Last year, I was lucky enough to sit in on the EPA’s WaterSense Commercial and Institutional Sector Stakeholder Meeting Summary. The purpose of the meeting was to “obtain feedback on information presented in EPA’s white paper, “Water Efficiency in the Commercial and Institutional Sector: Considerations for a WaterSense Program” (August 20, 2009).
Although there were many valuable discussions at the meeting, what I found most interesting was the ongoing discussion about the unique roadblocks and obstacles that different commercial and institutional industries face when it comes to the implementation of water efficiency and conservation protocols and practices.
One example of the conflict between water efficiency and other equal concerns can be found in the healthcare industry. As we all know, many hospitals are tasked with balancing the needs of their patients against their shareholder’s demands. Additionally, facility managers for hospitals must insure that all operations comply with a long list of health and safety codes—many of which are in direct opposition to water conservation and efficiency. For example, although sink aerators can cut down on water use, they bring bacteria into an otherwise sterile environment—as a result, most hospital sinks cannot utilize aerators, and so their faucet flow rates can reach up to 10 gpm.
But change is afoot, as illustrated in a recent Stanford Medicine article by Diane Rogers entitled “Code Green”. Rogers points out that “The US health-care industry consumes $6.5 billion worth of energy each year, making it the second most energy-intensive building sector (food service is number one). Hospitals are often communities’ largest users of water and are major generators of waste. All of this activity contributes to the production of climate-changing greenhouse gases.”
But thanks to the Green Guide for Healthcare (Robin Guenther and Gail Vittori), a “best-practices guide for improving energy and water efficiency,” the healthcare industry now has options. The guide outlines “the key elements that have to be addressed in every successful sustainable project: site planning, energy, water, materials, and indoor environmental quality.”
Some of their water saving suggestions for hospitals are familiar, including “water smart” landscaping and rainwater catchment. But some of their suggestions are much more specific to the healthcare facility environment, like the use of condensate water—liquid formed via dehumidifying indoor air—for landscaping irrigation.
So what do you think? While all water users have different water demands and concerns, are there some common denominators—like efficient landscaping—that can be initiated across the board? If so, should we be focusing our efforts on universal solutions, or should a case-by-case basis be the modus operandi?