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Navigating Water Audits in Ecommerce: A Step-by-Step Guide

A water audit helps sustainable companies understand exactly how and where water is consumed in the manufacturing process. Not only can water auditing help reduce your utility bills, but it will also identify ways that your company can improve its water footprint. Regular water audits can improve operations, save money with water conservation, and reduce your environmental footprint. 

But what exactly is a water audit, how should one be conducted, and is there a water checklist you can follow? Here’s our guide.

What Is A Water Audit?

A water audit systematically analyzes a company’s water usage, efficiency, and management practices. It aims to identify areas of water waste, inefficiencies, and potential risks, especially concerning the environmental impact and the company’s long-term ESG goals. The ultimate goal is to minimize water usage and enhance the company’s overall sustainability in terms of its water usage. There are a few types of water audits, depending on the objectives of the audit, which range from brief overviews to comprehensive examinations. 

Who Needs A Water Audit?

Water audits are essential for a broad range of organizations, no matter their size or industry. Water audits provide an accurate picture of a company’s water usage. They are useful for companies looking to minimize financial costs associated with water, businesses that want to ensure that they comply with environmental regulations, and those seeking green business certifications. Because water auditing demonstrates a commitment to resource efficiency and environmental responsibility, they can provide important data for certifications such as LEED, ISO 14001, or B-Corp that require a comprehensive sustainability report as a part of the application process. Furthermore, if your sustainability KPIs include water usage, a water audit is essential to understand where your company stands and identify areas where you can improve.

A worker is using tablet to review storage report - Business management and technology concept photo.

What’s In A Water Audit For Ecommerce Businesses?

The water audit process will depend upon the objective of your water audit. For example, if your main goal is to reduce your water costs, your audit will mainly assess things such as water usage, water utility bills, water recycling opportunities, etc. On the other hand, those seeking high-level green business certifications must complete comprehensive water auditing that covers vast areas of their company’s water practices. 

To give you an idea of what might be covered in your water audit, here are some common areas for assessment.

  • Water consumption analysis: An evaluation of water bills, flow meters, water supply, and other organizational data to determine where and how water is used and identify areas where water conservation can take place.
  • Infrastructure assessment: An examination of water-related equipment, cooling systems, irrigation, and more.
  • Water source: An evaluation of the quality of the water sources and where the water is sourced.
  • Losses: An identification of any leaks or water losses that can be fixed.
  • Operational practices: An evaluation of practices that include water use, such as cleaning, processing, and cooling.
  • Regulatory compliance: An assessment of whether your company is compliant with local, national, and international water regulations.
  • Risk assessment: An identification of any risks surrounding your water utilities.
  • Employee practices: An examination of how your employees use water at your facilities and identifying any areas where training might be useful.
  • Water recycling opportunities: An identification of any opportunities where water may be recycled or reused to improve water efficiency. 
  • Waste management: An evaluation of any water waste and how that water might be recirculated to reduce waste.

Types Of Business Water Audits

There are a few different types of water audits depending on your company’s industry and how it plans to use the water audit. Business water audits can be completed internally or externally, and they can be fully comprehensive or focus on just one area that needs improvement. Before choosing which type of water audit you want to pursue, you must first determine the greater goals of your water audit, the types of problems you want to solve, and which third-party entities may be interested in the resulting water report.

Here are some of the most common types of business water audits.

  • Comprehensive water audit: As the name implies, this type of water audit offers an extensive view of your water usage, any risks, and opportunities for improvement. This type of audit is helpful for companies seeking high-level green business certifications or serious about their sustainable business practices and achieving their sustainability goals.
  • Irrigation systems water audit: This will analyze outdoor water use, including irrigation, landscaping, and similar. This is ideal for companies that use a lot of outdoor water resources.
  • Cooling water audit: This assesses the water usage of cooling systems, like those used to cool data centers or HVAC units. This is particularly important for sustainable ecommerce as data centers often carry a hefty water usage footprint.
  • Supply chain water audit: This evaluates the water utilities along your supply chains. This is also important for ecommerce companies as their most significant areas of impact often lie along their supply chains. Learn how to conduct a supply chain audit.

No matter which type of water audit you pursue, you can either conduct the audit internally or through a third-party auditing service. Again, which you choose will depend upon the objectives of the audit. If your primary goal for water balance is to make small changes to minimize your water bill, then an internal audit should suffice. If you’re seeking high-level green certification or to hit certain sustainability and ESG goals, you should consider hiring an external professional.

Read more: Sustainability vs CSR vs ESG 

How To Calculate Water Consumption

No matter your goals in conducting a water audit, the overall process will look similar. The main difference between different types of audits is how much and what type of data will be collected. If you are seeking a comprehensive audit, it’s going to take a lot of resources and data. However, if the purpose of your audit is simply to identify water waste in a specific area, you’re going to need far fewer resources to complete your assessment. 

Here’s the step-by-step process of conducting a water audit.

  1. Set your scope and objectives. To design your water audit, you need to know exactly what you’re looking to glean from the data collected. This will guide the entire water audit process.
  2. Gather data. This includes water bills, meter readings, and historical consumption data. It’s a good idea to organize this data into categories so that it can be compared. If you’d like a comprehensive view of your entire supply chain, then you can use sophisticated sustainability management software like EcoCart.
  3. Identify your main water use areas. These may include cooling systems, HVAC systems, manufacturing processes, etc. This will help highlight areas where you might conserve water.
  4. Create a water map. This will provide a visualization of the journey of your water through your business. Identify where the main water line enters and exits your business and follow it all the way through.
  5. Evaluate relevant areas of your water utilities. This will include regulatory compliance, employee behavior, equipment inspection, and more. The areas you choose to analyze will depend on your overall goals.
  6. Assess the data and write a report. Once your data has been collected, you will assess it and complete your report. Within your report, be sure to include case studies, benchmarks comparing your water use with others in your industry, potential risks, where water conservation might take place, opportunities for improvement, and water use strategies you might implement. 

Once the water audit is complete, the real work begins. From your water report, you must develop strategies to improve your water consumption patterns and create measurable goals for your company to achieve. To ensure that you remain on track, commit to regular water audits to gauge your progress and identify new areas where you might improve. 

Want to know where your business stands? Get your sustainability scorecard with our quiz:

Ecommerce Business Water Audit Checklist

A water audit checklist will guide the auditing process and ensure the subsequent report is complete. While you can create your own checklist, using one provided by a trusted entity may be beneficial. Or, if you want a fuller picture of your environmental sustainability, check out our ecommerce sustainability scorecard.

A water audit checklist will include anywhere from a handful to hundreds of items, depending on how comprehensive the audit is. Here are some common items that appear on a water audit checklist for ecommerce businesses evaluating water consumption in their supply chain:

  • How do your suppliers manage water usage in their manufacturing processes?
  • Are there water conservation measures in place at each stage of your supply chain?
  • Do your logistics and transportation partners use water-efficient practices?
  • What is the water footprint of your product packaging materials?
  • Are your product materials sourced from water-intensive processes?
  • Do your suppliers employ rainwater harvesting or water recycling methods?
  • How do your warehousing and distribution centers manage water usage?
  • Are there opportunities to reduce water usage in the cleaning and maintenance of your facilities?
  • Do your suppliers comply with local and international water usage and conservation regulations?
  • How is wastewater treated and disposed of in your supply chain?
  • Are there any water-saving technologies that you or your suppliers could implement?
  • Is there a system in place for monitoring and reducing water leaks throughout the supply chain?
  • How do you ensure responsible water management in areas of your supply chain located in water-scarce regions?
  • Are there opportunities to collaborate with suppliers on joint water conservation initiatives?
  • How transparent is the water usage reporting in your supply chain?
  • Do you have a policy for selecting suppliers based on their water conservation efforts?
  • Are there any water-intensive processes in your supply chain that can be optimized or replaced?
  • How does your business’s water usage compare to industry benchmarks or similar ecommerce businesses?
  • Are there plans to improve water efficiency in your supply chain over time?
  • How do you communicate your water conservation efforts to customers and stakeholders?

How To Implement A Water Program

Implementing a water program is an important component of a comprehensive sustainability strategy. To effectively develop this type of sustainability program, focus on setting specific, measurable goals related to water usage as part of your sustainability KPIs. Here are some actionable water usage sustainability initiatives to consider:

  • Switch to Green Web Hosting: Opt for a web host that utilizes recycled water for cooling its data centers, reducing overall water consumption.
  • Employee Education: Conduct regular training sessions and workshops to educate employees about water conservation methods and the importance of saving water in the workplace.
  • Install Water-Efficient Fixtures: Replace existing toilets, faucets, and showerheads with low-flow models to significantly reduce water usage in your facilities.
  • Implement Water Recycling Systems: Where feasible, install systems to recycle and reuse water, especially in processes that require substantial water use.
  • Monitor Water Usage: Use smart meters and monitoring systems to track water usage in real-time, identifying areas where you can cut back.
  • Optimize Supply Chain Water Use: Work with suppliers to ensure they follow water-efficient practices, and prefer suppliers with strong water conservation policies.
  • Regular Audits: Conduct regular water audits to identify leaks and inefficiencies in your water system and address them promptly.
  • Promote Water-Saving Policies: Encourage practices like turning off taps when not in use and fixing leaks immediately, both in the office and through remote work policies.
  • Engage Customers: Share your water conservation efforts with customers to enhance brand sustainability and encourage them to participate in water-saving initiatives.

By integrating these steps into your water program, you can make a significant impact on reducing water consumption, contributing to your overall sustainability goals.

Conclusion

As you seek to reduce your environmental footprint through eco-friendly packaging and sustainable shipping practices, don’t forget about other areas of your impact, too. Water utilities can take up a significant portion of an ecommerce company’s environmental footprint, and the water audit process can help your company ascertain exactly where it stands and make changes to conserve water.

EcoCart offers many resources to help companies like yours reach their sustainability goals. Want to know more? Reach out to our team for a demo today.

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