Building a Business Case for Conserving Water

Building a Business Case for Conserving Water

If I had to pick, I'd say that water has so far been 2011's top buzzword in sustainability and community relations. With the demand for water projected to outstrip supply by 40 percent by 2030, having a business plan on how to conserve the natural resource is extremely important -- for manufacturing, for reputation and for the communities and local environments in which we do business.

Over the years, Ford has had a lot of success in our water efforts: Since our efforts started in 2000, water use per vehicle has decreased by 49 percent. Although some of our learnings are auto-industry specific, much of our successes can just as easily apply to businesses of any size, in any industry, and at any stage of the journey to smarter water use.

We've gotten regular, useful advice and counsel from water-focused organizations, groups that are looking to make a difference and can provide strategic, yet general counsel to companies looking to improve their water stewardship for little to no investment.

Although most of this article is dedicated to offering tips on how any business can conserve water, this strategy is so important that it deserves to stand on its own. I recommend reaching out to some of these organizations to help you set your own water objectives and learn how to build upon them each year.

One of our most recent partnerships has been with the Carbon Disclosure Project's Water Disclosure Initiative. In 2010, Ford became the first automaker to take part in the this project, joining several other companies in a commitment to monitor and adjust our water usage practices to conserve as much as possible.

In addition to partnering with water-conscious organizations, here are three tips we at Ford have learned on how a business can conserve water.

1. Set Your Objectives

To have an effective water strategy, objectives are important. They can include reducing water consumption year over year by three percent, or finding efficient ways to reuse water. When planning our water conservation strategy, Ford included the following objectives:

• Minimizing global water consumption at facilities while maximizing reuse;
• Finding ways to use alternative, lower-quality water sources;
• Prioritizing our investments based on local water scarcity and cost concerns;
• Meeting either local quality standards or, better yet, your company's U.S. or global standards for wastewater discharge -- whichever is more stringent;
• Ensuring a stable water supply for our manufacturing facilities while working with local communities to minimize our impact

2. Look Ahead

Water will only become more important with each passing year, so forward-thinking companies are already researching new methods of using water or finding alternative resources.

What investments or technologies can help you achieve your water conserving goals that you set for your company? How can you get your employees involved?

One thing Ford is doing is pursuing unified industry solutions for water reductions within the supply chain to improve lifecycle use. We are members of the Global Water Challenge and will be signing the United Nations' CEO Water Mandate. Ford Volunteer Corps are also placing a priority on water-based community projects during our Global Week of Caring and Accelerated Action Community Service Days.

3. Evaluate

In the quest to conserve any natural resource, evaluation is extremely important. Did you meet your water conserving goals? What could have been done differently to meet or exceed the goals set? What should your goals be for next year based on your results?

Since Ford launched the Global Water Management Initiative in 2000, our global manufacturing facilities have saved approximately 10.5 billion gallons of water over the past 10 years -- a 62 percent reduction. Saving billions of gallons of water didn't happen overnight -- it all started with simple goal-setting we asked the company and employees to embrace.

Whether you are a large business the size of Ford, or a small-business owner of a flower shop, you have the ability to join in the water conservation efforts and make a difference.

Photo CC-licensed by Benurs.