a benefit and cost analysis of potential water conservation measures.
Organizations should consider all the costs associated with a proposed conservation measure including the initial purchase price as well as maintenance, repair and employee training.
Then determine the savings, including water and energy savings, labor savings, increased safety and so on.
For example, if an organization switches from a traditional mop-and-bucket floor cleaning system to using microfiber mops and charging buckets, there is an upfront cost of buying the new tools and equipment and training workers.
However, the new system is designed to minimize chemical and water use by 95 percent, save time by not requiring emptying and refilling of buckets and reduces worker strain and injuries.
A labor, cost and resource analysis of the two systems will help organizations calculate the potential payback.
Other goals might include retrofitting restroom fixtures to low-flow options, establishing a leak-detection program or using on-site alternative water sources.
Organizations should prioritize projects and document them in a detailed action plan.
When implementing the action plan, organizations should ensure the necessary resources are available to complete projects on time.
They should continue to promote projects to customers and encourage cleaning staff to take action to do their part in conserving water.
Commit To Continuous Improvement
Organizations should periodically evaluate their progress against water conservation goals by reviewing water bills, goals and action plans.
This process allows organizations to set new goals and continually improve.
Within the cleaning industry, we often talk about green cleaning as a journey, not a destination.
The same is true for water conservation.
Products, technology and cleaning methods will keep evolving to help us do our jobs more efficiently and more sustainably, preserving the earth and its resources for future generations.