More and more companies recognize that sustainable business practices are critical in driving long-term value in the face of increasing resource constraints. Across industries, companies are making sustainability commitments to anticipate water scarcity, changing regulations, and supply-chain disruptions. Being smarter about resource management can reduce operating costs, mitigate long-term risk and address broader community and ecosystem impacts.
On May 15, leading industry experts gathered at Illinois Institute of Technology’s Stuart School of Business to discuss corporate sustainability and raise awareness of the environmental, social, and economic aspects of water management. Throughout the day, leaders of public utilities, engineering firms, and manufacturers shared their strategies to advance sustainable water management.
David St. Pierre, Executive Director of the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago (MWRD), shared MWRD’s use of innovative technology to transform the district’s wastewater plants into resource recovery facilities able to recover energy, nutrients, and other value-added products from wastewater. Risk was a running theme throughout the morning presentations. Matt Howard of the Alliance for Water Stewardship (AWS) shared how industrial water users can use the AWS standard to reduce water risk.
Alex Stege of CF Industries—a fertilizer manufacturer—discussed how long-term risks to water quality and soil health drive CF’s nutrient stewardship partnership with The Nature Conservancy. His talk was bookended by presentations from Geosyntec Consultants, co-sponsors of the workshop, who touched on the “true” cost of water and the need for industrial water users to push beyond regulatory mandates. “It is incumbent upon ourselves to push the change,” noted Geosyntec’s Joe Volpe.
Representatives from three global manufacturers then presented industry case studies. Jeff Chou, Environmental Compliance and Sustainability Leader at Mars Wrigley Confectionery, detailed how his company works to reduce environmental impact and improve the lives of people through the Sustainable in a Generation Plan. Since 2007, Mars has reduced water intensity by nearly fifty percent and is continuing to improve water efficiency through stewardship audits and cooling tower treatment. Patrick Boyle, Director of Corporate Sustainability at Sloan, explained how their products conserve water without sacrificing sanitation. A recent installation at Purdue University cut water use 43 percent with a payback of less than a year. Lastly, Marco Ugarte, Sustainability Manager at MillerCoors, shared how MillerCoors is the world’s first brewery to pursue AWS standard certification. He emphasized the value of corporate collaboration on water sustainability, “companies need to talk to each other to acknowledge their interdependence from a resource standpoint.”
Speaking on technology and water sustainability, Current’s Executive Director Steve Frenkel emphasized how Current can drive water innovation by bridging gaps in water technology commercialization. “Through our solution platform, Current can efficiently source, validate and de-risk innovative technologies for utilities and industries looking to improve operational performance and create value.”
The event concluded with remarks from engineering professors Dr. Sohail Murad of IIT and Dr. Liese Dallbauman of Northwestern who discussed the food-energy-water nexus and regional water scarcity. Both also emphasized the need for technology validation, noting how short-term thinking often discourages new technology investment. Dr. Murad noted that taking the time to validate technology can help utilities and companies more readily adopt innovative solutions, “It is important to first conduct an analysis [to manage risk], which is something an organization like Current can do very well.”
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