Businesses Use Innovative Technology & Behavioral Policy to Conserve Water

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The growing worldwide water shortage problem is a large one. California is currently in the fourth year of its worst drought in recent history.  Governor Jerry Brown recently issued an executive order mandating water use restrictions aimed toward reducing water consumption by 25%.

This means that only low-flush toilets and low-flow sinks will be available for sale after Jan. 1, 2016. Retailers will not be permitted to sell showerheads, toilets, urinals, bathroom, and kitchen faucets that violate the new standards. These provisions apply to commercial building owners installing new fixtures as well.  Other states are experiencing similar water shortages and are expected to enact similar increasingly stringent restrictions.

Washington Governor Jay Inslee recently declared a statewide drought emergency expressing concern about the difficult decisions that must be made in allocating water among users. A 2013 survey of the world’s largest companies by Deloitte Consulting found that 70% of respondents identified water as a substantial business risk.  With drought conditions threatening businesses in western regions of the country, managers are increasing their conservation efforts in order to boost their bottom line.  

Like other naturally occurring events, water shortages can create large risks and opportunities for businesses. Recognizing the problem, most large consulting and accounting firms have published extensive coverage of the issue.  These professionals can help their clients meet new legal mandates, reduce operating costs, and obtain available government rebates by conserving water.  

Water conservation approaches generally fall into two categories:

1.    Engineering practices based on modifications in plumbing, fixtures and technology
2.    Behavior practices based on changing water use habits

The first approach involves innovative design techniques as well as cutting edge technology.  Dual flush toilets, for example, have two separate flush options, one for solid wastes and another for liquid wastes.  With this technology, both flush options are efficient but the liquid one uses even less water.  A flush for solid waste uses about 1.6 gallons of water per flush while the liquid waste option only uses about 1.1 gallons.

For commercial building owners, this means reduced flush water usage of about 32% according to a recent study by the Department of Agriculture. Realizing this, managers of large corporate buildings are dramatically reducing water consumption.  The Staples Center, for example, home to the Los Angeles Lakers and Los Angeles Clippers, conducted an energy audit and found that each of its 178 urinals used 44,000 gallons a year. By replacing them with waterless urinals, it has saved more than seven million gallons and $28,200 annually.

In addition, more cutting edge technology involves big data analytics, smart devices, and GPS.  Irrigation software systems allow superintendants and groundskeepers to efficiently operate the entire irrigation system from their office.   With the click of a mouse and the assistance of graphic screen displays you can adjust run times, cherry pick individual sprinklers, and adjust water pressure/distribution on a per sprinkler basis.  

Setting the system so that it turns itself off automatically when it rains also saves water.  Sensors not only have the ability to sense rain but also to gauge the level of rainfall or moisture in the soil and adjust water distributions accordingly.  Other systems collect data from radio receivers that continuously gather precipitation and humidity data from weather stations.  The data helps the computer make a decision on how much water to distribute at any given time.  GPS and aerial photography allow users to simply tap a screen in order to activate the area that needs irrigation.  

Technological innovation as discussed above is not the only way managers conserve water.  The second approach involves behavioral practices.  Some practical approaches for business include the following:

•    Detecting and fixing leaks
•    Making sure water pressure is not above 65 psi
•    Using reclaimed water
•    Instituting an employee water conservation awareness and education program
•    Conducting a facility audit to quantify water use
•    Dry sweeping or using a water broom instead of a hose to clean floors, sidewalks and other hard surfaces

Many of the water conservation techniques described above are being incentivized by federal and state governments.  In many western states, typical commercial rebates are available for the use of water efficient technology such as, high efficiency toilets, low-flow faucets, grass replacement, rotating sprinkler nozzles, and other efficient water use and irrigation technologies.  In many regions, commercial interest in such rebates has been so overwhelming that applications have been limited to a first-come first serve basis.  

With the growing worldwide water shortage problem, businesses around the globe are conserving water to save on operating costs.  The need to conserve is forcing innovative developments in water technology while managers are beginning to think about organizational behavior to reduce water usage. Rebates are available to commercial users for water conservation efforts.

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Charles R Goulding Attorney/CPA, is the President of R&D Tax Savers.

Michael Wilshere is a Tax Analyst with R&D Tax Savers.