Water efficiency is about more than just the wet stuff

01 Jul 2006Archived News Energetics in the News


Imagine if water cost your business $20 a kilolitre (kL). Imagine the efforts to optimise its management, to address wastage, to redesign systems. Well, for chemical companies $20 can be pretty close to the mark in total water cycle terms. Food processors may find it nearer $5.80/kL, but that's still almost five times the visible cost of water.

"Sydney Water charges are just the tip of the iceberg," said Mohan Seneviratne, head of the utility's Every Drop Counts Business Program. "The true cost of water includes labour, chemicals, product wastage and electricity."

For most businesses, these costs remain beneath the surface in terms of the water accounts. A breakdown of the annual full water cycle cost for a typical food processing firm might look something like this: trade waste charge ($138,000), sludge removal ($312,000), a deodoriser ($40,000), sodium hydroxide ($30,000) and ferric chloride ($25,000), bacterial culture ($20,000) and trade waste testing ($21,000).

Seneviratne doles out the figures with such ease he appears to live and breathe them. The greatest payback ever? One 20c phone call after an audit saved an unnamed military base 2 ML a day - but he can't say how. The food and beverage niche that wastes the most water to sewer? Snackfood companies flush 89 per cent of total water use to the sewer, followed closely by smallgoods and dairy, which waste 88 per cent.

His numbers add up to a compelling case to address water as a business issue, not just a technical one. This is a radicakl change in perspective in the commercial sphere given water bills typically represent just 1-3 per cent of operating costs. But the total water cycle assessment above highlights a far deeper cost association, a message spread with gusto by Seneviratne and his team of 14 since the Every Drop Counts Business Program was launched back in 2001.

The program is a star of Sydney Water's conservation efforts. Business, industry and government consume only around 30 per cent of the metro region's water, yet the program has driven almost half the utility's total water savings of 15 GL a year. Importantly, they have been won at an economical 30c per kL saved, a better rate than the other core programs of residential retrofit, rainwater tanks and water efficient washing machines.

Accessing the boardroom

Like many of Sydney's public environmental initiatives, the Olympics were a catalyst for the program. In the two-year leadup, Sydney Water offered major users free water audits in a bid to reduce their consumption. Business water use did dip, but they quickly realised a new approach was needed to create long-term savings.

"When you do it for free no one takes notice, plus we weren't talking to the decision maker. We took that on board and changed the model from an audit program to understanding water from a business sense," Seneviratne told WME.

The smorgasbord of statistics he ticks off have become a signature of the program, the key to the boardroom attention needed to push water onto the business agenda. The trick is to turn interest into action. Sydney Water gets the board to sign a memorandum of understanding (MOU) committing to the program and a 15 per cent water savings goal, then asks it to appoint a water manager to champion the project, commonly the environment or quality manager but possibly the maintenance, risk or facility manager, depending on the sector and company.

Management then completes a computer-based self-assessment called One-2-Five (an Energetics diagnostic tool), which identifies system strengths and weaknesses and gives a star rating, from basic compliance up to best practice and continuous improvement. It also identifies five priorities for action.

Around 333 companies have signed up, around a third of the region's big water users, defined as those that consume more than 50 kL per day, spending around $70,000 per year on water and related charges. They provide a treasure trove of case studies, technologies and inspiring examples. Many end up in the program's promotional magazine, The Conserver.

Tailored solutions

Audits, ongoing monitoring of water use and investment in technology are vital in achieving reductions, with payback in many cases inside two years according to Seneviratne. But the most valuable long-term reform is cultural change. Water in commercial settings is wasted through poor practice more than poor systems, so driving the conservation mesasge to the shop floor is critical.

Beverage company Diageo, which produces Guinness, Bundaberg Rum and Johnnie Walker, trebled production at its Huntington plant from 2001 to 2004, but with the help of the program cut water use in that period by more than 30 per cent.

"We regard water as a key performance indicator," said plant manager Chris King. "We have reduced our use of water from 2.1 litres per product in 2001 to less than 1.4 litres per product in 2004."

It switched to air rinsing of bottles and cans, improved the efficiency of the reverse osmosis unit and optimised operation of the liquid ring vacuum pump that de-aerates feed water. Last year it focused on improving clean in place processes.

"We have established a volunteer staff group, called 'Waterwatch', that is continuously looking for ways to conserve water," said King. "We consider the strong employee awareness of water conservation to be one of the most important steps in raising our environmental standing,"

Tooheys set up a cultural change showcase in its staff canteen, Wrigley ran a staff competition for conservation ideas, Coca-Cola Amatil gave away hose trigger guns to all staff before introducing them on-site, and Bluescope Steel established the Port Kembla Water Savings Steering Committee to oversee water projects at its three Port Kembla sites.

Some 42 of 45 councils in the region are also on board. Rockdale Council has taken a lead with a swag of measures, including rainwater tanks, water efficient appliances and developing a spreadsheet to monitor and record all of its water consumption and costs.

Seneviratne says most sites can cut consumption by around a third, prompting him to consider toughening up the 15 per cent target in the MOU.

"Sydney Water and Energetics tailor programs for each customer," he said. "Should every company be targeting five stars? Perhaps not. It depends in how important water is in their operation."

Plans for expansion

The State Government mandate for the region's top 200 water users to prepare savings plans will likely see the workload increase. A special extension to the new $30 million a year Water Savings Fund has seen Seneviratne's $2.8 million budget for 2005/6 swelled by $10 million this year.

He has no shortage of plans for it. Pilot schemes underway or set to start include testing a DIY kit with water efficient taps and shower heads for commercial buildings, trial of a cut-down program for small businesses such as hotels and hair salons, and development of a software programs to instantly calculate the viability of recovering condensate from air conditioning in retail centres and hospitals for reuse in their cooling towers. And there are just the tip of the iceberg.

More at www.sydneywater.com.au

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