4 Ways the Commercial Real Estate Industry Can Help Address Water Scarcity

Commercial real estate is the second largest consumer of public water in the United States. Imagine if we got together to tackle this problem head-on! Here are four recommendations on how property managers and building owners can lead the way.

Record temperatures and prolonged drought conditions are impacting communities around the world. We see examples of this in Southwestern United Stateswhere the colorado river — an essential source of water for Utah, Colorado,
Wyoming, New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada and California — reached a crisis tipping point with terribly low water levels. Indeed, according to a study published in Natural climate changeUS Southwest ‘mega-drought’ is worst ever for 1200 years. This staggering fact puts into perspective the urgency with which we must tackle water scarcity.

While we see pockets of progress in the private and public sectors, we have no solution. Any government policy takes years to enact; we need coordinated action at local, state and national levels now.

We can start acting in the commercial real estate sector. Integrating water conservation and efficiency into places such as office buildings, restaurants, hotels, hospitals and schools would have a significant impact.
According to APE, “The commercial and institutional sector is the second largest consumer of public water in the United States, accounting for 17% of withdrawals from the public water supply.” Imagine if we came together to tackle this problem head-on.

What can the commercial real estate industry do to support water efficiency and conservation? Here are four recommendations on how property managers and building owners can lead the way.

1. Work with local, state and federal regulators to update old plumbing codes.

Basic building and plumbing codes often reflect how buildings were designed decades ago, when there were no requirements for water-efficient fixtures. The introduction and expansion of “green” building codes has helped drive more sustainable practices, including plumbing codes aimed at increasing water conservation and efficiency.

States and local governments have the ability to modify existing codes. Building owners and property managers should continue to work closely with government officials to build on the foundation established by these more sustainable building codes.

2. Check existing plumbing systems and switch to water-efficient fixtures.

Building owners can identify high water consumption or loss by auditing existing plumbing systems. A good way to start is to use EPAs
Simple Water Assessment Checklist for Commercial and Institutional Installationswhich calculates the potential water consumption and savings, as well as the measures to be taken to reduce water consumption.

A proper upgrade to more efficient products in kitchens and bathrooms can reduce water consumption by up to 50%. Additionally, the use of smart water shut-off devices or IoT flush management systems – using sensors and internet-connected devices – are also effective ways to reduce water consumption in buildings. These new water-saving products do not compromise performance; instead, they use water more efficiently.

3. Install water monitoring systems and use the data to optimize water conservation efforts.

The same water monitoring technology found in smart homes can be applied to office buildings, where employees regularly use kitchen faucets, dishwashers and bathrooms. Installing smart systems in commercial buildings can have a profound impact on water efficiency by sharing daily information about where businesses and property managers can reduce their consumption.

By generating greater awareness of real-time water usage in the office, people will become more aware of their water usage. And on a large scale, it can have a substantial impact on more responsible water use.

4. For new construction, use “green” plumbing and building codes as a guide.

Building owners and developers have a great opportunity to use the latest plumbing and building codes to build structures with sustainable designs and advanced, water-efficient fixtures and fittings.

As water scarcity issues persist, governments are likely to take steps to implement more stringent building systems and water-efficient systems. Building owners must go beyond the basic compliance requirements governed by existing plumbing codes and demand higher water efficiency standards. By being proactive, builders won’t have to go back to the drawing board after they’ve finished building.

It’s not too late if we start now

Headlines about water scarcity can be disconcerting; however, there is reason to be optimistic. We need to see more of the great work happening behind the scenes, especially in commercial real estate. The use of smart technologies, water sensors and monitoring systems is extremely promising and will continue to optimize water use. Replacing and upgrading plumbing fixtures will result in immediate water efficiency benefits; and new construction projects, increasingly governed by more stringent building and plumbing codes, will drive the industry toward more responsible and sustainable building practices.

We all have a role to play. I am confident that the progress we continue to see in the commercial real estate industry will have a real impact on our journey to conserving our most precious resource.