Sustainability 101: Water, The New Carbon. Measuring Your Water Footprint.

More and more businesses are increasing their awareness of water use by conducting audits to better understand their use and to establish more efficient routines. This makes us vulnerable to higher water costs as water scarcity becomes an issue. Reducing your water consumption now will decrease immediate costs and will lead to an increase in future profits.
Determining your organization’s water footprint not only allows you to track your corporate sustainability indicators, it serves as a stepping stone for calculating and reducing your product’s water footprint as well.

An organization should ask itself a few key questions as it starts to look at risks, related impact, and opportunities around a water sustainability initiative.
* What is our water footprint? How much are we using and what are the related impacts of the water resources?
* Are there water-related risks to our organization? Is the quality and availability
of water adequate to meet the current and future needs of our organization?
* How do stakeholders view our use of and impacts on water resources?
* Are there opportunities present through water for our company? How can we save money, enhance reputation, and reduce risk through changing our water usage habits, such as helping to improve water quality and access to those who need it?
* How does the water-use practice tie in with our overarching sustainability vision? Is this consistent with the rest of our sustainability initiatives?
* Are we leaders, followers, or collaborators?
* How can we set realistic goals? We need to have conservative targets so everyone can measure the gains and benchmark our goals against key indicators, such as kilolitres per square meter of space.
* How can we develop a reduction strategy that follows the principles of avoid, reduce, reuse, recycle, and rethink?
* How can we best involve our employees? Behavioral change will lead to water savings. Engaging staff will also empower them to find potential areas that we might not have thought of.
Measuring Your Inputs
The WBCSD’s Global Water Tool, launched at World Water Week 2007 in Stockholm and updated in 2009 for the 5th World Water Forum in Istanbul, is a free and easy-to-use tool for companies and organizations to map their water use and assess risks relative to their global operations and supply chains.
Assess Water Quality
Preparing an assessment of water quality is a detailed and time-consuming process, depending on the size of your organization and its constraints regarding people and budget. Anytime you start doing a water assessment, you should contact your local water works agency because of the many considerations you may not be aware of. For larger-scoped projects, you may even want to consider an outside expert who
understands the water systems in the area of your assessment.
In general, most businesses (particularly manufacturers) can save water by reusing water from an appropriate source. To do this, they will most likely need to undertake a risk assessment of the water source and its intended uses and conduct trials to make sure the treatment process and its management works well and complies with guidelines and requirements.
Reusing wastewater can be an excellent way to reduce potable water use, but it can also be a costly and complicated process, so start your water conservation program
with basic efficiency gains before exploring reuse projects.

Heather Gadonniex, LEED AP, is the co-founder of Green it Group, a sustainability strategy firm that focuses on helping organizations develop, measure, manage and market their sustainability initiatives. Ms. Gadonniex is also the co-author of The Complete Idiot's Guide to Greening Your Business, published by Alpha Books (with Trish Riley). Contact Heather at, or visit the Green it Group website.

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