Water Conservation Strategies for the Service Industry

Brooke Mittermann

The hot topic in conservation and sustainability for 2015 has undoubtedly been water. Rates are rising in almost every major U.S. city, and in the West, unprecedented drought conditions have spurred tougher regulations and restrictions on residential and commercial customers. In California, where as of September 2015, 46 percent of the state is in an “exceptional drought,” Governor Jerry Brown issued an Executive Order in April mandating a 25 percent potable water reduction for cities and towns across the state, and water suppliers responded with conservation programs. So far the mandates seem to be working: July’s conservation rate was reported at 31.3 percent, and for June and July—two of California’s hottest months—the cumulative statewide savings was 29.5 percent.

For homeowners, water conservation is fairly simple – they have one water provider and are informed about reduction goals. For commercial businesses—especially multi-site restauranteurs and hoteliers—keeping up with conservation mandates across different municipalities (and getting the cooperation of customers and guests) is much more challenging.

Drought conditions or not, there are good reasons for making a commitment to water conservation. Water and sewer costs have increased an average of 40 percent across all industries since 2008. Water now comprises more than 10 percent of total utility costs for most business (even more if you consider combined water and sewer), and is the second greatest opportunity for savings behind energy. Companies should be actively managing water use and costs, because doing nothing now will cost more later on. The good news is that many water-saving strategies take little expense or effort.

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According to the U.S. EPA, approximately 15 percent of the total water use in commercial and industrial facilities in the U.S. takes place in hospitality and food service establishments. The largest water use happens in restrooms, kitchens, laundering and landscaping. Fortunately, there are relatively simple efficiency measures and operational changes that can conserve water in these industries:

  • While this may seem like a minor detail, consider changing restaurant dining room policy to only offer drinking water to customers when requested. A 16-ounce glass of water may not seem like much, but when you are serving hundreds of customers each day, it adds up—and some customers may not even want water. Setting out fewer glasses also reduces the water (and energy) used for dishwashing.


  • Provide guests who are staying multiple nights with the option to reuse sheets and towels each day instead of replacing them with new sets during room cleaning.


  • Install high-efficiency products in kitchens and bathrooms, like high efficiency ice machines and dishwashers, faucet aerators, low-flow showerheads and low-flow or dual flush toilets. Today’s aerators and low-flow products save 30 percent (or more) of water used without a significant impact on water pressure. Also, train employees to not remove these products after they have been installed.


  • Start implementing measures to save on irrigation. Start with the basics: water early in the morning (between 2am and 6am), and water deeply but only between two and four days a week. Ensure spray heads are watering lawns, plants and trees – not sidewalks and parking lots. Replace water-hogging plants and flowers with more drought-tolerant native plants, and use low-flow or drip irrigation where possible/feasible. Smart irrigation systems can detect soil moisture content and also track weather, which can prevent overwatering and reduce consumption. Finally, put away that hose when cleaning sidewalks and parking lots. Use a broom for dry debris rather than spraying water.


  • If you have a swimming pool on your property, reduce the rate of evaporation by using a pool cover. Also, make sure all pipes on the pump system are properly fitted to avoid leaks. These may be minor fixes, but left unattended they can add up.


  • Service your cooling towers on a regular basis. A clean, well maintained cooling tower will not only save water, but also energy. Maintaining proper water chemistry can prevent the build-up of scale on cooling tower panels; scale can cause the panels to use more water than necessary. Additionally, dirty nozzles and poorly maintained towers can lose water due to “drift” or blowing water droplets from the tower.


  • Train employees to be “water champions.” Set a goal for water reduction and have friendly competitions between sites to see who can reduce water use the most each month. Ask employees to share their own tips for conservation. When employees feel like they have ownership of the solution, they will be more involved and encourage each other to succeed.


  • Check regularly for leaks, and repair them promptly. Encourage employees to keep a watchful eye on water waste, or even assign a designated employee to monitor water use. Are there dripping faucets in kitchens and bathrooms? Do toilets run constantly? Does water pool on sidewalks or run into the street when sprinklers are on? Fix those leaks!

Shari’s Restaurants, a Northwest chain that operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week, worked with Ecova to evaluate its operational costs and focused part of the effort on water conservation. Three simple solutions helped the chain save almost one million dollars in just one year.

  • During Ecova’s equipment audit, dipper wells, used for ice cream scoops and other kitchen tools, were found to be running heated water nonstop at the 24 hour restaurant and using 8 million gallons of water a year. A redesigned dipper well was projected to save Shari’s $597,480.


  • Most of the 520 sinks installed in Shari’s were lacking aerators. The company invested $8.00 per faucet to install aerators on all sinks and cut water consumption by approximately 5 million gallons a year, saving $300,000.


  • Since irrigation accounts for about 19 percent of each Shari’s site water use, they installed smart weather-based controls on irrigation systems to automatically adjust schedules based on landscape needs and local weather conditions.

These tips are merely a start of what businesses can do to conserve water, which is only a small piece of the bigger picture. In future blog posts, we’ll be examining some of the other challenges and opportunities for business, such as data collection and reporting, local conservation mandates, Ecova’s water rate predictions, and smart meters that can help pinpoint reduction opportunities.

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