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With rising water costs, aging water distribution infrastructure, and ongoing concerns about the risk of droughts, efforts to reduce water use have multiple payoffs for organizations. An important framework is now available to help guide water conservation efforts: the Alliance for Water Stewardship standard. It can help facility managers address the full range of water conservation opportunities, while tackling other issues like runoff.
Buildings that are not water-intensive manufacturing or agricultural sites often mistakenly believe they don’t use a lot of water or that the buildings themselves don’t have a big impact on the surrounding area. That’s why it’s important for facility managers to understand how they use water. “There are bottom-line implications for building owners,” says Matt Howard, director of the Alliance for Water Stewardship, North America. The mission of AWS is to “lead a global network that promotes responsible use of freshwater that is socially and economically beneficial and environmentally sustainable.” The AWS standard offers a framework for organizations around the world to understand their water use and its impact and to work together for sustainable water management.
The standard can help facilities change the way they think about water. The standard “functions as a strategic framework to mitigate water-related costs,” Howard says. It can provide a perspective on how buildings are managing and using water as well as the way people perceive that a building uses water. The standard helps to put a water management system in place that offers more strategies to address risks and ultimately help facility managers maintain a highly efficient building.
“By adopting a standard that is laser-focused on water in four key areas — sustainable water balance, good water quality, healthy water-related areas and good water governance — knowledge and awareness of water and the facility’s entire catchment, or watershed, quickly become top of mind,” says Nelson A. Switzer, chief sustainability officer at Nestlé Waters North America. “Awareness has been found to be the single most influential factor in driving efficiency and conservation activities.” Nestle Waters North America has received AWS certification for its Ontario, Calif., facility.
How the AWS standard can help
The standard lays out a six-step process:
1. Commit to water stewardship.
2. Gather data to understand shared water challenges and water-related risks, impacts, and opportunities.
3. Develop a water stewardship plan.
4. Implement site stewardship plan and improve impacts.
5. Evaluate the site’s performance.
6. Communicate about water stewardship and disclose the site’s stewardship efforts.
A key step is learning how a facility now uses water. “The standard asks sites to review water usage data and develop a water balance,” says Audrey Templeton, corporate environmental manager for MillerCoors. “With this information a reduction target can be set, and opportunities to improve can be identified.” MillerCoors is implementing the AWS standard.
The standard provides third-party validation of efficiency efforts. “It certifies that we are keeping track of our progress and improving over time,” says Marco Ugarte Irizarri, sustainability manager at MillerCoors. The standard provides the opportunity to demonstrate that the company “is an active member of our community while advancing a sustainable strategy,” he says.
There are many opportunities to address water issues important to the local community. For example, parking lot runoff can have a significant impact on the sewer system after a heavy storm, Howard says. Ways to control, manage, and mitigate runoff include elements such as bioswales and green roofs.
To overcome obstacles to water efficiency, facility managers should “go after the low hanging fruit first,” recommends Templeton. “Make sure they take into account the whole cost of water.” This includes cost of chemical treatment, heating, cooling, and wastewater discharge, as appropriate. Opportunities for relatively easy gains include areas where water has been continually running, leaks haven’t been addressed, and landscaping that requires significant irrigation.
One “quick and easy” way to save water is aerators on faucets, which can reduce water use from 1.5 gallons per minute to .5 gallons per minute or less, says Joel Marmion, senior product marketing analyst – finish plumbing, Zurn Industries. Urinal retrofits are another water-saving option.
The message of water stewardship is resonating in large organizations. “There are a host of compelling reasons to prioritize water conservation for industrial, commercial, and institutional buildings,” says Switzer. He cites competition for tenants, reduction of energy used for pumping water, and reducing pollution loading among the benefits.
For more information about AWS, visit a4ws.org.
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