Smart Water Management: A Low-Risk Green Initiative with a Fast Payback

Smart Water Management: A Low-Risk Green Initiative with a Fast Payback

By gaining control over water use, companies help protect a precious resource, reduce runoff pollution and comply with new conservation legislation. Saving water also has a powerful multiplier effect by reducing the vast amount of energy expended in transporting it.

Reducing carbon footprints and protecting the environment have become important corporate goals, but companies are more likely to take action when it's in their self-interest as well, especially when they can cut expenses and achieve a rapid ROI. When evaluating alternative green projects, ask yourself these questions:
  • Where are we exposed to multi-million dollars of uncontrolled risk?
  • Where can we find a new and untapped area of 20 percent cost savings or more?
  • How can we best leverage existing infrastructure and minimize disruption?
  • Are we choosing a solution with a proven track record for savings?
  • Does our solution maximize green potential with a green multiplier effect?
  • Are we taking advantage of government incentives?
  • Can we promote our sustainability practices to the community?
These questions have led a number of companies, such as Coca-Cola, Google and Jack-in-the-Box, to an answer so obvious that it is often overlooked. Cutting the amount of water consumed in their headquarters' landscapes has allowed these companies to not only preserve an increasingly precious resource, but also cut their water bills, reduce pollution runoff and avoid costly maintenance due to water damage.

Where is Your Water Going?

Landscapes use more water than all other forms of urban water consumption combined, an estimated 58 percent. Yet lawns and gardens typically get far more water than they need. Studies have found that landscapes are overwatered anywhere from 30 to 300 percent. All that excess water leads to expensive property destruction, such as asphalt cracks in the parking lot, rot in the building foundation and mold on the walls. Builders pay millions in lawsuits over water damage.

Excessive watering also fills urban gutters with runoff, which is a major source of pollution. Many municipalities are enacting regulation to curtail runoff and levying fines on those who cause it. Moreover, water waste exacerbates global warming. According to U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Department of Energy estimates, 4 million watt-hours of power and 5,360 pounds of carbon dioxide are consumed along with every million gallons of water. Clearly, reducing outdoor water consumption is a way for companies to make an immediate and sustainable positive impact on the environment. The question is how.

The Smart Answer

An easy way that leading companies have used to reduce landscape water consumption is replacing conventional sprinkler system timers with “smart” irrigation controllers. Smart controllers regulate watering based on weather conditions and moisture in the atmosphere rather than on a fixed schedule or the landscaper's best guess. As a result, landscapes get just the amount of water they really need to stay green and healthy and not a drop more. For example, in independent studies by the EPA, universities and dozens of municipal water agencies, WeatherTRAK smart controllers have been proven to reduce water use as much as 59 percent, without compromising the landscape's healthy appearance.

Compared to other environmental initiatives, such as installing solar panels, landscape water conservation has the added advantages of a relatively low investment and a short payback time. By installing smart irrigation controllers, Wayne Herbert reduced water costs by 40 percent while improving the curb appeal of his McDonald’s in Simi Valley, Calif. His investment broke-even in only 73 days. Over five years, he'll return tens of thousands of dollars to the bottom line -- capital that would otherwise be wasted. And there was no disruptive digging, wiring or construction -- just swapping one box for another.

Water: An Increasingly Precious and Pricey Resource

Water scarcity is emerging as a critical environmental, social and political issue globally. Closer to home, America's water supply is under increasing pressure from a growing population. Below-average rainfall, combined with scorching temperatures, helped put 46 percent of the contiguous U.S. in drought in the summer of 2007, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Communities from coast-to-coast experienced water shutoffs.

As a result of these shortages, along with the growing costs of purifying, storing and transporting water, virtually every water provider in the country is raising its rates every year. In fact, water rate hikes are outpacing energy rate increased every year. According to the Earth Policy Institute, municipal water rates have increased by an average of 27 percent in the United States and 58 percent in Canada over the past five years.

State and local governments are also issuing mandates to protect the water supply. All across the country, mandatory local water agency restrictions severely limit watering days and times. In California, a trend-setting state on environmental issues, legislation will soon require builders to install smart irrigation controllers in their projects.

It's not surprising then that companies are trying to get smart about water management. Not only are the costs of water great, but the cost to a company's reputation can be even greater. Water conservation is the one area where social responsibility and common business sense go hand in hand.

Time to Take Control

Using smart irrigation controllers is a low-risk, proven way to make a positive environmental impact and demonstrate to the public that your company is doing its part, while at the same time, enhancing tenant and property value. Buildings that use them can earn LEED points towards green building certification. Many cities have rebate programs for purchasing smart controllers. They can be implemented quickly within your existing infrastructure.

Best of all, the lower water bills and maintenance costs help produce a positive ROI in a comparatively short time, generally in less than two years and in some cases in less than one.

Green buildings, green landscapes and more green to the bottom line. How much greener can you get?