We all rely on water every day. It’s got intrinsic value but remember: it’s a finite resource we must treat with respect.
While there are many great organizations tackling one of the world’s greatest inequities—over 800 million people do not have access to safe drinking water and over 2 billion lack basic sanitation—you have the power to make an immediate difference closer to home. It’s a side to water we often don’t think about: the energy it takes to process it.
For nearly every use, water requires massive amounts of energy and emissions to treat, transport, heat, and cool. Simply put: Reducing the amount of water we use—in business operations and at home—reduces associated emissions and wasted money.
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Water scarcity and the environment
Only 3% of Earth’s water is fresh. Of that 3%, just a fraction is useable by humans. Four-fifths is either inaccessible—in glaciers, polar ice caps, the atmosphere, and far under Earth’s surface—or profoundly polluted. We also consume water from stressed resources like rivers, lakes, reservoirs, and groundwater aquifers faster than they’re replenished. And water’s scarcity is only made worse by climate change and water managers in 40 U.S. states expect water shortages in the next decade.
Opportunities to reduce water use
80% of the water in the U.S. is used for cooling power plants and irrigation. As a result, we need to shift to renewable energy and away from water-intensive agriculture to make an impact there. However, those of us not in the business of energy creation or farming have opportunities to make a difference outside of just turning the faucet off while brushing our teeth.
Water in the U.S. has been historically inexpensive. As a result, common equipment and appliances—water heaters, some HVAC equipment, kitchen appliances, laundry machines, and restroom fixtures—have been poorly designed from an efficiency standpoint. Most use way more water than necessary.
Two things you can do about it
1. Switch to efficient appliances that reduce both water consumption and the energy required to heat and cool it—the second-highest energy use in the home. Look for products certified by the EPA’s WaterSense program—they use a minimum of 20% less water than conventional alternatives. Replacing old, inefficient faucets and aerators with WaterSense models saves an average of 700 gallons of water per year—the equivalent of 45 showers. ENERGY STAR products also reduce water and energy consumption. An ENERGY STAR-certified clothes washer uses 25% less energy and 33% less water than regular washers, an average savings of over 2,000 gallons of water per year.
2. Did you know that outdoor water use (e.g., grass sprinklers) accounts for 30–60% of all household water consumption? And perhaps, not so surprisingly, as much as half of that water is totally wasted because of wind, evaporation, and inefficient irrigation. You can change that and combat water waste by choosing drought-resistant plants and installing efficient irrigation systems.
Regardless of the type of water system or appliance, proper monitoring and leak detection are great first defenses in protecting water and money from going down the drain.