Editor’s Note – Matthew Gardner, Ph.D., is Managing Partner of Sustainserv.
Issues surrounding water have turned from a drip to a flood for companies in Massachusetts and beyond.
Hardly a day goes by without news of water shortages, depleted aquifers and contaminated wells somewhere in the world. Though Massachusetts does not suffer from widespread and systemic shortages of water, corporations are starting to quantify, analyze and try to reduce their water usage with the same zeal that they are applying to energy and greenhouse-gas reduction efforts.
There are several drivers behind the new emphasis on water.
The first is economic. Water is a commodity paid for by businesses, so any opportunities to reduce the cost associated with this input material are to be considered against the investment required to realize the savings.
A second economic element is the disposal of water that has been utilized in any sort of industrial process. The disposal of this water is something that is paid for as part of standard utility bills. Reductions in the discharge of waste water, whether it is into a municipal system or into a privately owned waste water treatment facility, will also result in lower costs.
The economics are particularly important in water-intensive industries such as some electronics manufacturing, food processing, or the beverage industry. Water usage in these industries represents a significant cost of doing business, so saving even a few percentage points off of the total utilization results in appreciable cost savings. And if waste water does not meet certain, and sometimes quite exacting, standards for purity, then the disposal costs can multiply quickly.
These issues are compounded for operations located in parts of the world where water resources are limited and/or threatened. Costs in these regions can be high, and limits on water usage are often stringent.
The water “footprint” of a company also extends to the water requirements of the products the company produces. A particular product may not require significant water in manufacturing, but what about the water requirements as it is being used? What is the manufacturer’s responsibility to manage and influence that phase of the product’s life cycle? Those products that offer customers greater efficiency regarding whatever input materials are required in their operation will be viewed favorably.
There are a variety of methods available to calculate the water footprint for a company and/or for the products being produced. Using the principles of life-cycle analysis, it is possible to quantitatively and accurately understand the complete picture regarding the impact that a company or a product has on water resources.
How are local companies managing water? Experts from Desalitech, Boston Beer Company and Ocean Spray Cranberries will share their water-management strategies at the AIM Sustainability Roundtable on September 17 at Waters Corporation in Milford. The conversation will include a panel discussion, a question and answer session, and an opportunity for participants to network with colleagues who have encountered similar issues.
As this has become an issue squarely in the eye of the public and governmental regulators, it behooves all companies to consider this issue, and make conscious and informed decisions about how they need to take the protection and conservation of this precious resource into account.