Employing Public Engagement for the Successful Water Reuse Project

Water reuse projects have garnered concern and even opposition from community members and the public. While based on legitimate concerns, public aversion to recycled water is often fueled by a lack of knowledge resulting in an inflated perception of risk. However, active public outreach and participation can effectively shift public opinion. The EPA’s recently released 2012 Guidelines for Water Reuse dedicates an entire chapter to the issue of public outreach. The report (specifically Chapter 8) draws conclusions and recommendations from recent studies on public perception of recycled water and steps towards effective engagement. This post summarizes some of those key findings.

The last decade has seen an increase in public dialogue and increased knowledge about water reuse. A corresponding shift in public opinion was shown in a study conducted by San Diego County Water Authority. Conducted in 2004 and 2011, the study found people who “strongly oppose” recycled water dropped from 45% to 11% while those who “strongly favor” it increased from 12% to 34%.

Public engagement should be framed as a collaborative problem-solving effort that focuses on the benefits of a water reuse program. When the public understands the problem at hand (e.g. water scarcity and drought) and the benefits of implementing recycled water, they can better perceive an improvement in the state of affairs. Public participation should begin with an understanding of why recycled water is needed, the available options for reuse, and the potential concerns.

When presenting information on water reuse, a balance between technical detail and easily understood information is important. This creates validity while effectively relaying information. In the same way, the terminology used to present reuse projects can greatly impact the public’s reception. Some of the terms used in the industry are often not well understood or well received by the general public. The EPA Guidelines show that terms such as “Water that is purer than drinking water” or “Very pure water” were reassuring to over 60% of respondents while less than 20% found “NEWater,” “Recycled water,” and “Reclaimed water” reassuring. Based on their findings, the EPA offers recommendations for public outreach terminology and methods. These include:

  • Emphasis on the purity of recycled water
  • Focus on future uses rather than the source by avoiding the prefix “re”
  • Offer analogies and water reuse in the context of the water cycle
  • Make understanding accessible and avoid technical terms

Public involvement generally begins with direct stakeholder engagement, particularly those who will be most impacted. This can involve activities such as surveys, community events, public meetings, presentations, and workshops. While direct contact and activity is important with key stakeholders, media outreach can play a significant role in shaping the general public perception and increase the flow of information and dialogue among constituencies.

Several water agencies serve as prime examples of successful public engagement and implementation of recycled water projects. Orange County Water District (OCWD) was particularly successful in engaging the public through its diversity of outreach for its Groundwater Replenishment System. OCWD also overcame reuse misconception to garner public support for an indirect potable reuse project. Read more about their success here. San Diego County Water Authority facilitates successful public communication by conducting surveys to measure knowledge and opinions of water issues and then sharing the results with the public.

For more details and advice on successful public engagement, check out Chapter 8 of the EPA’s 2012 Guidelines for Water Reuse.

Green Buildings and Productivity

As it happens, “greening” your business could mean a boost for the environment as well as your company’s bottom line. There is now empirical evidence showing the adoption of sustainable policies, including environmental management and product standards, increases employee productivity, creating real and positive impacts on a company.

In the past decade, studies have shown that the improved lighting, ventilation, and general environment of Energy Star and LEED certified buildings lead to a decrease in employee sick days and an increase in perceived productivity, and thereby, economic benefits. A recent study by UCLA professor Magali Delmas and University of Paris-Dauphine’s Sanja Pekovic delves a little deeper and is the first to demonstrate how a company’s environmental commitment affects its productivity. The study, Environmental standards and labor productivity: Understanding the mechanisms that sustain sustainability, was published this September in the Journal of Organizational Behavior. Check it out here.

The findings are surprisingly clear: employee productivity is 16% higher at companies that adopt environmental practices. “Green” companies include those that follow international standards and adopt eco-labels such as “fair trade” and “organic.”

The robust jump in productivity can be attributed to a “virtuous cycle.” As described by Delmas, companies attract top people, then adopt environmental practices, and in turn, attract even better people. Patagonia is a prime example of the cyclical improvement of sustainably-minded companies. It has seen widespread success in the outdoor adventure retail space, is applauded for its longstanding sustainability efforts, and attracts an average of 900 applicants for each open position. After adopting a range of sustainability measures, a boutique hotel in Santa Monica, CA, also saw improved employee health and happiness.

Green companies create motivated employees who receive more training and improved interpersonal relationships. The result is increased employee productivity over conventional firms. Management will hopefully take note of the success of such companies and studies that consistently reveal the economic benefits of sustainability initiatives. As Delmas attests, “Adopting green practices isn’t just good for the environment. It’s good for your employees and it’s good for your bottom line.”  

New Water-Energy Study, Tool, and Web Content

The California Sustainability Alliance (Alliance) has released new water-energy content to assist water agencies in improving the energy efficiency of their infrastructure.  These include the Eastern Municipal Water District: A Case Study of Best-In-Class Water-Energy Programs and Practices report, a Water/Wastewater Agency Energy Analysis and Best Practices Tool, and new website content on selected best practice and emerging technologies for the water industry.

The Eastern Municipal Water District: A Case Study of Best-In-Class Water-Energy Programs and Practices report documents the range of potential energy efficiency and generation opportunities, types of programs and technologies available to help water agencies achieve energy benefits, and the barriers that need to be overcome to increase adoption these practices and technologies.  The Eastern Municipal Water District serves as a case study to illustrate the types of strategies and measures California water agencies can implement to improve energy efficiency.  The report identifies seven key strategies and 27 illustrative measures and emerging technologies.  Some of these measures can reduce energy use and cost by up to 40% with a payback of 2-4 years or increase biogas production by 10-40%. 

As part of this best practices study, the Alliance developed the Water/Wastewater Agency Energy Analysis and Best Practices Tool. The can be used by water agencies to quantify, at a high level, the annual energy costs associated with various sub-systems within a water agency's infrastructure.  Based upon this analysis the tool provides a custom list of best practices and energy savings measures that should be explored to reduce energy use and costs.  The tool is meant to screen and initially prioritize future energy management projects and facilitate discussions within the water agency and between the water agency and its energy utilities.

To supplement the study and the tool, the Alliance added new web-content to document several promising existing best practice strategies and emerging technologies that could reduce energy use in the retail water sector.  These measures include:

These new resources can help water agencies and energy utilities improve the efficiency of California’s water systems.

Video Highlights City of Riverside’s Leadership in Sustainability

The California Sustainability Alliance and the City of Riverside have released a video showcasing the City’s award winning sustainability efforts. “The City of Riverside: Leadership in Sustainability” video highlights the unique local government leadership qualities that led the City of Riverside to win the Grand Prize of the Alliance’s 2011 Sustainability Showcase Awards. The video features some of the City’s best practices in sustainability and includes interviews with Mayor Ronald O. Loveridge, Public Utilities Commissioner Dr. Justin Scott-Coe, and Sustainability Officer Michael Bacich.
 
This video showcases several sustainability initiatives within the following areas: energy, water efficiency, waste reduction and recycling, and alternative fuels and transportation. These initiatives include Riverside’s Free Sprinkler Nozzle Program, which provides efficient sprinkler nozzles to residents, and the City’s Grease-to-Gas program, which generates 1.6 MW electricity per day and saves Riverside more than $1 million annually in operating costs.
 
While the nuances of sustainability efforts are often complex, the video is presented in simple terms and is designed to appeal to a wide audience by featuring interviews with local residents and employees who are making sustainable choices in Riverside. The video provides examples, such as waterwise landscaping and edible gardens, that will inspire viewers to make smart sustainable choices in their everyday lives.

The Green Lease Library

The California Sustainability Alliance Green Leases Toolkit is featured in the Green Lease Library, recently released by the Department of Energy. The library is a great tool that will help implement “green leases” – commercial rental agreements that support and encourage energy efficiency.

The agreement for commercial leases specifies how the energy costs will be divided between tenants and owners: either the building owner is be responsible for covering the cost of utilities, allowing the tenant to “waste” energy without any type of penalty, or the tenant is responsible for the utility bills, giving the building owner little incentive to make any energy efficiency improvements to the property.

Green leases include modified lease clauses , where both the owner and the tenant have an incentive to take steps towards a more green way of living and doing business, which in turn will save money and conserve resources.

The Green Lease Library is meant to become a “one-stop-shop” for all a wide range of users: building owners, existing and future tenants, and lawyers. It is user friendly and is organized in three main components:

  • Guidance – How to develop, negotiate and implement green leases
  • Best Practices – Successful green lease studies
  • Toolkits – Sample Green lease language and templates

Each category houses documents and resources that provide a wealth of information on green leases. The resources are organized by Audience & Building Type, Description, Author and Subscription Type: whether the subscription is free or there is a cost associated with it. Most of the subscriptions are free and can be accessed instantly.

The Green Lease Library is the result of collaboration between the following organizations that are part of the green lease community:

  • General Services Administration
  • U.S. Department of Energy Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, Building Technologies Program
  • Commercial Real Estate Energy Alliance
  • Building Owners and Managers Association
  • Rocky Mountain Institute
  • NYU Shack Institute of Real Estate, Center for the Sustainable Built Environment
  • Institute for Market Transformation
  • Natural Resources Defense Council

http://www.greenleaselibrary.com/

Shutting the Door on Inefficient Retail Practices

Walking in any of California’s major retail zones (or in most of the U.S. for that matter), it is common to see inviting store fronts with highly planned out – even artful – window displays. There is little mystery or confusion about why retailers do this. They are designed to pique our interest, draw us inside and result in our making a purchase.

But, there is another part to the façade of any establishment that goes less-noticed, which is worth a look: The door. Barring severe weather, many retailers choose to keep their doors open during business hours—helping to make their stores even more accessible and inviting. This practice, however, has costs, both for the retailer and its customers. The costs are in the energy that is required to keep the store temperature at comfortable levels for both employees and shoppers.

In 2008, the shopping mecca of New York City passed a law requiring that retailers meeting specific criteria must keep their doors shut while the air-conditioning is running. ConEdison of New York helped to inform retailers of their role in energy efficiency by publishing The Price of Open Doors, a widely distributed informational flyer providing information on kWh and dollar savings, and the impact of lost energy in the region.

With all of this information, one could wonder why retailers simply don’t just close their doors and save energy? It boils down to today’s highly competitive retail environment; retailers have [legitimate] concerns that keeping the door closed will negatively impact sales. Doors create, quite literally, a physical barrier between potential customers and merchandise. And, to be successful, retailers must minimize barriers that keep “window shoppers” from turning into product purchasers. 

So, how can retailers reconcile aspirations to be environmentally responsible and drive sales? Two key starting point are:

  • Introduce a code– When local and/or state governments pass codes, as New York City did, a level playing field exists for retailers. Customers would be equally drawn into stores by the other merchandisingapproaches available, not though the doors being left wide open.
  • Turn it into a marketing opportunity – Nowadays, it’s quite common for retailers to publish their sustainability statement as a way of winning favor with their clientele. Retailers can use this environmentally-responsible action to their favor by informing current and prospective customers of the change—perhaps with a sticker on the door (that can only be seen when it’s shut) to remind customers of their commitment to sustainability.

Let us know what you think!

Sustainability Innovations in the Wastewater Industry

In 2010, I wrote about Imagine H2O (an incubator hosting prize competitions for water innovations) as they launched their second annual prize competition focused on the water-energy nexus. Recently, I attended Imagine H2O’s 3rd Annual Water Entrepreneurs Showcase at which the organization announced the winners of their 2011 prize competition for innovations in the wastewater industry.

This year’s competition attracted 50 startups, from which nine finalists were selected.  The competition was split into two categories, a pre-revenue track and an early revenue track.  Bilexys won the Pre-Revenue Track for its technology that converts wastewater into chemicals which can then be reused in the treatment process.  New Sky Energy won the Early Revenue Track for its technology that combines CO2 and industrial wastewater to extract usable chemicals from the wastewater stream. Additionally, Nexus eWater and Tusaar, Inc. were named runners up in the Pre-Revenue Track— Nexus eWater for its technology that converts residential gray water into near-potable water and recycles its energy for hot water heating, and Tusaar for development of a low-cost technology to remove heavy-metal contaminants from wastewater effluent.

Imagine H2O’s event heralds a turning point in the wastewater industry.  In the past, wastewater treatment was a service and technology field that was often an afterthought.  I found it especially refreshing that three of the four winners and runners up viewed wastewater treatment as an opportunity, not a necessary burden.  By viewing wastewater effluent as a resource (from which chemicals can be manufactured, heat can be recovered, and useable water be produced), the winning teams are both creating economic value and increasing sustainability in the water sector.  These innovations can save embedded energy by reducing energy use associated with water supply and chemical production.  Meanwhile, the remaining finalists in the competition focused on reducing the cost and energy requirements of treating wastewater and producing recycled water, both noble causes.

During the acceptance speeches, one winning team explained they are driven by the idea that “water is one of the few un-substitutable resources on this planet”.  As water-stressed regions (including California) continue to see decreases in supply and increases in costs, it will become apparent that wastewater effluent is no longer a waste but instead a resource and path to sustainability.

Imagine H2O places winners in an accelerator program which provides accounting and financial services; introductions to beta customers, financiers, and market partners; assistance in securing lab and/or office space; and publicity.  If Imagine H2O’s efforts are successful, we may never look at a wastewater treatment plant the same again.

New Green Tenant Guide Released

The Alliance has released the Green Tenant Guide to assist organizations through the process of greening their operations and staff behavior.The Guide incorporates content based on best practice research and is built on the belief that a sustainability program should be treated like any other venture an organization undertakes; it should make business sense, be measurable, and fit within the organization’s overall mission.  This guide recognizes that every organization’s situation is different and it will help organizations discover what makes the most sense for their situation and their audience in order to do the following:Set clear and feasible sustainability goalsEstablish buy-in and excitementDefine metricsCommunicate resultsThe Green Tenant Guide includes a step-by-step approach, specific strategies for greening a workplace, a sustainability program process checklist and a smart goal setting worksheet.To view or download the Green Tenant Guide click here.