How We Might Use Water More Efficiently & Sustainably In Industry

The industry (and commercial) sector is one of the heaviest users users of water in society (on par with or slightly less than agriculture and irrigation).

There’s also some key ways we might be wasting and losing water in industry.

In this guide, we look at ways we might use water more sustainably and efficiently in this area.


Summary – Using Water More Efficiently & Sustainably In Industry

Globally, on average, 20% of all fresh water withdrawals are for industry use.

Although, that % can differ from country to country. Some countries use far more for industry

It makes sense to want to use water more efficiently and sustainably in industry, as it can help in addressing a number of water issues … especially water quantity related issues.

Using water more efficiently and sustainably involves looking key trends for water use, water waste, water loss and leaks, and so on

In industry, sustainable water solutions can be complex, and will need to be customized to geographically local conditions and factors.

But, there’s a number of key things we might focus on for more efficient and sustainable water use …

Treating and re-using (or recycling) waste water is perhaps has the biggest potential for more sustainable water use in industry

– Even when water is not re-used, treating it before discharging or dumping it can cut down on water pollution

– Fixing leaks in industry is another

– Businesses and industry can also do things such as train employees and staff on smart water practices, and have internal water smart policies and procedures

– Energy and electricity production is one of the biggest users of water amongst all industries, and may have one of the biggest potentials amongst all industries for efficiency and sustainability increases.

Read more in this guide about water efficiency in electricity production for different energy sources

– Every industry ultimately has a direct and indirect water footprint – so, suppliers and producers at each stage of the product or service lifecycle have a part to play in water sustainability

– We’ve also listed the different ways to sustainably manage and use water that can be applied generally across each major sector in society


Why It’s So Important To Use Water Efficiently & Sustainably

Some of the main reasons include, but aren’t limited to:

We need water for a range of critical uses in society

The effects associated with water quantity related issues can be severe in water scarce and water stressed regions

Unsustainable water use contributes to global water problems

Additionally, water withdrawals and demand for energy and electricity is expected to increase in the future with a growing world population.


How Much Water Do We Use In Industry?

You can read this guide to find out exactly where we use water in the different sectors and industries in society.

On average, globally we use around 70% on agriculture, 19% in industry and power generation, and 11% on households and public services.

Developing and low income countries use more in agriculture (up to 90%) and developed countries can use up to and over 50% on industry and power generation.

It makes sense that agriculture (and irrigation) firstly, and industry/power generation secondly is where we might waste and lose a lot of water.

Each country, region and city in the world will use water in different ways and in different shares across the sectors.


Where Do We Use & Waste The Most Water In Industrial & Commercial Sectors?

Wastewater in general, and not treating, re-using and recycling wastewater is one of the biggest causes of waste and loss of water in industry

In energy production, cooling of equipment (with freshwater) is one of the biggest causes of water waste and loss

Leaks, a lack of clean in place systems, and condensate not being recovered are other reasons

Farming, power generation, textile and garment production, beverage making, vehicle manufacturing, paper production, chemical production, refined petroleum production,  primary metal production, construction material production – are all examples of industries that might use a lot of water – but ALL products have a water footprint – so all products might need to be assessed separately, and not just by industry as a whole

In terms of direct water usage [the] agriculture and power-generation industries [use the most by far], which together are responsible for 90 percent of direct water withdrawals.

Yet a majority of water usage (about 60 percent) is indirect: about 96 percent of industry sectors use more water indirectly than directly in their supply chains.

Industrial water use includes water used for such purposes as fabricating, processing, washing, diluting, cooling, or transporting a product; incorporating water into a product; or for sanitation needs within the manufacturing facility

–,, and


How We Might Use Water More Efficiently & Sustainably In Industry (Potential Solutions)

– Each industry needs to be assessed individually for potential ways to increase water sustainability

– Each product or service also needs to be assessed individually within an industry

– Focussing on what we can do with waste water has perhaps has the biggest potential for increases in sustainable water use in industry

– Re-using and recycling waste water where possible (possibly as part of a closed loop system)

– Treating waste water where required, before disposing into an external water source (to prevent water pollution and contamination)

– The industry that has perhaps the biggest potential for water sustainability increases is thermo electric power generation – especially where fresh water is used for cooling in once through cooling systems.

Closed water cooling systems, and utilizing salt water, could be among some of the solutions

– A lot of electricity can be used both directly and indirectly in industry.

Less water intensive energy sources like natural gas and solar photovoltaic and wind might be used over coal and some biofuels

– Consider how future technological developments in energy like carbon capture storage might increase water use and consumption

– Water leaks at processing plants (in pipes, fittings and valves) should be fixed

– Consider how sustainable clean in place systems can benefit an industry environment

– Consider how recovering condensate can contribute to water recovery

– Consider how specific industry processes, or segments of them can be made more water efficient (although sometimes there is no low water use option to some processes)

– Consider both the direct and indirect water footprint all things in industry

– Consider alternatives for, or how reductions in water footprint can be achieved with some of the most water intensive industry products like vehicles, textiles and so on

– Educate people on where we use, waste and lose water in the industry and business sectors (if people understand the issues – the are more likely do something about them)

– Ensure that industrial and commercial producers have adequate funding and support to implement new water efficient technology, systems and practices

– Make sure laws, regulations, policies and other legal instruments are beneficial to helping with industrial and commercial water efficiency (for example – laws and regulations on water usage, taxes etc.)

– Explore how public/private partnerships can help with making water efficiency/sustainability solutions be delivered to market and work properly (for example – companies that provide industrial equipment water monitoring technology)

Consider the role and impact Artificial Intelligence technology and systems can play in more sustainably or efficiently using water


Other potential solutions might include … 


Leaks – [fixing leaky water pipes, fitting, and valves]

Leaks – [better regulation and enforcement ensuring standard proper pipe fitting and plumbing techniques have been used – especially the use of incompatible piping material and sealant compounds]

[Wider and better use of Clean In Place Systems that ensure wash down completely fills and drains]

[Better recovery of condensate]

[Waste water treatment, and re-use or recycling]



… on average a single large wastewater treatment plant could satisfy the cooling demand for one power plant, reducing freshwater withdrawal and energy consumption in the process.



[Consider the different industries and products that are most water intensive]

[Consider the different stages of industrial processes that are most water intensive]

[Consider water savings in both direct and indirect water use]

[Put special focus into water savings in the thermoelectric-power industry – specifically, cooling of electricity-generating equipment]

[Consider how less fresh water and more salt water can be used for cooling equipment in electrical power production]

[Consider how more water efficient forms of energy can be used – gas vs coal vs biodiesel as one example]

[Consider how waste water from textiles and garments can be treated and re-used – especially from wet processing” as well as dyeing of fabric]

[Consider the use of water intensive plants and crops in beverage production – especially in soda, beer and coffee. Also, look at the water savings of drinking pure water compared to these drinks]

[Consider how water savings can be made in the automotive industry and the making of an average domestic car]



[Treating more waste water (greywater) and re-using it instead of discharging into surface water or other water sources]

[Power generation facilities can be more efficient or less fresh water intensive with once through cooling water systems. The amount of fresh water withdrawn vs consumed vs returned to source in good quality should be assessed]



[Direct waste water re-use, or treatment and recycling might be the best way to cut down on water loss and waste in industry and business]

Wastewater reuse in industry can take place within a business or between businesses and has the potential to reduce costs for businesses both on water bills as well as wastewater treatment.

Depending on the contaminants present in wastewater and its future reuse, it can either be directly reused, or treated and reused (recycled).



In different industries:

Fruit & Vegetable Farming – Better technology and irrigation management would go a long way toward saving water. … [there’s water management] hardware- and software-based solutions use remote sensing data and satellite images to measure factors such as evaporation and yield, identifying areas where water is being used productively and areas where it’s being wasted. … crops that are less water hungry can also be grown

Power Generation – Use salt water for cooling electricity-generating equipment. Use gas powered energy which produces the most energy per unit volume of water consumed – compared to coal powered energy.

Textiles & Garments – re-use and recycle clothes. Buy clothes that take less water to grow (the fabric) and manufacture at a factory level. … both cost-cutting demands and a tightening of environmental regulations are forcing textile and garment companies to evaluate how they use water (particularly if they operate in areas where water is scarce).

Meat Production – move from meat farms to fruit and vegetable farms only, or at least to less water intensive meats like poultry

Beverage Industry – … drink more water and less beverages like sodas, alcohol, coffees and juices.

Automotive Manufacturing – [there are] water-conscious automakers [like] PSA Peugeot Citroën [that try] to clean and return all of it to the environment, purifying the water it uses at all stages of production, including cooling welding machinery, washing sheet steel, painting and water tightness testing. [So, being more water efficient, as well as minimising water pollution are potential solutions]

In General – companies [in both water intensive and low water intensive industries] can start issuing water usage and conservation reports … Companies can also use water metering and other technology solutions, such as water accounting, water-footprinting tools (helping facilities get a grip on how much water they are using for which processes) and product lifecycle assessment (LCA) software that helps them outline the environmental impact of their products and processes.



[The energy society uses matters in terms of water footprints … some energy sources are far more water efficient than others per unit of electricity or energy produced]


Additionally, some energy sources use water that is returned to it’s source and can be used again.


The ways industry and businesses can save water are: conservation, approach to re-use, and water recycling with technology

water consumption starts with designing and redesigning processes to use less water to begin with—doing more with less.

That can be achieved by limiting rinse steps to a meaningful specification and ending the rinse process when it carries no additional benefit to the intermediate or final product.

Another way is to specify water concentration to eliminate evaporation (and the corresponding energy consumption) at a later step.

Specifically, in conservation, solutions might be …

Repair leaks, clean in place systems, and condensate recovery and polishing 

Specifically, in re-use, solutions might be …


Specifically, in recycling, solutions might be …

Dissolved Air Flotation, Biological Treatment, Filtration, Granular Activated Carbon, Softening, Disinfection, Deionisation 

You can read more about all these water saving solutions and case studies and what they involve at

… Chrysler’s automotive plant in Mexico [is] recovering more than 95 percent of processing water, decreasing pollution, and saving money in chemicals, water costs and biological treatment. 



Some steps to save water for a company might include … 

1. Do a facility audit to quantify water use – Hire a professional with experience in industrial water efficiency if required.

2. Set water benchmarks

3. Compare your water usage numbers to industry averages

4. Learn from competitors and peers about what works, what doesn’t, what is cost effective and what isn’t to save and re-use water. These details can often be found in sustainability reports or annual reports.

5. In general, try to reduce water use, modify equipment to use less water or fit water saving devices or replace equipment with new more efficient equipment, introduce water treatment, recycling and re-use, and change to a waterless process if possible

6. Educate employees on water usage and conservation or re-use/recycling.

7. Make water part of your systems, policies, reviews and audits

8. Replace potable water with non potable water where you can for industry processes

9. Make use of rainwater

Other general solutions for industry might include …

Improving cooling tower efficiency

Cooling – Replace water cooled equipment with air cooled equipment where feasible

Steam – Retrofit steam sterilizers

Cleaning – make sure hoses have auto shut off nozzles. Dry clean or air clean where possible instead of water cleaning

Restrooms and Showers – install water efficient fixtures

Kitchens – utilize water efficient technology and appliances in industrial kitchens

Laundry – manage on-site laundry efficiently

Landscape – have water efficient landscape designs, healthy soil and water efficient irrigation



Specifically for the mining industry:

[there are] active and passive ways to treat water so that it gets recycled and doesn’t go to waste.

Active treatments – such as filtration or chemical treatment to remove contaminants are common methods.

Passively – mines can utilise nature in the form of wetlands to ‘purify’ wastewater – filtering water to the point where it can be reincorporated into the environment.

Other solutions include using bacteria to remove harmful toxins from water, allowing it to be recycled more easily …

On the other hand, not all water used in mines is hazardous.

Using something as simple as screens or grating to catch surface runoff on floors and walkways can contribute to the reduction of water used in mines.



Conservation of existing water supplies, and water re-use, are both critical for water sustainability

Greywater can provide a valuable opportunity for water reuse in non-potable applications within industry.

Addressing regulatory standards would not only allow for efficient reuse of this greywater but reduce the burden on freshwater supplies.

This policy has already shown great success in Singapore [where they] remove suspended solids from water …

Water reuse is not limited to a national scale. At Frito Lay’s Casa Grande facility, Arizona, they utilise a ZeeWeed membrane bioreactor and reverse osmosis system from GE that treats and recycles 648,000 gallons per day …

Water reuse has also shown impressive benefits within the oil and gas industry.

The advanced anaerobic digestion technology provided by Monsal in combination with GE’s ultra-efficient Jenbacher gas engines provides the opportunity for biosolids captured in the wastewater treatment process to be converted to renewable forms of energy. It is energy neutral wastewater.



[Re-using waste water is a big solution]

It can also have the effect of … increasing water availability and improving community relations, increasing productivity per water input, lowering waste water discharges and their pollutant load, reducing thermal energy consumption and potentially processing cost.

Wastewater can be reused within a business itself, or between several businesses through industrial symbiosis.

Depending on the type and quality of the wastewater, it may either be reused directly, or treated before reuse (i.e. recycled).

The different technologies available for direct reuse as well as decentralised wastewater treatment for wastewater recycling are …

Direct Re-Use Within Business – A business can directly reuse wastewater that is clean enough for the purpose for which it is being reused. Process water is produced by industrial processes such as cooling and heating, and often contains few contaminants after use. In industry, both rainwater and process water can be reused for purposes such as irrigation, washing, pH adjustment and fire protection.

Direct Re-Use Between BusinessesThe exchange of waste products for the mutual benefit of two or more businesses is also known as “industrial symbiosis.” In industrial symbiosis, all members profit from the arrangement by either reducing the inputs necessary in their production process (i.e. water, organic material) or by reducing the costs of wastewater treatment. Industrial symbiosis can take place via Exchange of by-products, Sharing the management of utilities and Sharing ancillary services (SSWM mentions examples of these in their post)

Treat & Re-Use (Recycling) – If wastewater is not suitable for direct reuse, decentralised wastewater treatment systems may be employed to reduce the level of contaminants to a level that is safe for reuse. This can be done within a business for its own reuse, or between businesses. Wastewater treatment and reuse between businesses can lower the costs of treatment for all businesses, thus making reuse options more economical. 

[There are several advantages and disadvantages of wastewater re-use]

To ensure that the quality of the (pre-treated) wastewater or greywater is appropriate for reuse, the water quality should be tested for chemical composition, including pH, nutrient concentrations, pathogens, etc.

Almost any business can incorporate measures for reuse of wastewater. While direct reuse measures may be relatively easy to implement, the cost of implementing wastewater treatment systems may prohibit wastewater recycling within a business.

Between businesses, wastewater reuse potential depends on factors such as the distance between the businesses (cost of transport) and the wastewater production volume and quality. If wastewater treatment is needed, the participation of several businesses may significantly reduce treatment costs and therefore enable its reuse.

You can read more about these water solutions at



According to (in regards to power generation):

One of the easiest solutions is also the most cost-effective: using less electricity or transportation fuel by making appliances, buildings, and vehicles more efficient.

Using renewable energy technologies such as wind and photovoltaics means doing away entirely with water use for electricity production.

Retrofitting old coal or nuclear plants with more water-efficient cooling technologies could increase water consumption, potentially even doubling it, but could reduce water withdrawals by two orders of magnitude.


[what is interesting is] burning a compact fluorescent bulb for the same amount of time [as an incandescent one] would save about 2,000 to 4,000 gallons of water per year.

[So, not only are there on-site water savings to be made with energy, but also at the end user level]



Being aware of how we waste and lose water in industry also helps when formulating solutions













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