What is water efficiency?

Water is a critical resource that is becoming increasingly scarce due to climate change, population growth, and unsustainable consumption practices. Buildings are among the biggest water users, accounting for up to 17% of global freshwater consumption according to the United Nations Environment Programme

To reduce their water footprint and contribute to sustainability, developers, construction companies and facilities managers need to prioritize water efficiency in their design, development and operations. Water efficiency refers to strategies and technologies that minimize how much water you need to keep your building or site performing at peak levels.

This article explores the importance of water efficiency in green architecture, water conservation techniques, regulations and certifications, and the future of water efficiency.

Why water efficiency is such an important topic

Water is a finite resource, and while there’s a massive demand for it, the supply simply cannot keep up. For individuals and businesses alike, implementing water-saving and water-efficiency strategies is an enormous way to contribute to water sustainability and reduce costs.

Water efficiency plans can play a part in mitigating the impacts of climate change. Not only can these plans prevent water waste, but they can also decrease the energy needed to pump, treat, and transport that water. This goes a long way to minimizing greenhouse gas emissions and lessening the impact the ozone layer.

In addition, following a solid water management strategy can help significantly reduce your utility bills. A great example of this can be seen in the Empire State Building, which has saved over $100,000 per year just by implementing the WINT water intelligence system as part of its water management plan.

Water conservation techniques you can implement today

There are several effective ways to maximize water use efficiency in buildings and, ultimately, conserve water. Some of the most effective forms of water saving technology are:

  • Low-flow plumbing fixtures
  • Greywater system
  • Rainwater systems
  • Leak detection systems

A simple yet effective step in implementing water use efficiency, low-flow plumbing fixtures consume significantly less water than traditional fixtures while maintaining performance. These can save a substantial amount of water, reducing the load on local water resources and reducing water bills.

Another essential factor to consider when implementing water use efficiency is greywater systems. Greywater refers to water from all sources except toilets, which can be collected, treated, and reused in non-potable applications, such as flushing toilets and irrigating landscapes. Using greywater systems can save thousands of gallons annually, making them a crucial aspect of water efficiency.

Rainwater harvesting is another water-saving technology that collects rainwater from the rooftops of buildings and stores it in tanks for landscape irrigation, flushing toilets, or even treatment to create drinking water. Rainwater harvesting is a great way for buildings to create a reliable water source, even during droughts.

Of course, efficient water-saving technology based on smart meters and advancements like AI is pivotal to water use efficiency. Smart leak detection systems like WINT help to determine where water is being wasted and use real-time alert monitoring to let facility managers and construction teams know that a leak is occurring so that they can take action immediately.

Water efficiency regulations and certifications

Water regulations are not new; in fact, many countries have been working to regulate water usage and management since the 1970s. For example, the Clean Water Act (CWA) of 1972 has been regulating the discharge of pollutants into navigable waters for almost 50 years. In the EU, the Water Framework Directive (WFD) of 2000 aims to protect and improve the quality of Europe’s water resources. 

Many businesses these days employ a CSO (Chief Sustainability Officer) as standard practice. It’s their job it is to ensure that the company is always on the right side of water management laws and doing as much as possible to stay green. 

Regulations aside, there are also a number of certifications that construction companies and property owners try to achieve, the most common of which include:

  • LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design): A globally recognized certification program that acknowledges buildings that implement sustainable strategies, including water efficiency.
  • BREEAM (Building Research Establishment Environmental Assessment Method): A certification that assesses the environmental performance of buildings, including how efficient their water use is.
  • WELL Building Standard: Focuses on promoting health and well-being in buildings, including water quality and availability.
  • Living Building Challenge: Promotes regenerative design, with water as a pillar for an operationally streamlined building. 

These certifications are a framework for builders, developers and facilities managers to design and construct sustainable buildings prioritizing water efficiency systems. Obtaining one of these certifications can reduce operating costs, attract and retain tenants, and contribute to a healthier and more sustainable future. Additionally, they have an impact on reputation. Taking your building from Silver to Gold level or even from Gold to Platinum goes a long way to show the world how far you’ll go to be sustainable.

The future of water efficiency

Water efficiency will play an increasingly important role in building development and management in the future. The world’s population is projected to reach 9.7 billion by 2050, putting even more stress on local water resources, and that means developers and construction companies need to prioritize water efficiency systems in all their building designs now.

Advancements in technology will play a vital role in the future of water efficiency in green architecture. Intelligent irrigation systems that use sensor technology to determine water needs will become more prevalent, reducing water consumption and maintenance costs. Innovative solutions, such as rooftop gardens that use rainwater harvesting, will also become more popular.

Integrating artificial intelligence and machine learning will also be essential in increasing water efficiency in green architecture. They’re becoming the standard in buildings, with systems like WINT added to developer’s specs or retrofitted into existing buildings to future-proof facilities.

Looking ahead, it is evident that water efficiency will become a key focus for architects, developers, and facilities managers. By embracing innovative solutions, they can help ensure this vital resource is available for future generations.