Water EfficiencyBy Klaus Reichardt | May 23, 2013 << Back to Articles
Americans have been blessed in the sense that, for most of our history, a shortage of water has just not been a big concern. Except for the Dust Bowl period in the 1930s and short-term droughts over the years, water has been plentiful and relatively inexpensive. However, this appears to be changing and, as it does, the shortage is likely to impact both consumers and companies, including those in the professional cleaning industry.
As far as the business implications, Marc Levinson, an economist with JPMorgan Chase, complained back in 2008 that most American companies are simply not taking water shortages or the cost of water in the United States seriously. According to Levinson, many firms filling out loan applications or seeking investors “provide a great deal of information about potential risks to their operations, earnings, [and] profits, but they don’t do an adequate job of disclosing the risks they face in the event of water shortages—even short-term ones.”
Furthermore, Levinson believes that the few companies that actually do think about water supply risks remain very shortsighted. “They figure they can truck in water,” he says. “But not only is it very expensive to truck in water, but they’ll be in competition with scores of hundreds of other [companies and consumers] scrounging to get water at the same time.”
The end result: The cost of water is going up in many parts of the country and will likely continue to go up, potentially impacting a company’s competitiveness, and in worst-case scenarios, threatening its ability to survive. In fact, many experts now believe companies closing plants or going out of business entirely due to rising water costs, water shortages, or the lack of dependable water supplies will become more commonplace in years to come.
And as the cost of water goes up, so too, will the cost for many agricultural products, including those used to manufacture green cleaning products. And as these costs escalate, those increased charges will be passed on to end customers.
Conservation vs. Efficiency
The focus of water conservation is to use less water during a water shortage. For instance, in many parts of the United States homeowners are restricted as to when they can water lawns during a water shortage and if and when they can wash their cars. Once the shortage has passed, however, the restrictions are typically lifted. For instance, currently, commercial facilities in Austin, TX, can only irrigate landscaped areas on certain days per week and at certain times of those days.
Water efficiency, on the other hand, is a much broader concept and is not affected directly by current water conditions. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, “Water efficiency means using improved technologies and practices that deliver equal or better water service with less water.” One such example in our industry would be the latest generation of restroom fixtures. Many new toilets and urinals use much less water than currently mandated by U.S. law. While the use of no-water-usage fixtures, such as waterless urinals, is becoming more common everywhere from high-end hotels to offices, schools, sports arenas, and convention centers. Similarly, motion-activated faucets can cut down water usage by quickly turning off faucets that are not in use.
Using water efficiently has the potential of both reducing water consumption over the long-term and helping mitigate the rising cost of water since utility companies will not have to search for more costly water supplies and build new infrastructures to deliver it. Improved water efficiency also helps promote overall sustainability because it can help reduce the amount of water that must be withdrawn from freshwater supplies, leaving more for future generations.
Water Consumption & the Professional Cleaning Industry
Although the amount of water used in cleaning chemicals can vary, it is clear the percentage can be very high. For example, because so many cleaning chemicals, especially green cleaning chemicals, are now highly concentrated, even more water is required to dilute the product before it can be used. For this reason, jansan manufacturers are likely to see their costs for water escalate. As they do, those increased charges will need to be passed on to the end customers—an unappealing scenario for all involved.
This said, below are some of the more water-consuming activities performed by cleaning professionals and some suggestions for ways to help reduce this usage.:
- Carpet cleaning. This is one of the most water-intensive cleaning tasks performed. Older machines used one-and-one-half to as much as two gallons of water per minute. While a low-moisture carpet extractor helps reduce usage somewhat, even these models can use as much as one gallon of water per minute when cleaning carpets. As an idea of how much water this entails, cleaning 5,000 square feet of carpet can take as long as six hours. This would require roughly 400 gallons of water and, for a large facility, this size carpet is actually fairly small. To help reduce this water usage, at least one carpet extraction system is available that recycles water.
- Floor care. From mopping to complete refinishings, floor care typically uses large amounts of water. According to David Frank, president of the American Institute for Cleaning Sciences, we can expect to see more “low-moisture floor care” machines in the near future, including cylindrical brush technology. Not only do these systems use less water, but they may also use less chemical, making them both more sustainable and environmentally friendly.
- Specialty floor care. A good example of “specialty” floor care is cleaning food service floors. While the amount of water used can depend on the cleaning system employed, many food service floors are still essentially hosed down. This can discharge six to as much as 20 gallons of water per minute. Similar amounts of water are used to clean sidewalks, plazas, and related walkways. In some cases, transferring to steam or spray-and-vac systems can help reduce the amount of water required to clean these types of floors. Other options include what are called “high pressure water brooms” designed for commercial use. These brooms produce high water pressure but typically use less water. The use of compressed-air or compressed-air and water systems to clean outdoor areas is another option.
- Chemical dilution. As already referenced, water is used to dilute chemicals, however, a lot of water is often wasted in the process. While the goal of auto-dilution systems is to more accurately dilute chemicals, they also help use water more responsibly.
- General cleaning. Surprisingly, a lot of water is used to clean desks, countertops, and other surfaces. In most cases, the amount of water (and chemical) used to perform general cleaning tasks can be reduced by using absorbent microfiber cleaning clothes.
Fortunately, the professional cleaning industry is getting more and more water-usage conscious. This is also reflected and bolstered in the new version of the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) standards, with version four, expected to be approved later this year. Compared to its predecessors, the new version puts a much greater emphasis on water conservation as well as water measurement and monitoring. This means, to earn LEED certification, buildings must use water wisely and ultimately reduce water consumption. The professional cleaning industry plays a key role in this effort and will continue to in the years ahead.
About the Author.
Klaus Reichardt is a managing partner of Waterless Co., LLC, a leading manufacturer of waterless urinal systems and other restroom products. He can be reached at [email protected].