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Water efficiency in industry

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Increasing water efficiency in industry can reduce use and produce a number of environmental and
socio-economic benefits. Behavioural, operational and technological changes can all contribute to
improved water efficiency in industrial production. Significant improvements can be achieved with more
effective leak detection and repair of water pipes and use of new and more efficient technologies (e.g.
pipes, smart dosage systems, timers, higher efficiency cleaning systems, water monitoring systems).
Increasing awareness and changing behavioural patterns can also reduce water consumption amongst
workers. On a regulatory level, industrial water efficiency can be encouraged by establishing tariffs as a
water conservation incentive. Industrial reuse and recycling also increases efficiency as it creates a new
water source that does not require extraction or transportation from elsewhere. This in turn reduces
costs, energy use and pressures on freshwater sources.


Reviewing and accounting for current costs and energy requirements associated with water use within
the organization is an essential first step. Additionally, this includes accounting for the direct use and
amount of wastewater released, pinpointing potential areas for conservation and increased efficiency.
Developing a water efficiency plan should involve education and increasing awareness in all staff in
regards to the benefits and goals of improving water efficiency - decreased consumption, reduced costs,
reduced energy requirements, water recycling, etc. This may involve consulting stakeholders outside the
organization, such as local decision makers and the research community. Collaboration and commitment
of staff is key for maximum effectiveness. Following implementation (including staff training, repairing
equipment, installation of new equipment and establishment of on-site water recycling facilities),
proper monitoring, evaluation and accounting procedures should be put in place.

Environmental Benefits

- Reduces energy requirements for treatment, thus minimizing carbon footprint and costs.
- Reduces pressures on freshwater ecosystems.
- Reduces polluted wastewater discharge into local freshwater ecosystems, e.g. by on-site water
recycling and reduced water use.

Socioeconomic Benefits

- Saves costs related to wastewater management and energy.
- Increases access to water (for industry) during drought periods.
- Improves health and safety conditions.
- Reduces maintenance requirements and promotes state of art production facilities through installation
of new, water efficient technology.

Opportunities and Barriers

- Climate change adaptation and mitigation benefits, increased resilience
- Extended environmental and economic benefits, including cost savings

- Populations that understand the importance of water resource (and environmental)
conservation are more likely to change behaviour to improve efficiency in other uses
- Initial investments for efficiency programs/technologies are often supported financially by the

- Lack of commitment and cooperation. Effective efficiency requires commitment and
collaboration from all stakeholders
- Lack of knowledge and proper accounting of use - some industries and businesses do not know
the extent of their water use and wastewater costs, and may not realize the potential benefits
of implementing an efficiency plan
- Does not always reduce wastewater pollution and may instead increase its concentration
- When water costs are relatively low, the incentive for savings may be low

Implementation considerations*

Technological maturity: 2-4
Initial investment: 3-4
Operational costs: 1-3
Implementation timeframe: 3-4

* This adaptation technology brief includes a general assessment of four dimensions relating to implementation of the
technology. It represents an indicative assessment scale of 1-5 as follows:
Technological maturity: 1 - in early stages of research and development, to 5 – fully mature and widely used
Initial investment: 1 – very low cost, to 5 – very high cost investment needed to implement technology
Operational costs: 1 – very low/no cost, to 5 – very high costs of operation and maintenance
Implementation timeframe: 1 – very quick to implement and reach desired capacity, to 5 – significant time investments needed
to establish and/or reach full capacity
This assessment is to be used as an indication only and is to be seen as relative to the other technologies included in this guide.
More specific costs and timelines are to be identified as relevant for the specific technology and geography.

Sources and further information

UNEP-DHI Partnership: Water efficiency in industry 

Alkayal, E., Bogurcu, M., Ulutas, F. and Demirer, G.N. (2015) Adaptation to climate change in industry: improving
resource efficiency through sustainable production applications. Water Environment Research; 87(1):14-25.
Available at:
Armstrong, A., Bartram, J., Lobuglio, J. and Elliott, M. (n.d.). Water-efficient fixtures and appliances.
ClimateTechWiki. Available at:…
Cohen, R., Ortez, K. and Pinkstaff, C. (2009). Making Every Drop Work: Increasing Water Efficiency in California’s
Commercial, Industrial, and Institutional (CII) Sector. Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC). Available at:
EPA (2000). Using Water Efficiently: Ideas for Industry. United States Environmental Protection Agency, Office of
Wastewater Management. 

Invest Northern Ireland (2016). A Practical Water Efficiency Guide for Businesses in Northern Ireland. Invest
Northern Ireland. Available at:…
IWA (2009). Perspectives on water and climate change adaptation: Ch. 10 Climate change and the water industry–
Practical responses and actions. International Water Association Specialist Group on Climate Change.