An inflatable raft carrying eight people plunges and spins among car-size boulders on a ride down the churning Colorado River. Millions of gallons of water pour through Grand Canyon's Class V rapids in a seemingly endless supply, dwarfing adventurers in their boats. A few hundred miles farther on, however, the Colorado is a meager stream that now dries out most years before reaching the ocean. While it's a prominent symbol of too little water under too much demand, the river is not unique.
Across the country, 36 states face water shortages in the next three years, CBS news reports. In some cases, water officials have overestimated long-term supply based on atypically high river flows in the last century, while increasing demand from population growth, agriculture and industry have put strains on what water is available. Either way, it is becoming a scarcer commodity. Joining energy and climate concerns, water supply will be among the top three environmental issues of the next few decades.
Unlike energy supplies such as gasoline, electricity and natural gas, most of us take water for granted. At the fuel pump, the dollar digits count up before our eyes, but water comes out of the tap at an invisible cost. It's always there, and always available. Even in Phoenix in the middle of July, no one turns on the faucet without water gushing out.
Ready access makes it easy to over use water. In one telling statistic, the average American utilizes 150 gallons per day compared to 40 gallons per U.K. citizen. That's just for personal demand such as showers and washing clothes; the amount for growing crops and manufacturing goods adds significantly more.
The implications of current and future water constraints for green building – and for building product manufacturers and service providers – are huge. Leading companies are getting in front of the water usage issue by establishing themselves as responsible users even before consumers demand it. It's a topic that extends beyond fixture and appliance manufacturers whose products visibly use water in the home or office. Being able to credibly promote water-wise manufacturing processes can be an important differentiator for all producers, especially when discussed as part of an overall green commitment.
For example, one Brandner Communications client that manufactures exterior building components recently opened a new processing plant. In addition to highlighting the company's leadership in recycling waste materials and developing durable products, it includes in public relations and marketing messages the ways the new plant conserves water. Actions include using no potable water in manufacturing, recycling and reusing all process water, and using wastewater to irrigate the site's landscaping.
In the coming years as building product customers become increasingly aware of water limitations, more will be looking to do business with companies that use the resource efficiently. It's not a hot-button buying point for most of them yet, but one businesses need to be aware of and get ready for now. The key is to weave it into marketing efforts where it makes sense – being bold with water-friendly usage claims, but not overdoing it. As Jack Nicholson's detective character Jake Gittes said in "China Town" – the classic movie about water wars in Southern California – "this business requires a certain amount of finesse."