Avoiding Looming Water Problems

Many people are surprised to learn that the Chinese word for crisis actually has two meanings. The same Chinese characters that represents “danger” also means “opportunity.” Similarly, the future water challenges expected in the United States and other parts of the world may actually be opportunities in disguise.

In May 2014, the Pacific Institute (which researches and promotes sustainability-related issues), along with VOX Global (a public affairs and communications firm), contacted senior executives from more than 50 major companies in the United States—including such large and extremely well-known corporations as AT&T, The Hershey Company, MillerCoors, and the Union Pacific Railroad—to survey them regarding water issues.

These researchers found that 60 percent of the companies surveyed believe looming problems associated with water are poised to negatively affect their businesses. In fact, 80 percent reported that water issues are already impacting their decision-making regarding such issues as where to locate new facilities, for example.

However, while most of these companies believe water challenges will significantly worsen in the next few years, the majority of those surveyed say they have no plans to increase their water risk-management practices or, for that matter, to look for significant ways to reduce their own water consumption. There may be several reasons for this hesitant corporate behavior; however, the one that typically surfaces, and which was referenced in the study is costs. Many organizations believe implementing new technologies and procedures to reduce water consumption and increase water-usage efficiency will be a costly endeavor.

But the truth is, a small investment in water-use reducing technologies can often produce a significant financial return through decreases in both water consumption and related charges. In fact, according to John Schulz, assistant vice president of sustainability operations for AT&T, “Relatively small capital investments [in these water reducing technologies] can bring about nearly 10 times the amount of savings in annual water costs.”

One option that can often produce virtually immediate reductions in water consumption at minimal cost is the installation of waterless urinals. Conventional urinals installed in schools, offices, and other facilities use about 40,000 gallons of water per year.  Installing a waterless system, in most cases right over the footprint of the existing urinal, can drastically reduce this consumption.

This evidence backs up Schulz’ comment that a relatively small capital investment can provide significant water-saving results. And such new “smart” technologies will likely pay dividends in other ways as well. For instance, in a separate study, the Pacific Institute reports that investing in water-reducing technologies today will not only help address the water challenges expected in the coming years, but also create thousands of jobs and a wide range of new professions over the next 15 years—an outcome that would be welcomed by corporations, governments, and individuals alike.