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Globally, we are using water at an ever-increasing rate. Although the world's population tripled in the 20th century, according to the World Water Council, the use of water resources has grown six-fold. The pressure to conserve water and to maintain its purity is felt to varying degrees by retailers around the world, as areas experience differing levels of stress on their water supplies. According to the United Nations, nearly two-thirds of humanity is expected to live in water-stressed regions by 2025-many in emerging and frontier markets.
Water conservation not only makes sense environmentally, it makes good business sense. Using water efficiency can lower operating costs and can enhance the efficiency of a retailer's operation. Almost all commercial water use also uses energy and other raw materials.
Breadth of Practice
Ideally, retailers will examine how their business practices affect water in its entire cycle: from when it comes down in rain or snow to replenish groundwater and waterways, to how it is used in their stores and facilities, and to where it goes after use.
Starting with indoor water use, the most common way to conserve water is to pay attention to the water fixtures, and to make sure they are as efficient as possible. A good way to do this is to perform water use audits that include not only fixtures but other actions, such as fixing leaks and reusing water.
Cisterns are a way to gather water outdoors, and take it indoors for use there; for example, it can be used to flush toilets, or it can be used outdoors for irrigation.
Runoff from urban areas carries with it contaminants from the atmosphere as well as surface pollution such as litter, dust and fertilizers, chemicals, micro-organisms, metals, and oils into waterways. There are several other ways retailers can reduce stormwater runoff from their property and some of them are outlined below. Measures such as rainwater harvesting not only reduce runoff but also conserve water.
One of the best way to reduce runoff is to enhance the permeability of a site; that is, to increase the amount of rainwater that soaks into the ground rather than draining to the stormwater system. Stormwater ponds and bioswales takes rainwater and melted snow from surrounding parking lots, streets, rooftops and lawns and improves the water quality before releasing it to the stormwater system.
The following table summarizes the types of practices found in the Greening Retail best practice database that pertain to water conservation and includes the number of companies for which this practice is described in the database.
Water Conservation Indoors
A myriad of fixtures such as faucets, shower heads and toilets have been designed to use less water. Below are a few examples of how retailers have improved water efficiency through better fixtures.
Audits and Metering
In order to find water-saving opportunities, some retailers are performing audits. For example, Morrisons worked with Yorkshire Water, auditing six sites as a pilot scheme to identify further ways of saving water. It is expected that this pilot will lead to a benchmark for the most efficient water use in stores.
B&Q, the retailer, says it managed to save 13.6m litres of water a year and cut its water bill by £25,800 using water metering technology in some of its Scottish stores. Andy Francis, energy manager, says: "As individuals we are all aware of the ways we can use less water - turning off taps, noticing and stopping any leaks, and investing in water-saving devices such as water butts. It is equally important for businesses to take stock and understand the improvements they can make in the way water is used."
A thorough audit will include leak detection. According to NRCan's web site, a leak of only one drop per second wastes about 9000 litres of water per year, or the equivalent of 16 baths every month. Most leaks are easy to find and fix at very little cost. Companies such as Tesco and Morrisons both have made a systematic effort to find and eliminate leaks in their water systems.
Instead of letting water go down the drain after one use, retailers are finding was to recycle it. For example, at its first environmentally friendly store in McKinney, TX, Wal-Mart collects condensation from refrigeration and air conditioning systems and stores it in the pond located on the east side of the building. This water is then used to irrigate the landscaping. Both the Musgrave's Tramore Road, Cork and the Fonthill, Dublin distribution centres use a water recycling system in their truckwashes. Ever-Bloom Nurseries' closed-loop hydroponics water system saves an 50,000 gallons of water per day.
Runoff from urban areas not only flushes contaminants from the atmosphere, it also carries with it surface pollution such as litter, chemicals, micro-organisms, and oils into waterways. Stormwater during major rainwater events also causes flooding and erosion. There are several ways retailers can reduce stormwater runoff from their property and some of them are outlined below.
Measures such as rainwater harvesting not only reduce runoff but also conserve water. KarstadtQuelle, for one, is putting its faith in rainwater as a means of cutting water consumption. It is employed primarily for cooling the heating plant at headquarters in Essen.
During a water conservation programme commissioned by Tesco Energy Team, Waterscan identified rainwater harvesting as an area where considerable reductions in water consumption could be made. Waterscan have installed 14 systems with a payback period of 3-4 years. As a result Tesco have harvested 28,000 m3 of rainwater since 2006.
Bunnings uses underground stormwater storage tanks at its Belconnen warehouse in the Australian Capital Territory and sets up customer displays of working rainwater tanks in 31 stores to promote use of this resource. Seven sites reuse storm water run-off from the nursery to water landscape gardens or recycle back through the irrigation system. At a Mountain Equipment Co-op store, a cistern collects and stores rainwater for plant irrigation.
neckermann.de uses rainwater for flushing toilets, among other applications. During 2005, they were able to cover 23,000 cubic meters of the requirements by using rainwater. Tesco plans to install rainwater recovery units at 33 stores. Once filtered, this water will be used by toilets and urinals, thus reducing water use from the mains supply by 30-40 per cent. Their calculations show that at their Chichester store 1,733 m3 of rainwater could be collected from the roof. Morrisons is collecting rainwater, which is reused, for example in the washrooms. To date they have achieved a peak of 40 per cent of the water used in the building being supplied from rainwater.
The best way to reduce runoff is to enhance the permeability of a site is to increase the amount of rainwater that soaks into the ground rather than draining to the water system.
Gardens and, to a lesser extent, lawns allow rainwater to percolate through the soil. As well, a number of types of permeable pavements have been developed that divert water from the stormsewers. Ito-Yokado, for example, have taken urban flooding measures by paving the level parking lot with permeable asphalt and installing a rainwater reservoir in a pit underground. Also, the parking lot at a Mountain Equipment Co-op store is paved with light-coloured crushed stone in order to reduce water run-off and reflect excess heat.
Stormwater Ponds and Bioswales
A stormwater pond takes rainwater and melted snow from surrounding parking lots, streets, rooftops and lawns. Natural processes in the pond reduce the pollutants of the runoff. Ever-Bloom built a "biofilter" pond to capture accidental runoff and storm-water runoff.
A bioswale works much the same way as ponds. At Wal-Mart's McKinney store in Texas a planted channel of shrubs, grasses and rocks, was created to help slow the water that runs off from the parking area. This bioswale helps trap pollutants and cleanse the water before it goes into the wetland pond.
This synopsis was compiled from case studies in the Greening Retail Best Practice Database. Sources for the information in the case studies are cited in the database.
This database contains links to case studies of environmental best practice from retailers around the world. You can search this database by the name of the company only, or you can find case studies that match one or several specific criteria, such as the type of retailer, the type of best practice, the company's country of origin, and/or project return on investment.
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Please note that we cannot include all the practices of every retailer; therefore, the non-inclusion of a company, or of a certain area of practice for a company, does not mean that they do not presently have progressive environmental initiatives in these areas.
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