The need for manufacturing facilities to reduce waste is more paramount today than ever before. And many are taking steps to reduce both waste and consumption. But they are not necessarily doing this as a result of concerns about sustainability or the environment. For many manufacturers, it has become a dollar-and-cents issue.
Manufacturing locations that operate in a greener, more sustainability-focused manner are more efficient. They waste less. They use resources more efficiently, and in so doing, they can reduce operating costs.
Water is a perfect example. In most cases, we pay for water twice: once when it is delivered to the manufacturing facility and again when it is discharged as effluent and sent to water treatment facilities. While water utility companies have historically provided manufacturers and other heavy water users with different forms of discount pricing, those discounts appear to be withering away.
In fact, in many parts of the country, water rate increases have surpassed electricity rate increases. Further, sewer costs can be as much as three times the cost of water.
With growing populations and the challenge facing many water utility companies to repair and replace outdated water infrastructure, a “share the pain” mentality has evolved. This means everyone – manufactures, consumers, schools, and office buildings – are being asked to do their share and pay more for water, based on actual use and consumption.
This also means reducing water consumption for manufacturers may not only be a direct cost saving, but other savings may evolve as well. For instance, once water is delivered to a manufacturing facility by the water provider, it often must be pumped to different areas of the plant. The manufacturer must pay the tab for this in the form of higher utility bills. So, if less water is wasted and more water is used efficiently, this can reduce the amount of water pumped to different areas of the facility, helping to bring down energy costs.
How Much Water Are We Talking About?
It probably would be a good idea at this point to provide an idea of how much water and how water is used in many US manufacturing facilities. For instance:
- In 2015, the United States Geological Survey determined that industrial withdrawals – the amount of water withdrawn for use in industrial and manufacturing locations – was 14,800 Mgal/d. A Mgal/d refers to “one million gallons of water per day.” This means about 1.5 billion gallons of water is consumed by industry every day.*
- Much of this water is “groundwater,” referring to aquifers. Many aquifers are drying up around the country. These aquifers took centuries to fill with water, which tells us that once dried up, their use as a water resource in the future will be very limited.
- States using the most water for industrial purposes include Louisiana, Indiana, Texas, and California.
- Industrial and manufacturing facilities use water for fabricating, processing, washing, diluting, cooling, transporting a product, in restroom and kitchen areas, as well as for sanitation needs within the manufacturing facility.
With a better understanding of how much water is used in manufacturing locations, we can now discuss proven ways to reduce water consumption, and in so doing, use it more efficiently. Here are some of the critical steps we can take:
Measure and monitor. Most manufacturing facilities know how much they are paying for water, but many industrial locations have no idea exactly how much water they are using (and discharging) per day, week, or year, nor where it is being used. A useful first step to take is to install sub-meters that can measure where and how much water is being used in different areas of the plant. One manufacturing location has nearly 30 sub-meters installed. Now they have ampledata to measure and monitor water-related data in all areas of their facility.
Form a water “minimization team.” Now that we have a better idea of how much water and where water is being used in the plant, a water minimization team should be formed to identify areas where water use can be reduced. The team should set a water reduction goal, for instance,reducing water consumption by a ten percent per year.
We have two ways to begin this process: focus on the low-hanging fruit such as fixing water leaks, replacing valves on hoses, etc., or fixing or replacing big water consuming items. For instance, industrial locations with restroom fixtures more than five to seven years old should consider replacing these fixtures with newer, more water efficient systems that use less water or no water at all.
Begin water “training.” Most all industrial locations have some type of safety training program for their workers. We need to add water training programs as well, and this can be expanded to using all types of natural resources more efficiently and less wastefully. This way, not only are ways taught to use water more responsibly, saving water becomes part of the company culture. Some industrial locations have even begun listing water savings as a key performance indicator (KPI). So, not only would a manufacturing facility have KPIs to measure how well it is doing each month or quarter, they would also now know how much water is being saved during those same time periods.
After all, KPIs are a reflection of how well a company is doing financially as well as how well it is saving — in this case by reducing water consumption.