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Case Studies in Water Sustainability

The importance of water cannot be underestimated. Plants, animals and humans need water to survive. The human body is composed of up to 75% water. Water is an essential ingredient of almost everything that companies produce, from food to machinery. Water is necessary to maintain homes and companies, as well as other facilities and establishments.

Many modern industries employ water-intensive production processes. One such example is the fashion industry. Producing one kilogram of cotton—the world’s primary clothing material—requires 7,000-29,000 liters of water. Nylon and polyester, synthetic fabrics commonly used in clothing, also involve water-intensive processing methods.

Many companies have begun integrating water sustainability into their business operations, as it is important for companies to promote water sustainability. Inadequate water access can cripple even the most financially stable company.

Doñana National Park

Located in southern Spain, the Doñana National Park (Parque Nacional de Doñana) is one of Europe's most important wetland reserves, home to various bird species, including goose, flamingo and the Spanish imperial eagle. The park is also the stronghold of the endangered Iberian lynx. The Doñana National Park is a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve and World Heritage Site.

The park is threatened, though, by unsustainable strawberry farming. Spain is the world’s top strawberry exporter, and its annual revenue from strawberry farming is around €400 million. Approximately 90% of the fruit is grown in Huelva and Seville—provinces that surround Doñana. Strawberry is a water-intensive crop and growing it often involves unsustainable agricultural practices like plastic sheeting and pesticide use.

The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) claimed that strawberry farm irrigation is reducing water in the park’s marshes by up to 50%. UNESCO cautioned that unsustainable strawberry farming could jeopardize the park’s World Heritage Site status. “If [unsustainable strawberry farming is] not addressed the [park] could meet the conditions for inscription on the List of World Heritage in Danger in the near future,” a UNESCO statement read.

The UK smoothie company Innocent Drinks addressed unsustainable strawberry farming in the Doñana National Park through technology. In 2014, the company teamed up with the University of Cordoba to create Irri-Fresa, an app that calculates optimal daily irrigation times. In 2015, the farmers who used Irri-Fresa were able to reduce their farms’ water consumption by up to 40%, saving 1.7 billion liters of water. In May 2016, Innocent Drinks won a Guardian Sustainable Business Award for its water conservation efforts.

Coca-Cola

Coca-Cola has previously faced water sustainability issues. In 2004, it reportedly used 283 billion liters of water. In the same year, Coca-Cola shut down its Kerala, India plant after local authorities ruled that the plant drained and polluted the state’s water supplies. In El Salvador, experts claim that Coca-Cola’s operations in the municipality of Nejapa will deprive almost 30,000 people of water.

Coca-Cola responded to these controversies by implementing water-efficient operations and engaging in water-related corporate social responsibility (CSR) projects. In 2009, Coca-Cola launched the Replenish Africa Initiative (RAIN), a project that aims to bring safe drinking water to 2 million people in Africa by the end of 2015. In April 2015, the company invested an additional USD 35 million in RAIN to provide access to safe drinking water and sanitation to 4 million more people in Africa by 2020. Likewise, Coca-Cola collaborated with WaterAid in 2013 to bring safe drinking water to Ouagadougou (Burkina Faso’s capital), as well as to two rural communities in southern Ethiopia.

In 2015, Coca-Cola UK invested more than £45,000 in technologies such as water meters, water mapping, and monitoring and targeting systems. It managed to save 13,920 cubic meters of water as a result. In the same year, Coca-Cola UK’s Edmonton site started using resin granules, which is expected to help save 11,520 cubic meters of water every year.

DyeCoo Textile Systems

Conventional textile dyeing techniques are extremely water-intensive; it takes between 25 and 40 gallons of water to dye two pounds of fabric. Moreover, conventional textile dyeing techniques are hazardous to the environment. The textile industry is currently the world’s second largest water pollutant after agriculture. According to the World Bank, textile treatment and dyeing are responsible for approximately 20% of industrial water pollution in the world.

DyeCoo Textile Systems helps alleviate textile dyeing-related water pollution through its waterless and chemical-free commercial dyeing machine. This machine uses supercritical carbon dioxide (carbon dioxide that is heated to above 31°C and pressurized to above 74 bar) instead of water to dye textile. In the process, it heats and pressurizes supercritical carbon dioxide to 120°C and 250 bar. The supercritical carbon dioxide then diffuses the preloaded dyes into the textile’s fibers, eliminating the need for water and chemicals. After dyeing, the machine recycles and reuses approximately 95% of the supercritical carbon instead of disposing of it, reducing textile dyeing-related water pollution as a result.

DyeCoo Textile Systems has worked with a number of top industry players, including Nike, Adidas and Peak Performance, and has received several awards for its innovative dyeing technique. In 2012, DyeCoo won the MEDIUM Award for Material of the Year. In 2014, it was nominated as a finalist in the Accenture Innovation Awards. In 2015, DyeCoo was a finalist for the Global Leadership Award in Sustainable Apparel.

Dell Children’s Medical Center of Central Texas

Dell Children’s Medical Center of Central Texas is an excellent example of how architecture can be used to bring about water sustainability. Its parking lots and garages were made out of 47,000 tons of airport runway material. The hospital was built using concrete containing approximately 40% fly ash instead of Portland cement. The hospital’s exterior façade, flooring and walls were made out of sustainable and indigenous building materials like Texas limestone, recycled glass and cork. The production, transport and final use of brand new and non-native building materials are water-intensive. Using recycled, indigenous and sustainable building materials therefore enabled Dell Children’s to reduce its water consumption.

Dell Children’s also has a special storm water pond that gathers and recycles rainwater, filtering rainwater before it seeps into the ground. The hospital then uses the recycled rainwater for irrigation. In addition, the hospital uses low-flow bathroom fixtures and recycles steam energy into chilled water. As a result, Dell Children’s is able to meet its water needs without relying heavily on Texas’ water supply.

Dell Children’s also employs xeriscaping. The hospital planted native plants in its gardens and courtyards. Native trees, shrubs and grasses require less freshwater than their non-native counterparts. Each year, the hospital saves 1.7 million gallons of water and another 1.4 million gallons by using low-flow bathroom fixtures and by xeriscaping, respectively. Its sustainability efforts earned Dell Children’s the distinction of being the world’s first hospital to receive a Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design (LEED) Platinum certification.

Marriott International

Hospitality is another water-intensive industry. The average occupied guestroom consumes between 100 and 200 gallons of freshwater daily. In addition, more than 40% of a hotel’s total water consumption comes from showers, toilets, taps and kitchens. Toilets and urinals that are more than 15 years old use at least 3 gallons of water per flush.

Marriott International has taken significant steps towards attaining water sustainability. In 2013, the organization teamed up with the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) with the goal of restoring Thailand’s mangroves. Mangroves help conserve water by reducing evaporation from their leaf surfaces. Through this partnership, more than 300 Marriott associates from 12 different properties planted 1,800 mangrove saplings in four different locations. Marriott Thailand now holds quarterly mangrove plantings which associates and guests can participate in.

In 2014, ten Marriott International hotels in the Middle East and Africa implemented water sustainability measures such as water-saving bathroom fixtures and smart irrigation sensors. As a result, these hotels are estimated to save 92,000 cubic meters of water every year. Marriott hotel brands constituted more than 80% of the total participating hotels in the 2015 Environmental Protection Agency WaterSense H20tel Challenge.

Water Sustainability: An Investment for Greater Business Continuity

Practically every product and service that companies provide involves water. Water scarcity risks the long-term viability of large and small businesses alike—an outcome that can lead to unemployment, poverty and violent conflict. Promoting water sustainability is a valuable investment for companies. Water-efficient business operations result in greater water supplies for future use, securing business continuity.

FirstCarbon Solutions (FCS) advances sustainable practices around the world, offering fully integrated consulting, software and data management services. With expertise in water management for industry and governments, we help businesses recognize sustainability as a main driver for practices and regulations, and develop cost-effective solutions that integrate sustainability into their daily operations.

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