Over the past decade, the world has faced an alarming uptick in climate and water urgency. The World Resources Institute cautions that if water consumption continues at its current rate, freshwater demand may outpace supply by 56% by 2030. Industrial operations are a key factor impacting global water and climate stress. The need for water in manufacturing, for example, has skyrocketed — the United Nations expects manufacturing water demand to increase by 400% from 2000 to 2050.
Growing concerns over water conservation are leading consumers to increasingly scrutinize both government and industry actions. According to the recent Ecolab Watermark Study, which examines the general population’s perspective on global water stewardship, consumers primarily hold governments and industry accountable for water conservation. However, many do not believe these leaders are sufficiently concerned about water or climate change. This sentiment was especially strong in the U.S., Europe, Latin America, and Asia/Pacific, where only 42% to 46% of respondents felt their leaders cared enough.
Further complicating the issue is the inherent link between water, energy, and greenhouse gas emissions. Energy is needed to move, heat, cool, and treat water. At the same time, water is needed in the production of nearly all forms of energy. As industries ramp up water use, a corresponding increase in energy consumption is inevitable. When they increase energy usage, water needs rise, too. With an energy grid that still heavily relies on fossil fuels, this means all industrial water usage has the potential to impact greenhouse gas emissions.
Innovative efforts to reduce carbon emissions can also increase water demands. Take direct air carbon capture and storage systems (CCS) as an example. While they play a pivotal role in lessening the effects of greenhouse gases by capturing and storing carbon, they also need considerable water to operate. This can impact water stress in regions utilizing this technology, particularly in areas where water resources are already stretched. To mitigate the challenges of the water-energy-emissions paradigm, businesses must adopt a smart water management approach that helps achieve sustainability goals in a practical, tangible way.
Smart Water Management
Smart water management refers to the integrated approach of understanding, planning, and optimizing how water is used across business operations. Water is the key to many industrial processes that consume energy and generate greenhouse gas emissions. By adopting smart strategies to manage water use, companies can balance their sustainability and business goals through more efficient, measurable processes.
Businesses can approach smart water management through the lens of a four-step framework:
- Understand Goals: To build an effective foundation, companies must start by defining water and climate goals at the outset of the process. As a part of this effort, companies should gain a baseline understanding of the operational constraints that they must address to make progress on their goals at the site and enterprise levels.
- Gain Insights: Before implementing any changes, it’s vital to fully understand the current scenario. Through comprehensive audits that focus on how water interconnects throughout a site, companies can identify inefficiencies. This ensures decisions are driven by facts.
- Implement Actions: Based on the insights, companies must implement localized solutions, which can include innovative chemistry, digital technologies, and tailored engineering. To implement solutions effectively with speed, companies should apply a comprehensive approach – working with a partner to identify the unique challenges within their industries.
- Deliver Outcomes: Companies need to look at programs holistically to understand how decisions made in one area can impact another. To measure progress, companies need the means to track performance across their entire operation. Data-driven insights help companies assess and make progress on their sustainability and business goals.
1 Average cumulative savings are based on system-wide industry audits. Actual results will vary based on individual plant design and operation.
The effective use of data is a critical component of an integrated smart water management strategy. Gathering and scrutinizing data from every level of operation — from single assets to entire sites and business networks — equips businesses to make informed decisions. This emphasis on data empowers businesses to pinpoint inefficiencies, foresee potential hurdles, and craft optimized solutions. Incorporating both existing and emerging technologies, like real-time monitoring, advanced analytics, and predictive modeling, enables these insights. Equipped with these tools, industries can craft strategies that tackle current challenges while paving the way for a more environmentally secure future.
One way to harness data-driven solutions is by utilizing digital twin technology. This technology creates a digital replica of a company’s operations, allowing businesses to simulate various scenarios in their water and energy systems without disrupting real-world production. This approach has gained wide acceptance across many industries and has led to notable results.
By optimizing the power of water through an integrated smart water management approach, companies do more than just streamline their processes; they help enhance their operational efficiency, which can directly translate to cost savings. Moreover, as companies reduce waste and maximize resource use, they can also improve product quality, giving them a competitive edge. As a result, businesses can not only act as environmental stewards — they can also boost their bottom line, striking a balance between sustainable practices and increased profitability.
Collective Effort Toward Sustainability
In today’s world, isolated actions or temporary solutions won’t address the mounting water and climate challenges. Businesses worldwide must come together in a unified commitment to manage water responsibility. It’s not just about doing what’s right; it’s about building resiliency in a rapidly changing landscape. By embracing integrated smart water management strategies, businesses are gearing up for a future that demands both adaptability and sustainability.
Every conserved drop of water and reduced emission carries a message. As we stand at this pivotal moment, businesses must realize their future success hinges on their actions today. The responsibility lies with industries and the call to action is clear – we must take collective action now to build a sustainable future.
CALVIN EMANUEL, PhD, Vice President and General Manager, Sustainable Growth Solutions, Ecolab
Calvin currently serves as a member of the board of trustees of the Chemical Educational Foundation (CEF). CEF programs help inspire students, educators, and communities to build the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics workforce of the future.
He graduated from Auburn University with a bachelor’s degree in Chemistry. He also earned a Ph.D. in Organic Chemistry from Wayne State University and an MBA from the University of Houston-Clear Lake. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.