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Water Conservation is the Next Frontier in Hospitality Sustainability

There’s a strong business case for water efficiency to join the ranks of energy efficiency as an essential upgrade for hospitality businesses.
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The economic disruption of COVID-19 may have largely come and gone, but not every sector has been able to quickly bounce back. This is particularly true for the SMBs in the hospitality sector like restaurants and hotels, which operate on tight margins — even in the best of times — and continue to face mounting costs, especially from labor, food, and energy. At the same time, these businesses are increasingly on the receiving end of consumer and stakeholder pressure to balance sustainability with profitability. 

Seeking Greater Efficiency

The changing hospitality landscape has led many businesses to undergo sweeping efficiency projects, from adopting ultra-high performance HVAC systems to leveraging artificial intelligence and IoT applications, installing programmable thermostats, implementing smart metering, and other improvements that boost operational efficiency. Yet, the hospitality sector is missing out on an obvious — and symbiotic — pairing with energy efficiency: water conservation.

With inflation hitting water particularly hard and the growing threat of climate change, there’s a strong business case for water efficiency to join the ranks of energy efficiency as an essential upgrade for hospitality businesses. To mitigate the rising tide of operational costs and future-proof against potential water usage restrictions or regulations, the time is now for hospitality businesses to embrace water conservation. Water-saving technology solutions can generate up to 35% savings for building owners. 

The Impetus for Conservation

The hospitality sector uses a lot of water, accounting for approximately 15% of all commercial and institutional consumption. Washing dishes, cooking, cleaning, bathroom usage, and general maintenance quickly adds up, with some studies suggesting that restaurants — one of the hospitality sector’s chief offenders — average between 3,000-7,000 gallons daily. Similarly, hotels, which oftentimes include colocated restaurant establishments, also use an incredible amount of water daily. From laundry services to showers, toilets, and more, hotels can easily surpass approximately 400 gallons of water per room every day. Once affordable, today’s rising water costs are translating into squeezed margins — something many hospitality business owners are ultimately unaware of.

Additionally, as major sources of freshwater, from the Rio Grande to the Colorado River, continue to dwindle, commercial limitations on water usage are likely to become commonplace. Already, states like California and New York have experimented with commercial cutbacks during periods of intense drought, including outdoor washing and landscaping bans and requiring consumer requests for glasses of water. Restaurants and other hospitality establishments that invest in water conservation, including low-flow toilets, foot pedal sinks, rainwater harvesting systems and more, however, can potentially get ahead of these regulations, ensuring they aren’t materially impacted if restrictions are implemented. 

Water conservation also empowers business owners to differentiate themselves in a highly crowded and competitive market. Customers and investors increasingly care about sustainability — a belief that is rapidly gaining strength. Nearly 50% of consumers report being willing to pay a green premium at restaurants, and a clear majority say transparency on environmental practices is important. According to TripAdvisor, roughly four in five travelers factor sustainability into accommodation planning. And due to popular demand, Yelp and other mapping tools have implemented sustainability-based sorting features. Consumers are asking hospitality businesses to do whatever they can to help the environment — and water conservation, like energy efficiency, is an incredibly cost-effective way to do so.

A Natural Extension of Energy Efficiency

Every single hospitality business, no matter big or small, franchise or independent, wants to improve their operational efficiency, become more cost-effective, and attract more customers. That’s why in recent years — empowered by a range of new integrated efficiency services on the market — restaurants and hotels have undergone big efficiency improvements. Water conservation shares a fundamental principle with energy efficiency. Both practices focus on minimizing waste, rely on cutting-edge technology, and help reduce costs and environmental impacts. The hospitality sector has already come to recognize the importance of energy efficiency; water conservation is the next logical step forward as businesses work to lessen their environmental impacts. 

Hospitality businesses are often asked to do more with less, lending to the industry’s long standing ability to adapt to evolving markets and navigate difficult economic environments. Sustainability is here to stay, and water conservation is the best way forward for hospitality businesses to satisfy stakeholders while building on existing energy efficiency initiatives to lower costs and hedge against future operational risks.


About the Author
As founder and CEO of Budderfly, Al Subbloie has overseen the outsourcing energy management solutions start-up becoming one of the fastest growing firms in both the energy sector and the United States, as well as a national role model for firms seeking to leverage private sector practices to address issues of climate change. Budderfly has ranked on the Inc. 5000 America’s Fastest-Growing Private Companies list from 2021 to 2023 and on the Deloitte Technology Fast 500 list in 2023. Al was ranked in the 2021 Worthy 100 by Worth Magazine for his entrepreneurship around environmental benefit.

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