What’s Your Corporate Water Management Plan?

Jennifer Dudgeon, Principal, Sustainability, CA Technologies

How much water does your organization consume? This is a question that CA Technologies has been asked more and more frequently. Customers want to know, investors want to know. Let’s not forget the CDP is scoring water disclosure next year, raising the importance of being able to articulate how we use and dispose of this very precious resource.

As a software company with no manufacturing operations and the bulk of our offices located in multi-tenant buildings, it’s challenging to answer this question. An added complication is the fact that the cost of water is significantly undervalued. This makes it difficult to craft a business case to install the necessary water meters, which would allow us to be smarter in this area. But these roadblocks didn’t stop us – innovation is at the core of our business and that extends to the sustainability realm. In the summer of 2013 we took on an EDF Climate Corps Fellow, Jonathan Hempton, to investigate how we can transparently and inclusively account for our water use practices.

As it turns out it was good timing, since around that time EDF and AT&T were finishing a project that’s aimed to help companies like ours figure this stuff out. The Water Efficiency Toolkit provides businesses with guidance on what questions to ask their facilities teams and ways to evaluate a building’s water efficiency and possible areas for improvement. Jonathan took this material and modified it to suit our needs, developing both a water audit tool and a water scorecard, which we will be rolling out this fall.

Good news for your company or organization: AT&T and EDF are hosting a free webinar on October 2nd than can help you dive into using the tools too. To find out more and register, click here.

In May 2013 we were scratching our heads trying to figure out how we can understand our water use, and in September we have a strong foundation that will allow us to develop a corporate water management plan. Not bad for a summer’s work!

Scaling Up Building Water-Energy Savings

Increasing droughts and water shortages are causing companies to pay more attention to their water use. Leaders like AT&T understand that proactively engaging in water conservation—including working with suppliers—can help mitigate its risks to water stress.

In 2012, EDF and AT&T launched an effort to identify opportunities to reduce water and energy use in buildings, with a focus on cooling towers. It turns out that many buildings are sitting on big opportunities to reduce water use in their cooling towers — up to 40% — in ways that can also save money. Based on these findings, AT&T is aiming for 150 million gallons in annualized water reductions by the end of 2015.

Working Toward Sustainability with Walmart

By: Michelle Harvey

For the last six years, I’ve lived in Bentonville, AR, working with Walmart,  whose global headquarters is located here. My job, in part, is to help the world’s largest retailer find ways to bring healthier products to market, by shining a light on the ingredients in products that EDF believes need to be replaced.Can a quality product contain a cancer-causing substance? I don’t think so. I’ve worked hard to convince Walmart of that, and together with my NGO colleagues offered alternatives that will result in an effective product, affordably priced, made with benign ingredients. The average Walmart supercenter carries hundreds of thousands of everyday products, from shampoo to eye shadow to baby lotion to spray cleaners. Change these products for the better – remove an unnecessary endocrine-disrupting fragrance enhancer, for example – and the health and environmental benefits can be huge.

How huge? We’re about to find out. On Sept. 12, Walmart announced a new chemicals policy intended to bring better ingredients into its home and personal care products, targeting an initial set of roughly ten common chemicals of concern for “continuous reduction, restriction and elimination.” More importantly, Walmart’s policy calls for suppliers to use informed substitution, meaning what goes into the redesigned product has to be better than what came out. It’s a first for any retailer.

The Road to Sustainability

My colleagues and I also work with Walmart  to make the company more sustainable – from the kinds of products it sells, to the ways that they transport those products, to recycling the materials its uses every day. But do sustainable products and sustainable operations bring us closer as a society to sustainable consumption? That is, can we continue to buy and use what we want, when we want it, and still guarantee that our great great grandchildren will be able to do the same?

Walmart is  a good place to start on the road toward true sustainability. After all, the world’s largest retailer – with some 220 million customers every week– is also the world’s largest customer, with more  than 100,000 suppliers that are eager to meet its needs and wants. So EDF began by helping Walmart develop a better list of wants, such as energy-efficient factories and food production using less water and fertilizer.

A related part of my job is to help Walmart move toward a corporate goal of zero waste – that is 100% beneficial reuse of everything Walmart uses in its daily operations. That means no dumping of stuff into landfills and no incineration.

What we’ve learned together is that there’s the easy stuff – give unused food to food banks, recycle shrink wrap and cardboard. And there’s dozens of other things that can be disassembled or recaptured or repurposed. But not everything is easy. The same things you can’t recycle at home – bathroom trash, broken items, food-contaminated packaging – are even tougher at Walmart scale. Finding ways to reuse things like that takes creativity and innovation.

My conclusion, as EDF and Walmart travel down this road toward sustainability, is that we have to get better and better at keeping materials in play. The longer we can use what’s already been extracted, grown or created, the less quickly we need to extract, grow or create more.

So that’s my goal. To get healthier, more sustainable products on store shelves in the short term, and, long term, to figure out how to use and reuse and recycle the stuff a consumer society produces in such abundance.

Thought for the day: Use it up, wear it out, make do or do without.

 

Photo credit: Walmart Corporate via photopin cc 

What's In Your Home? New Walmart Policy Promises Safer Ingredients In Household And Personal Care Products

By: Sarah Vogel

This content was originally posted on The Huffington Post.

Ever worry about what's in that cleaner you just sprayed all over the house? What about the shampoo your kids use each night? Today, an overwhelming number of products on store shelves and in our homes contain chemicals known to pose health risks to humans. Thanks to a new chemicals policy just announced by Walmart, American consumers are a step closer to having safer, healthier items in their homes.

It may surprise you that Walmart is leading the retail industry in eliminating hazardous chemicals from household products. Under the guidance of Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), Walmart has committed to taking steps that will move the entire industry — from manufacturers to retailers — towards producing and stocking safer products on shelves across America.

At Walmart's Global Sustainability Milestone Meeting, the company unveiled a new policy on chemicals, calling for expanded ingredient disclosure and targeting about ten key chemicals of concern for substitution with safer ingredients. It also plans to take its private brand consumables products through a rigorous screening process for these chemicals.

The commitments made today will impact some 20 percent of the consumables sold at Walmart stores nationwide — the non-food products that you can pour, squeeze, dab or otherwise apply to your body or use in and around your home or car. This includes everyday products like shampoo, baby lotion, cosmetics, paint, spray cleaners and air fresheners.

Regardless of your views on the company, Walmart's ability to transform how business does business is unprecedented. EDF has been working with Walmart since 2006 to protect people and the environment. Harnessing the massive scale of Walmart's business to move hazardous chemicals out of the supply chain and off store shelves will have ripple effects across the entire industry.

Consumers today demand safer products; scientific research points to serious risks of chemical exposures to our health, including cancer, diabetes and infertility. Several years ago, EDF challenged Walmart to remove toxic chemicals from thousands of products on its shelves. Walmart's announcement marks an important step toward doing just that.

Since 2006, Walmart suppliers have submitted chemical ingredients for consumables to The Wercs, which allows Walmart to see exactly what chemicals are in suppliers' products. Using a screening tool called GreenWERCS, developed by a working group of industry, government and NGO representatives and co-chaired by EDF, Walmart will now be able to measure the progress it makes towards these commitments over time.

In our view, taking action on chemicals is a timely and practical response to growing public concern about toxic chemicals and public interest campaigns directed at many retailers and product manufacturers to remove hazardous ingredients from their products.

Over the past several years, major companies like SC Johnson, Johnson and Johnson, and most recently, Procter & Gamble — some of Walmart's biggest suppliers — have all taken steps to phase out hazardous chemicals.

This commitment promises to make thousands of healthier and safer products available to the 80 percent of Americans that shop at Walmart. It is a first and important step that must be followed through with meaningful implementation. At EDF, we will be closely monitoring and verifying the reduction of hazardous chemicals and shift to safer ingredients, ensuring the promise for healthier products becomes a reality.

This will not be achieved overnight or by one single retailer. Industry and government are both responsible for continuously improving the safety of chemicals in the products we bring into our homes every day. But Walmart's initiative marks a major step forward, and we hope to see other retailers follow suit.

EDF and Walmart: Changing the Retail Industry to Protect People and the Planet

Today, Walmart broadcast its Global Sustainability Milestone Meeting across the Web, giving audiences everywhere a peek into its journey to achieve its goal of selling “products that sustain people and the environment.”

Why wouldn’t a retailer sell products that sustain its customers (so they can continue shopping there) and its resources (so it can continue operating)?  In a perfect world, all companies would operate like this. That’s not the case though.

Aspirational goals like this are hard for any company, much less the world’s largest retailer.  Environmental Defense Fund has spent 25 years proving that good environmental strategy and profitability go hand in hand.

For Walmart—with up to half a million products in every store from more than 100,000 suppliers—product sustainability is a massive undertaking.

My colleagues and I have spent seven years on the ground with Walmart, driving sustainability initiatives from within. We even opened an office down the street from Walmart’s Headquarters in Arkansas.

As we commend Walmart on today’s Milestone announcements. What’s most exciting is the proof we are chipping away at this behemoth goal together and impacting the retail industry as a whole.

At today’s meeting, Walmart highlighted its progress on product sustainability and credited the newly launched Sustainability Index for delivering results.

We recently published a blog post reiterating the power of The Sustainability Index “to move entire industries to go beyond what is required by law, benefiting consumers, workers and the planet.”  Today, Walmart showed how The Sustainability Index is doing just that, especially in regards to the work we’ve done together on chemicals in consumer products and fertilizer use in agriculture.

Offering products to customers with safer chemicals

Walmart announced a new policy today that promises to bring safer, healthier products to the 80 percent of Americans that shop there. The policy focuses on chemical ingredients in consumables –household cleaners, personal care products and cosmetics. Walmart is calling for expanded ingredient disclosure, targeting about ten key chemicals of concern for substitution with better ingredients and looking to take its private brand products through a rigorous screening process.

EDF pushed hard for this policy, which sets a new standard for the retail industry and sends a strong signal to suppliers that it’s time to get serious about phasing out hazardous chemicals in products. Just last week, P&G announced that it has already begun doing this.

The potential impact of this commitment to get hazardous chemicals off the shelves of American stores is monumental, and American consumers will be safer for it.

Helping to optimize fertilizer use in agriculture

Groceries account for half of Walmart’s US sales. It’s no wonder that agriculture presents massive opportunity for the company to advance sustainability. In fact, fertilizer use is responsible for nearly half of Walmart’s carbon footprint in its supply chain. That’s why EDF has spent years working with farmers to optimize fertilizer use on farms, saving the farmer money and reducing environmental impacts. And it’s working! Walmart announced commitments from 15 suppliers to encourage better fertilizer use in their supply chain.  These changes will touch more than 30 percent of food and beverage sales in North America. That’s huge.

We can all celebrate the seven million metric tons of greenhouse gases that can be avoided by the agriculture initiatives discussed today, in addition to improving waterways and soil health.

The entire retail industry has a long way to go to truly sustainable products. Walmart has been steadily moving forward on this journey, and today’s announcements exemplify its leadership. EDF will continue to push these initiatives forward and track progress along the way.

Whether you shop at Walmart or not, these changes are bound to impact your shopping cart and improve the products in your family’s home.

28 Billion Reasons to Improve Building Cooling Efficiency

By: Tom Murray

Can you picture the amount of water you use to shower every day? Now imagine everyone in New York City – well over 8 million people – taking a shower a day of over the course of a year. That's almost the same amount of water that AT&T and Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) realized could be saved if cost-effective improvements in large scale building commercial cooling systems were adopted nationwide—28 billion gallons of water a year. That’s $170 million in annual water and sewer charges—savings that will only increase as water utility rates rise in the U.S.

In 2012, EDF and AT&T launched  a pilot to identify opportunities to reduce water and energy use in buildings, with a focus on cooling towers. Many buildings are sitting on big opportunities to reduce water use in their cooling towers — up to 40% — in ways that can also save money. Based on the results from the pilot, AT&T is rolling out a plan to achieve 150 million gallons of annualized water savings by the end of 2015. The plan includes:

1. Investing in technology to improve water use efficiency for cooling towers.

2. Investing in “free-air cooling” projects, which take advantage of the outside air to provide some, or all, of the building’s cooling needs.

3. Growing the capacity to optimize cooling tower operations by sharing training materials developed during the pilot with property managers, facility managers, and other key staff across AT&T’s highest water-using sites.

Scaling up the findings beyond AT&T to other big buildings, including office space, city halls, hospitals, schools, shopping malls, and more can start saving the U.S. billions of gallons of water a year. That’s why EDF and AT&T have created a free toolkit with resources to help organizational leaders and facility managers reduce the water used for cooling buildings. The reduction solutions in the toolkit not only benefit the environment and communities, they also save organizations money. For example AT&T found that:

  • One cooling tower filtration system upgrade costs less than $100,000 to install but promises more than $60,000 in annual water and sewer savings—paying for itself in less than two years.
  • A minor $4,000 equipment upgrade to expand free air cooling promises nearly $40,000 in annual savings.

These kinds of smart solutions will become increasingly important as climate change reduces water supplies and development ratchets up demand.  Hopefully this collaboration and toolkit will help spark the adoption of water efficiency measures in building across the country and help to make sure we continue to have enough water for people and the natural systems that sustain us.

Water Efficiency Planning: It all starts with good data

By: Caroline Goodbody

Nearly two thirds of the country remains locked in severe or higher level of drought and there is no end in sight.

I began to understand the scale of the problems facing our water systems while working for US Senator Ben Cardin. Senator Cardin is chairman of the Environment & Public Works Subcommittee on Water and Wildlife, which exposed me to the policies that surround water issues. When I wrote speeches or talking points, I would write broad umbrella statements like, “Water is essential to life, economic development, and growth,” and follow with a few facts and figures to impress whatever audience he was addressing. I knew that proper water management was important, but my understanding was only surface deep. I never had time to really explore the issue in depth and had to assume what the experts were telling me was correct.

After completing my first year in Yale’s MBA/MEM program, I had a couple of goals in mind when I looked for my "dream” internship this summer. The first was to learn the hard facts and specifics behind those grand statements I had written: I wanted to know where the numbers came from. The second was to learn how water issues are addressed outside of government, especially in the corporate sector. I was lucky to find a near – perfect fit with the EDF/AT&T Water Efficiency Project.

When I joined the team in May, AT&T and EDF had already completed the pilot phase of the project to identify opportunities to reduce water (and save money) by improving the efficiency of cooling towers on its buildings. AT&T’s Senior Energy Manager Tim Fleming explains the project in more detail here.

The next phase of the project was scaling up implementation of these findings within AT&T and more broadly. One of the tasks I was asked to take on was estimating the potential water savings that could be achieved if buildings in a dozen specific cities improved the efficiency of their cooling tower operations. These estimates help in making the case for why these cities would want to add this approach as part of overall water reduction plan.

While I knew this task would take time, I thought it would be doable and – since we were just aiming for ballpark figures – I believed would be fairly straightforward. Given how important water is to “life, economic development, and growth,” I was sure that the USGS and local governments keeps track of how much water is being used and who is using it.

So I was pretty surprised at how difficult it was to find data that allowed me to make “apples to apples” comparisons. Sometimes regional water demand would be broken down by sector; other times not. Even if water use was broken down by sector, states did not always use the same methods or definitions in determining water withdrawals and consumption. Sometimes there would be city estimates, and other times, the best I could find was regional or county level data. Finding recent data was also a challenge.

As I was combing through state and regional reports I was convinced that I was missing something. But when I dug further, and looked into methodologies, I would often find researchers making statements like, Quantification of water demand and its significance is limited by significant gaps in available data and analysis. Water has no federal data agency comparable to the Energy Information Administration that projects alternative demand scenarios,” or something along the lines of, Although the power sector is the largest user of water in the nation, national statistics on the consumption and withdrawal rates of individual power plants are characterized by inconsistencies and scarcity.”

Really?

Even though there is a universal understanding that water is essential to our economy, we have remarkably limited understanding of water use at both local and national levels. We cannot count on our water resources being reliable and predictable without accurate and comprehensive data. Water is important not just because we need it to drink and grow crops, but also because of the big role it plays in energy production. My colleague Kate Zerrenner covers this in a recent post.

The problem this lack of knowledge poses to policy makers and city planners is obvious – as populations grows, cities need to understand the constraints of local resources. But this information is important for decision makers in other sectors – including businesses. Businesses need to be able to count on a reliable source of water and a predictable source of energy.

Conquering our water challenges will be a challenge no matter what we do, but it will much easier if we have better data. And – as cliché as it sounds – will require every sector and company to look into its own facilities and find ways to reduce its water footprint. AT&T has already stepped up the plate and shown that tracking its water use and making small adjustments can save it money and mitigate future risk. The question now is, when will other businesses and government step up?

Caroline Goodbody is a joint MBA/MEM student at Yale University.