Blowing climate change out of the water

Siobahn Meikle, Managing Director, UK & Ireland at Eaton Corporation, explains the strategies businesses can use to improve their water management and contribute to creating a more sustainable society

Every living thing across the globe needs water to survive, so it is critical for businesses to implement sustainable means of using water and managing it.

By 2050, the world’s population will grow from over seven billion today to more than nine billion. To feed all these people, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that global food production will need to increase by 70%. The OECD predicts that, within the next 30 years, and in the absence of new water-management policies, global water use will increase by more than 50%.

Agriculture consumes the bulk of water used worldwide. Second to agricultural uses are industrial processes, which consume about 19% of freshwater withdrawals. Water for industrial processes spans the range from fabricating and processing, cooling or washing to incorporating water into the final product, excluding water used by hydropower plants.

In the report Business guide to circular water management: spotlight on reduce, reuse and recycle, which discussed how organisations can achieve circular wastewater management, the World Business Council for Sustainable Development noted that “benchmarked data across industries indicate that there are opportunities to reduce industrial water consumption by up to 50%” through circular water management steps to reduce water use, reuse and recycle water, recover water resources, and replenish water ecosystems - the “5Rs approach” developed by the International Water Association.

What can businesses do?

Most organisations focus on reducing water consumption. A basic first step toward water efficiency is, however, identifying where water is wasted within a site or its industrial process. To achieve this, facility managers should find and repair water leaks and install low-flow faucets, toilets and urinals. Water-efficient equipment in commercial laundry or kitchen areas should be installed. Businesses should use filtration to optimise the amount of water used in production processes, allowing the filtered water to be used for multiple cycles. In addition, smart water meters can serve to track water use, detect leaks and provide real-time reporting.

By increasing the amount of non-potable water for cooling towers, organisations can also reduce the amount of treated municipal water they consume - an increasingly important factor in water-stressed regions of the world. Non-potable greywater sources include filtered and recycled process wastewater, recovered condensate and rainwater harvesting.

Doing what matters

In order to reduce freshwater consumption as much as possible and ensure that water is used responsibly, companies are looking for ways to treat water once used and reuse it in downstream processes.

Siobahn Meikle

We recognise that the water we use at our facilities is a shared resource. Moreover, while our processes are not particularly water-intensive, water is critical to many of our operations. Therefore, each of our sites must maintain up-to-date water maps and documentation of the following sources: water intake, water use and wastewater generation, including non-contact cooling water.

Our recent water-use management projects at some of our facilities include:

  • Dausenau, Germany: We installed new heat exchangers and compressor systems with heat recovery capabilities. These technologies enabled excess heat from the site’s presses to be captured and reused to warm the facility. By reusing waste heat, we lowered the volume of groundwater needed to cool the presses, resulting in a 49% reduction in water used in the facility.

  • India: At several facilities across India, we’ve installed smart faucets and sensors and implemented rainwater harvesting. As a result, our water consumption is projected to drop by almost one million litres of water over a year.

  • Aguascalientes, Mexico: At our facilities in Aguascalientes, rainwater harvesting, permeable pavement and non-irrigated landscapes have helped to conserve water and reduce runoff. In addition, we’ve reduced energy and water process discharges with an efficient air compressor system and an industrial wastewater treatment, including treating chrome and industrial process water with ultrafiltration and reverse osmosis systems. About 5,500 gallons of oily water are recycled per day, with 10,000 gallons being reused per month.

By mapping our water-stressed sites using World Resources Institute's Aqueduct Water Risk Atlas, we have found that around 20% of our manufacturing sites are in areas classified as water-stressed.

“Sustainability should be at the core of every businesses mission as we attempt to improve the quality of life and the environment we live in”

Water stress is a watershed-based measurement of the ratio of water withdrawals to the availability of surface water and groundwater. The classification is essentially a measure of competition for scarce water resources. From our experience, we would recommend that all organisations use resources like Aqueduct Water Risk Atlas to work out how and where initiatives matter the most. By taking this approach, businesses can set targets around zero-water discharge in high baseline water-stressed areas.

The time to act is now

Sustainability should be at the core of every businesses mission today, as we attempt to improve quality of life and the environment we live in. By committing to using responsible water practices, organisations can minimise the potential negative impacts of wastewater on the environment and produce solutions that improve water efficiency, quality, sanitation, and desalination in communities worldwide.