In November this year, San Francisco declared a water shortage emergency and called for reducing usage by 10%, impacting nearly three million city customers. In March, Utah also declared a state of emergency as 90% of the state was in extreme drought conditions.
These are just 2 of the 17 states that experienced water shortages in the past year. State and local governments are now motivated to protect their communities going into 2022 and beyond, with little consensus on water sources that are shared by so many, like the Colorado River.
Legislation for this issue will be incredibly important but will only solve for part of the challenges. A comprehensive approach is necessary, which is why global consumer products leader P&G spearheaded an initiative called the 50L Home, a platform that addresses two pressing global challenges: water security and climate change.
The 50L Home’s objectives include re-inventing the future of water and changing the narrative on water consumption. Many global leaders have joined in partnership on this program, including the 2030 Water Resources Group, World Economic Forum, and the World Business Council for Sustainable Development. Other leading members in the cohort include Electrolux, Ikea, ENGIE, Grundfos, SUEZ and Kohler.
The group’s approach is much about education that encourages water and energy efficiency in households, along with building awareness that leads to better lifestyle choices for sustainable water use. However, as the group recently discovered through a joint research project, while reducing usage is incredibly important, there are other factors that are equally important, such as minimizing hot water use.
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The white paper from recent research led by 50L Home partner Arcadis, Water-Energy-Carbon Nexus in our homes. A blind spot for climate crisis?, reports two very critical points. First, the way we use water in the home accounts for approximately 80% of carbon emissions in the water cycle. Second, analysis confirmed that energy used to heat water accounts for 6% of carbon emissions in most of the cities studied, making it the second biggest source of energy consumption in homes around the world after space heating.
“In affluent cities, if you look at the heating of the water in the home, this is the biggest contribution of greenhouse gas, up to 90%,” said Frantz Beznik, research and development senior director and global head of sustainable innovation at P&G. “Water heating in the home is sort of a blind spot that no one is talking about. 50L Home wants to provide a new portfolio of in-home solutions that redefine the options and help with the decarbonization of the water industry.”
Small changes can make a big impact. In Los Angeles, one of the cities of focus, changing from an inefficient toilet to an EPA WaterSense labeled toilet can save up to $140 per year in water costs. Other small changes such as reducing shower time to five minutes, not rinsing plates before putting them in the dishwasher and turning taps off when they aren’t being used during activities like shaving will save up to $200 per year in water and $92 in heating the water.
On a larger scale, supplying water to customers is highly energy-intensive—about 8% of the state of California’s electricity consumption is used to source, transport and treat water. Layer on to that the invisible issue of heating the water, residential water heating consumes about 3.5% of the total energy demand of the United States.
Some bigger change may help consumers pivot as more utility providers and policy makers get involved because of the push from the 50L Home coalition. For instance, Mayor of the City of Phoenix, Kate Gallego, was named the public sector co-chair of the 50L Home and will provide thought leadership on how cities can address multi-system challenges around water security. Plus, the group recently announced a collaboration with the US Green Building Council of Los Angeles.
“Frankly, for me, the biggest call for action is how are we going to integrate between water, energy and building sector,” said Beznik. “These three sectors are still probably too siloed. Joining them is the part of the necessary innovation. We are choosing partners who are touching all parts of the value chain of water and energy in this process, inside and outside the home. We aren’t going after the water sector and trying to fix it, we are going across all sectors. I see many coalitions rising, which is amazing, but very few of them are cross-sector over the entire value chain, end-to-end. We need to breakthrough these silos and integrate to drive that change.”
Los Angeles has committed to be carbon zero by 2050, and the United States has given a 2030 GHG Pollution Reduction Target. In 2019, Los Angeles launched a Green New Deal which aims to run on 100% renewable energy by 2045 and to recycle 100% of its wastewater by 2035.
The 50L Home is diving below the surface to reduce the amount of hot water needed in everyday chores like washing clothes and dishes. If you have seen the P&G Tide ad campaigns, Ice-T, Vanilla Ice and Stone Cold Steve Austin are helping educate consumers on the need to change to cold water washing because switching all loads from hot to cold water in a high efficiency washer reduces energy use in the wash phase by more than 90%.
For Tide, the 2030 goal is for 75% of the loads of laundry in the US and Canada to be washed in cold instead of hot has the potential to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 4.25 million metric tons in 2030—the equivalent of removing about one million cars from the road for a year.
“If people could understand how much they waste and how much they could save, it would go a long way to educate and motivate,” Beznik said. “For instance, it only takes eight dishes in the dishwasher to use less water than doing a hand wash.”
A new generation of appliances and solutions that allow immediate in-situ water reuse is also in the works, along with consumer’s access to real time data on water use. Ultimately, Beznik says, “Technology like a Nest for water will bring the invisible visible of how much water and heat we use in our homes and help move the needle.”
P&G is on virtual display this week at the Consumer Electronic Show featuring the 50L Home to educate on hot water reduction methods, with an eye toward the next generation of detergents that reduce the amount of hot water needed.
50L Home also is working on a 2023 pilot project with the City of Los Angeles.
Another innovator in reducing residential water use at a local level is a Netherlands-based company called Hydraloop. The company manufactures water recycling devices that can be installed in a home to save up to 45% on water usage and sewage output, while at the same time saving energy to reduce carbon footprint, plus not compromising on living comfort or hygiene. This practice has become known as greywater recycling, and the company predicts that within a decade, every new building will have its own greywater recycling system.
The company was honored at the 2020 Consumer Electronics Show with four awards, including the CES BEST of the BEST, for its technology that recycles greywater without using filters, membranes or chemicals. Now, it’s leveraging that momentum to appeal to policy makers and home builders as a solution that they cannot ignore.
Fernando Ramirez serves as the managing director in the US for Hydraloop whose focus has been on the west coast due to water scarcity in that region. He says there are progressive states with new legislation on greywater reuse and some homeowners are now understanding the environmental drivers. Again, the solutions need leadership and education for a number of stakeholders.
“Many water companies develop water rates based on consumption, which is the market’s solution to force people to reduce consumption,” Ramirez said. “We are trying to impact not only the way that water is used, but also reduce the potential impact on rate structures and challenges. We also think about sewer systems, because water returned in sewer systems can be very expensive to treat, but ours is a circular solution. We can reduce the amount of water that must be returned in the water treatment system.”
Hydraloop is developing projects in 10 states right now and working with offsite housing manufacturer S2A Modular to have their product installed in all of the company’s 35 factories starting with the one in Patterson, CA. These installations will have a big impact.
“We like to look at gallons saved annually,” he said. “Our technology for an average home for a family of 3 or 4 can save up to 36,000 gallons per year. If you multiply that by 100,000, the numbers add up quickly.”
Not only is Hydraloop part of water conservation solutions, it also reduces the energy needed to distribute the water, plus it reduces the amount of energy that is needed to heat water. Without the water in the home being recycled, a washing machine uses cold water from outside. In colder seasons, the washing machine needs more electricity to heat this water from outside temperatures to washing temperatures of 100° F or more. When the water goes through a recycling system, the washing machine uses water that’s already at room temperature, so it needs much less energy to heat the water to washing temperatures.
The company will be at CES in January showcasing new solutions for urban projects like condos, townhouses, and high rises, along with a solution for larger commercial applications such as clubs and universities.