Each American Uses 2,000 Gallons of Water Per Day. Here’s How We Can Cut Back.
The United States consumes more water than any other country. So, if we can get the public and private sectors to commit to saving water, we’ll really make change on a larger scale.
Water is a precious resource, one we can’t take for granted. Yet when it comes to water and how we use it, we’re pretty wasteful. Consider these stats:
Each American uses an average 88 gallons of water a day at home. That’s a lot of water from all of our showers, dishwasher- and laundry loads, lawn care, and toilet flushes.
But that’s not all. When we factor in our time at work and while we’re out and about, the average American’s total water use jumps to 2,000 gallons every day. As we do our jobs, run errands, and relax, we’re not exactly mindful of how much water we’re using.
But we have to do better – and soon. Here’s why.
Why We Need to Conserve Water
Why is it important to conserve water? Save the Water, a Florida-based nonprofit that conducts water research, reported that 33% of the world’s population is likely to face severe or chronic water shortages by 2025. That’s not far away! And a 2014 US Government Accountability Office study found that water managers in 40 out of 50 states are expecting water shortages in the next decade. So, the more we cut back now, the more we may be able to prevent shortages later. And by getting used to using less water, we’ll be better prepared if shortages do happen.
There are financial reasons to conserve water, too. According to the EPA, the average American family spends more than $1,000 a year in water costs, but if we upgraded to water-efficient fixtures and appliances, each household could save more than $380 every year.
So, it’s pretty clear: As individuals, we can do our part and cut back on wasting water. (We’ll discuss how in a minute.) It’s a smart move, both for our planet and our wallets.
But to be even more powerful in conserving this life-giving resource, companies and government agencies need to get on board, too.
Consider this: Factoring in industry and government, the United States consumes more water than any other country. So, if we can get the public and private sectors to commit to saving water, we’ll really make change on a larger scale.
It all starts with us. Read on to learn five ways we can conserve water at home and at work, plus how our conscious investments can help.
How to Use Less Water at Home
1. Eat Local
It takes a lot of water to produce and ship our food: According to the UN, agriculture has a huge water footprint, accounting for 70% of all water consumption around the globe.
What’s your food’s water footprint? Simply put, it’s the measurement of the amount of water used to produce what we eat. It takes both direct and indirect water use into account, as well as pollution, throughout the entire product cycle. And it’s measured three ways:
- Green water: The amount of rainwater used. Since their products are primarily from plants, companies in the agriculture, horticulture, and forestry industries tend to use green water.
- Blue water: The amount of water used from groundwater and surface water for irrigation, which is typically difficult to replace. Irrigated agriculture companies are big blue water users.
- Grey water: The amount of fresh water required to dilute pollutants, like fertilizer, used to produce food and meet water quality standards. The more chemicals used, the more fresh water is needed, and the bigger the grey water footprint.
Speaking of water footprints, here are some crazy stats: One egg requires 52 gallons of water to produce. Growing a single avocado uses 60 gallons of water. And just one hamburger needs 660 gallons of water to get to your plate.
So, how can eating locally help? Eating locally supports fewer water-guzzling packaged foods, goes to smaller farms that may have low water footprints, and means less distance for your food to travel, which can also cut back on water use.
As just one example, let's say a farm in your town produces 10,000 avocados, but a commercial farm upstate produces 1 million avocados. The local farm's smaller operation may have a low blue water footprint, or no blue water footprint at all. Then, those avocados may only be sold locally, producing minimal or no gray water. The commercial farm, on the other hand, may have a high blue- and grey water footprint, and it also ships those avocados worldwide, making the grey water footprint even bigger.
Think of all the food we all eat each day, both fresh and processed, and you’ve got a good picture of how much water we’re using just to stay fed. By being more conscious about our diets over three meals (and snacks) every day, we can all make an impact in conserving water.
2. Fix Leaky Faucets
Little leaks aren’t so little: Leaky faucets and pipes waste 180 gallons per house per week, on average, or 9,400 gallons per household each year. Times that by all of our homes, and the number jumps to 900 billion gallons nationwide! So, if we all commit to fixing that drip-drip-drip in our sinks, tubs, and pipes, we’ll make a huge difference.
And as an added bonus, we’ll each see lower water bills, too, because those fixed leaks mean we’ll use less water, drip by drip. It’s a simple fix for a big impact!
3. Install a Water-Saving Toilet
Did you know that, in the average home, toilets use more water than anything else? Every day, with every flush, we’re all sending excess water down the drain.
If you don’t know how old your toilets are, it’s time to find out. If your toilets were built before 1982, for example, they use 5 to 7 gallons of water per flush. But toilets made after 1994, on the other hand, use just 1.6 gallons per flush. So, if you’re concerned about water use, you can make a big change just by upgrading your toilets. For maximum efficiency, look for the WaterSense label when choosing a new toilet, which uses just 1.28 gallons per flush.
The EPA says the average family could save 13,000 gallons of water and $130 in annual water costs by replacing old toilets with efficient ones. Use less water, save more money – that’s a win-win.
How to Use Less Water at Work
4. Get a Company-Wide Water Audit
Many companies have no idea how much water they’re using and wasting. But there’s an easy way to find out: Requesting a commercial water audit will give your company leadership the real data about your business’s daily water use, and will also show areas for improvement.
Chat with your manager or the company’s corporate social responsibility team to learn whether the business has had a water audit, and if not, if the team would be interested in getting one. Depending on the size of your company, the audit may even be free. Ask your local water utility what’s available.
It may take a few meetings to convince business leaders that saving water is important. That’s OK! Think of what matters to the business as you prep your talking points. You can discuss how conserving water could save on utility bills and boost the bottom line, and that taking water conservation seriously shows that the company is a good corporate citizen. If executives say no at first, take that as an opportunity, and ask what would be needed to get them to yes.
To help make your case, it’s always a good idea to recruit others to your cause. Find like-minded colleagues to partner up with and show leaders that saving water is a shared company value.
Once your business has had the water audit, the team can then make an informed plan to save water and take steps to move forward.
5. Encourage Coworkers to be Water Advocates
A water audit is important, of course, but it’s just the first step. You’ll want your company to commit to actually making the changes the audit lists out, and to keep leaders accountable in reducing water use and waste.
If this sounds like a big challenge, rely on teamwork! Your company could appoint a Conservation Advocate, or similar title, to be the lead person in managing water saving efforts across the business. Or, a group of volunteer advocates from different departments could create a conservation committee. Advocates can then help develop the company’s water conservation plan, put goals and a timeline in place, measure progress, and determine next steps once goals are met.
And that’s just one possible company. Imagine the impact if we all encouraged our company executives and colleagues to act this way.
Pretty powerful, right?
Seek out Companies Already Conserving Water and Making an Impact
We can change our behaviors to use less water at home and at work. But it doesn’t stop there. The money we invest can also make a positive impact in reducing water waste, too.
Big companies have the power to make big change. By choosing to invest in companies that are committed to conserving water, our impact gets even stronger than our actions alone. And when we choose to invest with companies that are reducing water waste, we send a message that their water conservation policies are good for business, and these companies should do even more in the future.
When we all start to make conscious investments this way, the message gets even louder and clearer. Keep conserving water, and we’ll keep investing in your company.
In fact, major companies are already leading the way in reducing water waste on a large scale. Take a look:
- A lot of water goes into making your favorite pair of jeans and T-shirts. But Gap, Inc., reduced its manufacturing water consumption by 2.4 billion liters in 2017, and is on its way to a 10 billion liter reduction by 2020.
- As we mentioned earlier, making processed food uses a lot of water. But Pepsi wants to change that, and is working to identify high-risk areas across its agricultural supply chain, especially the places where it sources water. By 2025, the company aims to make water usage 15% more efficient.
- Xylem, a water technology producer and supplier, reduced the company’s water usage intensity by 16.7% in 2017. (If you’re not familiar with this term, water use intensity is a calculation that looks at a company’s water use across its operations, divided by millions of dollars of revenue.) They have plans to get to 25% reduced water usage intensity by the end of this year.
These are just three companies changing their ways to make a positive impact. You can learn even more about how your investments can make a difference by checking out our Clean Water and Reduce Waste Impact Areas or updating your COIN portfolio to include these conscious investment areas.
We all need clean water, and we can all do our part to conserve it. By changing our behaviors at home, being water advocates at work, and making conscious investments, we can reduce water waste.