The appeal for green is growing: Among Americans, 77 percent say they are concerned about the environmental impact of the products they buy, according to a study this year from GreenPrint, an environmental technology company.
In addition, nearly eight in 10 consumers indicate sustainability is important to them, and more than 70 percent would pay an average of 35 percent more for brands that demonstrate environmental responsibility, per an IBM survey released in 2020 (pdf). These preferences signal a change from several years earlier, when a study by Euromonitor International found consumers were ambivalent toward environmental claims by companies.
In practice, manufacturers across the globe are listening to these consumer trends. They’re also attuned to concerns about water scarcity and availability, especially as they relate to processes known for using high amounts of the resource. Producing a new car, for instance, requires approximately 39,000 gallons of water, while a T-shirt might need about 700 gallons and a microchip takes eight gallons.
“A lot of manufacturers are starting to learn that getting enough water is not as easy as it was before,” Stephen Katz, a water reuse expert at SUEZ – Water Technologies & Solutions, told The Epoch Times.
Here’s a look at what’s taking place to conserve water among manufacturers, and how these changes can affect the bottom line.
Monitoring Water Consumption
The amount of water used on a daily and weekly basis largely depends on the processes involved.
“One of the most efficient means of saving water is to establish a survey committee that does a quarterly evaluation of the water usage in the plant,” Alex Mastin, founder and CEO of Homegrounds, which works closely with coffee manufacturers, told The Epoch Times. Once the survey has identified the levels of water used at each step in the manufacturing process, suggestions can be made to help lower the water usage at certain points.
“A large part of this process is to identify leakages and wastage,” Mastin said. “These leakages are usually responsible for a substantial amount of water wastage.” Even a slow-dripping tap can result in thousands of liters of water lost over a year.
There are several tools to help companies assess their water use and risks as they relate to the availability of water in regions where they operate. These include the Water Footprint Assessment from the Water Footprint Network, the Local Water Tool from the Global Environmental Management Institute, and the Aqueduct Tool from the World Resources Institute.
Reusing Treated Wastewater
For manufacturers that traditionally sent wastewater down the drain, switching to a recycling mindset can reduce overall water consumption. This involves taking a look at how water is used in each process, and pinpointing opportunities in which treated wastewater could be reused.
When implementing methods to treat and recycle water, “the learning curve is usually not huge,” Katz said. Employees are typically used to working with equipment and following procedures, so putting in a system to treat water and then use it again in certain areas of a plant may simply require workers to grow accustomed to the new steps.
Some companies are setting water conservation as a key performance indicator (KPI).
“This not only works to better your green initiatives, but also helps create a more efficient resource usage across the production process,” Mastin said. Manufacturers might aim to use a certain percentage, such as 15 percent, less water from one year to the next. Other KPIs could involve processes, quality issues, and costs related to water usage.
By helping workers understand the importance of water consumption and company goals associated with it, manufacturers open the doors of opportunity for creativity.
“You need to educate your employees on the benefits of water conservation,” Christina Giaquinto, an environmental analyst at Modular Closets, told The Epoch Times.
Individuals may come up with their own ideas or innovations to help reduce water consumption. If programs are initiated that contain awards or bonuses for hitting certain water metrics, employees may be incentivized to join in the campaign.
Creating Value From Water
Rather than solely focusing on water-use reduction strategies, some manufacturers are starting to look at the resource as a value stream. Those in the food industries, for instance, may decide to turn high-strength wastewater into biogas, which can then be used as an energy source.
“This idea of taking energy to destroy or treat high-strength wastewater has morphed into seeing high-strength wastewater as a great source of fuel,” Katz said.
In a similar approach, food producers that have waste streams containing nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorus can use these to create fertilizers, which, in turn, add value to crops.
Overall, the greatest benefit may be the chance to overcome obstacles created by limited water supplies.
“The water in the world is finite,” Katz said. “We’re seeing areas with significant populations and a rising demand for water.”
Playing their part in water conservation, then, allows manufacturers to maintain a sustainable approach to operate in current times—and in the years to come.