Smart organizations know the importance of putting sustainability and ESG goals at the forefront of their values and priorities. The concept of “net zero” initially became widespread as a carbon-footprint goal. Being net zero carbon means companies offset their carbon emissions, therefore becoming carbon neutral. From there, the concept of net zero spread to water and “net zero water” became a popular sustainability goal — for companies to achieve a balance between the amount of water put into the environment vs. the amount taken from it. Now, many companies’ goals of achieving net zero water are slowly but surely being replaced by an even more ambitious goal —reaching net positive water.
Achieving net positive water means that instead of avoiding the depletion of water resources, a company contributes more water to the ecosystem than it consumes. As the world faces a 56% deficit in available freshwater by 2030 and companies reported financial impacts from water risks at $301.B – net positive water is becoming a goal that more organizations are pursuing.
What Exactly is Net Positive Water?
For a company to achieve net positive water means that they are creating more water than they are using. This “creation” of water can be achieved in many ways, including capturing and reusing rainwater or treating wastewater onsite. Doing so means that water that would typically be lost or wasted by a company can be treated and become available as freshwater. The freshwater can then replenish stressed water basins or be used to irrigate onsite. So, the output of water by a company is more significant than their intake of water, making them water positive.
How to Achieve Net Positive Water
While there’s no one-size-fits-all approach, corporations can take a few concrete steps to reduce their water use and make it more achievable. These include:
- Implementing smart water management strategies, including smart irrigation and leak detection and water use analytics services:
- Water waste prevents companies from achieving net positive water goals. A great way to combat this is implementing smart irrigation practices. Unlike traditional irrigation controllers, smart irrigation controllers don’t operate on preset schedules and timers — they tailor watering and run times to the specific landscape. Automation cuts off the water at the moment it’s no longer needed. Companies can also invest in a leak detection and water use analytics service that provides real-time visibility of their indoor and outdoor water usage — letting them get ahead of leaks and breaks that cause wasted water.
- Harvesting rainwater and using recycled water
- A smart way to limit freshwater consumption is to use alternative water sources such as captured rainwater, recycled water, pond or reservoir water, and water that’s been treated onsite. Capturing rainwater involves collecting run-off rainfall from roof tops into gutters and channeling water into storage vessels such as rain barrels or large cisterns. This recycled water can then be used for outdoor irrigation or indoor non-potable uses, reducing an organization’s overall freshwater usage.
- Treating wastewater on-site
- Typically, buildings send their wastewater to sanitary sewers that feed into municipal treatment facilities, but some companies — like Google’s Bay View campus — are instead treating all of their campus’ wastewater onsite. This water is then reused for non-potable demands including toilet flushing, irrigation, and cooling towers.
How Organizations are Making Net Positive Water a Reality
A handful of major corporations like Pepsi, Microsoft, and Google have pledged to become water positive by 2030. A shining example of how to achieve this is Google’s Bay View campus in Mountain View, California. The campus has already reached net positive water impact and is striving to replenish 120% of the water they consume by 2030.
They’ve done so primarily by building an on-site system to collect, treat, and reuse all stormwater and wastewater. This system treats all the campus’ wastewater from restrooms and kitchens to be reused for non-potable demands, such as toilet flushing, irrigation, and cooling towers. Google has attributed its success with this initiative to collaboration and innovation across energy systems, plumbing, landscaping, and water treatment — looking at the whole picture of how they consume water instead of seeing this as a one-off practice. While becoming water positive is an admirable ESG goal for companies, as we know about any trend in the sustainability space, it’s not a cure-all. We must all — corporations, governments, and people — continue to do whatever we can to work together to conserve our world’s most precious resource: water.