Reduce, Reuse, Resource: A Three-Part Strategy to Sustainable Water


Technology, employee involvement and persistence each have a role in drying a water footprint.

Ever since the late 1970s, when the first energy crisis hit the United States, manufacturing companies have been finding ways to reduce energy usage. More recently, to save even more money and become ever more “green,” they have been looking for ways to reduce water usage. In fact, for companies in some regions of the country, water is such as scarce resource that they are reducing water usage primarily for that reason.

There are a number of ways to effectively reduce water consumption:


  • One is too use less in the first place (conservation). This has two components: encouraging employees to “get on board” and making changes to processes and equipment.
  • A second way is to reuse what you have already used (reclamation). There are a couple of opportunities here: cascading (using water from one process for the next process) and treatment for re-use.
  • A third is to find more (sourcing). One effective approach here can be capturing and using rainwater.

In this article, we will look at the opportunities each of these strategies can present, as well as how some manufacturing facilities have implemented them successfully.

The Workforce Knows where the Water Goes

According to Will Sarni, there is often a disconnect between how we price water and how we value water. Sarni is director and practice leader of the Enterprise Water Strategy at Deloitte Consulting LLP. “It is important to increase awareness among employees that manufacturing can’t do anything without water,” he states. “It’s not a matter of price. It’s a matter of having it. Whatever we have, we need to use wisely.”

One thing companies can do is emphasize to employees that, as a manufacturing facility in their community, they use a lot of water. “In areas where water availability is a concern, management can emphasize to employees that finding ways to conserve water can help the whole community,” says Tim Larson, a principal with environmental management firm Ross Strategic. “This can be a real motivator to employees.”

Management should provide employees with appropriate tools. “One thing that some companies do is leverage some of the existing business process improvement tools they have utilized in the past and focus them specifically on water conservation,” he says. Such tools include lean manufacturing, kaizen improvement processes, Six Sigma projects, and 5S implementation.

For example, some of these companies realized that employees on the floor weren’t even noticing water waste. By using or reintroducing these tools to employees in a way that was focused specifically on water, they were able to heighten awareness and attention. Even things as simple as posting large signs showing water usage each week can make a difference. So can incorporating water considerations into routine quality inspections. “You can also create a cross-functional team of employees to walk the factory floor every once in awhile and look at all of the places that either use or impact water,” he adds. “Another benefit of getting employees involved is that, once they are on board, it is easier to introduce subsequent engineering and process changes.”

One company that has a commitment to gaining employee involvement in water conservation is Mosaic Florida, part of The Mosaic Company. The company, which has four operating plants in the state, produces crop nutrients, animal feed ingredients and products for industrial applications. Since the manufacturing process is heat-intensive, water is necessary for cooling requirements.

Mosaic Florida has a culture of continuous improvement, so it is always encouraging employees to come up with ideas on how to achieve savings, whether in water, energy or waste. “When you have a plant with 300 to 400 employees and get them involved in the decision-making, it’s amazing how many ideas come up,” says Jeff Narrow, Mosaic director of strategic environmental and engineering initiatives.

The company has a Six Sigma group pursuing continuous improvement. The group creates Rapid Action Workout Teams at the plants. These teams facilitate discussions among employees in the various departments of each plant to come up with opportunities for water reduction, waste reduction, energy reduction, etc. In the past two years, more than 100 teams have produced some very significant results.

Perdue Farms also sees the value of employee involvement, according to Steve Schwalb, vice president of environmental sustainability. “Our associates are very aware of what goes on in our sustainability initiatives,” he says. “We publicize these a lot, and the associates are actively involved.” Each associate knows his or her area of the plant better than anyone, so they identify water saving opportunities in their areas all the time. They are also the people who are responsible for reducing water by following procedures. Each facility also has a Green Team as part of the company’s overall sustainability initiative. The teams have monthly energy and water conservation management meetings.

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