Posted by Rip Wyma (28 August 2012)
Energy efficiency has become a focus area for businesses as the cost of electricity has continued to escalate in recent years. However, when embarking upon carbon footprint reduction initiatives and when looking to reduce resource usage to decrease costs, many organisations fail to take one all-important area into account: water. Inefficient use of water, wastage and leaks all add up. The increasing scarcity of water as a resource coupled with once again escalating costs means that businesses need to become more mindful of water consumption, or else face the consequences of literally flushing money down the drain.
As populations have increased and nations have become more industrialised across the globe, water as a resource is becoming increasingly scarce. This is a problem across the world, as highlighted in Creamer Medias Water Report Water 2012: A review of South Africas water sector. The report states that according to estimates by the United Nations Environmental Programme, "failure to adequately invest in water services and to collect, treat and reuse water efficiently... is exacerbating water shortages in many parts of the world and contributing to a situation where global demand for water could outstrip supply within 20 years." This is a global trend, of which South Africa is also a part.
In South Africa, there are multiple issues surrounding water. Firstly, we have limited natural water supplies, and already import some of our water from the Lesotho highlands. As a country we have also experienced massive growth in the past few decades, which is putting strain on our limited water resources. Clean drinking water is a luxury in many parts of the country, and as society becomes more and more urbanised, demand increases and supply cannot keep up. These challenges are compounded by ailing infrastructure, haphazard infrastructure development which has resulted in sewerage finding its way into ground water, and other issues such as mine drainage creating contaminated acid water underground.
The upshot of this is that water is going to become increasingly expensive over time, and if organisations continue with wasteful water practices, it will become less and less affordable. The effects of this are being felt even now, with water in Johannesburg costing up to three times as much as water in Pretoria. The challenge lies in recognising this as a cost that can be reduced and in taking steps to reduce water consumption, eliminate wastage and apply the right type of water to the right situation.
One of the easiest ways to optimise water consumption is to fix leaks as soon as possible, which minimises wastage. Leaking taps, leaking toilets and leaking pipes all contribute to wasted water and additional expenses. Managing water consumption and identifying the potential for leaks can be done by installing a logger on the water metre, which will measure and monitor water consumption on a daily, weekly and monthly basis. This can also be linked into a building management system (BMS) for automated monitoring and inclusion into the BMS dashboard.
However, these solutions can be expensive, which puts them out of the price range of many businesses. The simplest and cheapest solution to monitoring water consumption is to check the water metre at a certain time on a certain day each week. This allows organisations to build a picture of water consumption and to figure out if there are any latent issues that need fixing, as well as give a baseline average to help identify leaks and wastage in the future.
Rain water collection tanks are another area that can be explored, harvesting and using rainwater for irrigation. This can be done fairly easily, and is a cost-effective way of minimising excessive use of expensively treated drinking water. Grey water systems are also an option, however they are expensive and require specialist plumbing and treatment facilities on-site, which puts these solutions out of the price range of many businesses.
While systems can be put into place to measure and monitor water usage and to reduce the consumption of precious clean drinking water, the most important change that needs to take place is South Africa is that of culture. As a country we have grown used to an abundant and cheap supply of clean water, and on the whole, South Africans are indifferent towards water consumption. Many organisations do not seem to realise just how much water wastage is costing the bottom line, as water usage is typically included in a general rates bill.
Water management needs to become part of the culture of business, and organisations should look towards including water efficiency into the general energy and environmental management portfolio. Water is becoming an increasingly scarce resource, and organisations need to begin taking steps to ensure they are not flushing this resource and their profits down the drain.