Water usage in buildings, in certain parts of the world, has often been considered a secondary aspect on many organisations sustainability agendas; owing to its relative cost compared to other utilities such as electricity and gas. However, as the effects of climate change on water availability become more apparent, and urbanisation levels across the globe continue to rise, the importance of this resource is gaining a strong foothold within the commercial real estate sector.
Around 80% of the world’s population already suffers severe threat to its water security, and projections point towards uncertainty of when and where water will be available under climate change models; this will likely have a profound impact on the cost of water and the way that it is used. These areas incorporate some of top commercial real estate locations including Los Angeles, Madrid, Mumbai and Shanghai – indicating that we must increase the amount of consideration we give to the way water is used in our buildings, if we are to continue to offer healthy lifestyles to occupants through those buildings. Hence, it is important that we adapt our existing and new building stock to capture water when it is available (e.g. introduction of Sustainable Drainage Systems) and use as little as possible when in short supply.
Aside from the construction of commercial buildings – that uses vast quantities of water through, for example, dust suppression and cleaning – water usage in the commercial real estate sector can be split into two overarching categories: 1) Domestic Uses (that include toilet flushing, hand washing, grounds maintenance), and 2) Process Uses (that include comfort cooling).
Water monitoring and management within the commercial real estate sector
As with other utilities, it is crucial to build up an understanding of how water is used within your buildings before management and technological changes are to be implemented; helping to mitigate the likelihood of introducing ineffective systems.
Detailed monitoring is directly linked to the availability of accurate metering of building water systems. Where one mechanical meter on the incoming water supply will give a broad understanding of water consumption (that will require increased time to investigate system inefficiencies), multiple digital sub-meters across differing operations (e.g. bathrooms), high use processes (e.g. spa and leisure facilities) and tenants will allow for a detailed water use profile to be developed, and will also allow for the identification of potential leaks. If accurate sub-metering is implemented, depending on the complexity of these sites, the sheer volume of data may prove incomprehensible to asset and portfolio managers alike. Therefore, there is a need for a data management system, such as RiskWise by S2 Partnership Ltd., to allow for validated, real-time individual meter data to be clearly displayed. The ability to collate this information and produce useable reports using multiple parameters, at various levels can also prove invaluable for advising managers on where best to implement changes that result in environmentally positive and cost-effective improvements.
Once system inefficiencies and unnecessary high-use processes have been identified, management can begin to form a plan to address these issues. An effective sustainable water management plan will include introductions and amendments of technologies and systems, designed to reduce reliance on water resources and reduce water waste. These management changes may range from implementing water-saving education programmes and the use of cistern bags to the installation of water recycling systems.
What is the future of water management?
Sustainable water management will prove critical to providing commercial real estate with a focus on health and well-being. To best conserve water as a quality resource, the management of water supply, wastewater and storm water will need to be considered as a single opportunity – rather than isolated issues. As our cities develop further, and demand for water grows and availability shrinks, this integrated approach will become increasingly more important in managing any additional social and economic implications related to water supply, waste water removal and flood damage. As discussed above, there are multiple aspects to sustainable water management and, as such, no one approach will be sufficient to meet the future water context. By implementing a combined suite of measures, not only does the likelihood of successful sustainable water management improve but the unit cost of water saved becomes cheaper and the options more attractive to investors.