Successful conservation strategies revealed
April 14, 2016

Commercial, industrial, institutional programs

While water conservation programs for residential customers are common, only about one in five medium-sized and large utilities have programs for commercial, industrial and institutional customers, according to a new AWWA report.

The National Survey of CII Water Efficiency Programs, funded by the Association’s Technical and Education Council, goes far beyond quantifying CII conservation programs by revealing the tried-and-true strategies of utilities that have successfully implemented them:

Information and education programs are widely used along with three main incentives: free surveys and audits, free landscape irrigation evaluations and customer rebates. 

The three most frequently targeted CII customer categories for conservation programs are government and municipal buildings, large landscape areas, and schools and colleges. Other targets include office buildings, restaurants and hotels.

The complexity of some of the end uses of water in the CII sector likely affects the nature of the equipment and incentives used in the design of the CII Efficiency programs. The efficiency programs tend to focus on indoor fixtures in office buildings and domestic-like uses, such as toilet flushing, showering and landscape watering.

• Because a large portion of CII water is used for landscape irrigation, especially in arid and semi-arid regions, outdoor use was often targeted by the programs.  The promotion and use of irrigation efficiency products was the second most frequently used type of equipment, after indoor plumbing and fixtures. It received the highest rank in terms of success, based on water savings and participation.

The data-rich report is AWWA’s first-ever survey of CII conservation programs. It is currently available only to members, who can download it free. After ACE16 in June, the general public can access it. 

“The idea is to help conservation planners at water utilities learn what others are doing in terms of CII efficiency programs and what does and doesn’t work,” said Ben Dziegielewski, professor emeritus of environmental resources at Southern Illinois University, who prepared the report. ”This is to help them design and implement programs that will likely be successful.”

The survey was undertaken by AWWA’s Water Efficiency Programs and Technology Committee and conducted last year using an on-line questionnaire. A total of 383 utilities participated.

About three-fourths of respondents said they have water conservation programs, but less than a third of those had a CII program component.

Among those that do, utilities said they must overcome obstacles to participation: lack of high-level buy-in within customer organizations, insufficient capital improvement monies in customer budgets, and inadequacy of incentives related to retrofit costs.

Veronica Blette, chief of the WaterSense Branch for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and a member of the report’s project team, said the survey helps utility managers understand the lay of the land.

“I thought it was interesting that one of the biggest barriers utilities noted in carrying out their programs was that customers had trouble getting high-level buy-in within their organizations to participate,” Blette said. “Is this because water costs are not sufficiently high enough to make it worth the investment? Maybe we need to do a better job of making the business case for water efficiency.”

Lisa Krentz, an associate at Hazen and Sawyer and a project team member, offered several recommendations including streamlining program design and implementation to encourage adoption of CII efficiency programs. 

She agreed it’s important to promote costs and expected savings from water-efficient equipment. That, in turn, may influence CII program design and help utilities build demand for these programs.

“Future surveys of CII programs should explore how utilities select program participants, incentives and efficiency devices and equipment,” Krentz said. “Follow-up research should be undertaken to collect program-specific information about existing CII programs. This will help us better understand and overcome perceived barriers and develop recommendations for program improvements.”