In water conservation and management, the retail and hospitality industries face a unique set of challenges. A hotel guest, after all, has very little incentive to turn the air-conditioning unit off when he leaves or to take short showers in the morning. He’s not paying the bill, so what’s it matter to him?
That type of behavior, combined with the pressing needs of landscape maintenance and the aesthetics required to attract people to a business, is enough cause for worry among facility managers…and their accountants.
With water scarcity becoming a more prevalent issue with every passing year, facility and asset managers at retail and hospitality properties need to find new ways to cut operating costs, influence their bottom lines and—in the process—change consumer behavior around water use.
The first step is to identify the inefficiencies on a property, which for many is a problem in and of itself. It’s a rare occurrence when asset managers have complete clarity around a property’s water use, often assuming their water bills are so high because there are hundreds or thousands of people checking in to a hotel or shopping at the mall on any given day. That’s because water conservation technology has traditionally lagged behind other sustainability initiatives like energy, and the information around water use on a property doesn’t include all the data necessary for an asset manager to make an informed decision.
Fortunately, advancements in the Internet of Things and data analytics tools offer a new understanding of how and where properties can save water and money—both on indoor water usage and landscape irrigation—and, hopefully, influence customer behavior for the better in the process.
Choosing the Right Equipment
For some facility managers, it might be too late to install low-flow faucets and toilets at the hotel before the building opens its doors to thousands of guests, but that doesn’t mean the opportunity is entirely wasted. Of course, it’s better to install sustainable equipment on the front end rather than retrofit your entire inventory years after installation. But if a technology provider can demonstrate the amount of money that could be saved by installing more sustainable equipment, the conversation will inevitably turn to, “When can we do it?” In many cases, installing the right toilets, faucets, showers and similar appliances can lead to 20 percent savings or more. Over the course of 10, 15 or even 20 years, those dollars saved stack up and present an inviting opportunity for those willing to invest in the change.
Doing so requires a mentality that extends far beyond the current fiscal year. Understanding what kind of savings can be achieved over a decade or more could be the deciding factor that steers a conversation from, “How are we going to stop business in the hotel to replace 1,000 sinks and toilets?” to, “Look at how much money we’ll save over the next 20 years if we replace our 1,000 sinks and toilets now.”
Balancing Aesthetic Appeal with Practical Cost-Savings
We’ve all seen the hotels and shopping malls with extravagant gardens, fountains and plant arrangements designed to attract guests and customers. Providing an attractive environment for the customer is necessary for the success of the business, but it can also be the primary cause of an excessive water bill. That’s partly due to the fact that managers simply have no idea how much money and water is allocated to landscaping compared to the hotel itself, and they may assume that the majority of sunk costs are attributed to the guests rather than the plants.
While it may be unreasonable to rip out and replace an entire landscape of trees, shrubs, flowers and more, every plant operates on its own lifecycle, giving managers an opportunity to advantageously replace plants when they’ve reached the end of their life. Switching to perennial plants that don’t die every six months to a year, and which are hopefully native to the region in which the business operates, can drastically reduce the costs associated with irrigating and replacing them. Beyond that, a water conservation partner using the right technology can show which areas of a landscape are eating into water use and which areas are most efficient. That sort of strategic planning—again, over a decade or more—can reel in a runaway water bill.
This, too, requires a long-term mentality structured around not just better technology, but new knowledge about how to make a landscape function to a business’s advantage while still attracting customers.
Customers in the 21st century are more likely to gravitate toward products, services and businesses that promote healthy living. The same can be said of businesses that deploy modern technology for water or energy savings, especially in the retail or hospitality industries. A hotel that promotes its sustainability initiatives—such as its newly installed water management technology—can incentivize guests to be more mindful of how they use water on the property, effectively increasing the amount of water saved and influencing behavior in the process. Such programs can also draw customers that want to engage with businesses that place a premium on environmentalism, leading to a self-sustaining business model that promotes conservation and attracts customers of a similar mindset.
The unique demands of the retail and hospitality industries have for too long made water conservation and management a difficult business challenge. With the modernization of underlying facility management technology, businesses in these industries can embrace a more forward-looking mentality that seizes significant savings down the road.
Gillan Taddune is the CEO of Banyan Water, the leading provider of data-driven water conservation for enterprises. She believes that technology solutions are the most effective way to address critical natural resource issues and has dedicated her career to realizing that vision.