WQP managing editor Lauren Estes asks Varun Gowda, senior director of product management at ENGIE Insight, about data's role in meeting water sustainability goals
As the nation’s water infrastructure ages, data collection is playing an increasingly relevant role in water sustainability. ENGIE Insight, an energy management and sustainability company, helps businesses reduce their environmental impact by leveraging real-time data to develop a water sustainability action plan. WQP Managing Editor Lauren Estes asked Varun Gowda, senior director of product management at ENGIE Insight, about data’s role in meeting water sustainability goals.
Lauren Estes: Why is there a need for upgraded water infrastructure?
Varun Gowda: It is a matter of time before our aging water infrastructure starts to crumble. A report card developed by the American Society of Civil Engineers found that there are an estimated 240,000 water main breaks each year in the U.S. Each break causes significant damage, totaling 2 trillion wasted gallons of treated drinking water each year. And, due to the effects of climate change, traditional water supply resources are being depleted at an alarming rate. While these two factors affect all consumers, the corporate sector especially feels the effects of this shortage as their water utility rates continue to rise. Corporations that focused solely on energy resiliency are now waking up to water resiliency and its impact on their business operations.
Multi-site businesses in water intensive industries—such as agriculture, manufacturing, food and hospitality—are especially affected by this outdated infrastructure, due to the wide fluctuation in regional utility costs and varying watershed supply levels, depending on location. While our infrastructure problem cannot be ignored, there is not a simple solution to undergo a complete overhaul of our water systems. With the necessary upgrades to modernize the infrastructure expected to cost $1 trillion dollars, it will take a coordinated effort between businesses, consumers, cities, and utilities to build a more efficient and cost-effective water system.
Estes: How can commercial businesses develop action plans to reduce water waste?
Gowda: After businesses develop a clear understanding of their water consumption trends and identify how they could benefit from altered operational practices, it is time to develop a clear strategic plan that will help increase sustainability and lower costs.
Specifically, companies can invest in efficient technology. While technology upgrades will bring large upfront costs, it also produces long-term savings. Water monitoring tools, like flow sensors, will help companies track their water usage in real-time, allowing them to turn systems off when they are not needed for company operations. Additionally, companies will be alerted immediately in the case of a malfunction, such as leakage or pipe burst, which will eliminate costs in utility bill spikes, as well as repair costs.
In the case of water efficiency, conserving more makes economic sense, and technology will help businesses achieve their sustainability targets by optimizing the cost. [Businesses can] find industry partners to help maintain long-term sustainability practices. In some cases, maintaining an action plan can be too much for a company to take on. In this case, businesses should find partners that can help them through every step of the process. Whether it be through utility bill monitoring, or consulting services to help them optimize their sustainable water practice, Internet of Things and technology solution providers provide businesses with the expert resources they may be lacking.
Estes: How can data help the commercial sector be more sustainable?
Gowda: Real-time data serves as an invaluable asset to any corporate sustainability strategy. In order for corporations to truly understand how their current operational practices can become more efficient, they must be able to digest the wealth of information available all in real-time. Data gives businesses a true understanding into how their full site portfolio consumes energy, water and waste resources. Once trends are identified, they can mark sustainability benchmarks to accomplish over a certain period of time, and track their performance in relation to the set goals. Without access to on-demand, real-time data, there would be no ‘action’ in corporate sustainability action plans—businesses would be limited to guesswork and broad, untrackable goals.