Our Social Responsibility Stories

May 15, 2022

Water conservation in the building materials industry

Water is precious and necessary to sustain life. But because of climate change and other factors, water scarcity is growing. Some regions are already experiencing water shortages, and research shows the problem is only expected to expand in the decades ahead.

To achieve responsible environmental stewardship, building materials companies like Summit Materials need to reduce water consumption across their operations. Thankfully, there are steps both big and small that companies can take today to reduce water usage. With the right systems, processes and reduction measures, organizations can reduce water pull from municipal sources, help to ensure healthy ecosystems and aquifers, and in turn, reduce costs. Here’s why water conservation is so important for building materials companies and how organizations can reduce consumption to create a more sustainable future.

The importance of water conservation

Water scarcity has been called a “crisis” for good reason. According to estimates, “by 2030, the gap between global demand and supplies of fresh water is expected to reach 40%.” But it’s not just a global issue. The U.S. is already feeling the impacts of water scarcity, particularly in the West and Southwest. According to the EPA, 40 states are “expecting some freshwater shortages in the next 10 years.”

Water shortages can negatively impact everything from food production to manufacturing to everyday domestic use. That means everyone and every industry has a role to play in water conservation efforts. Because of the role water plays in aggregates, cement, concrete, asphalt and paving mixture production, building materials companies have a tremendous opportunity to impact water conservation efforts.

Water usage in the building materials industry

Building materials companies use water in various lines of business for any number of purposes. Some of those uses include dust suppression, stone washing, washout, cooling, equipment cleaning, human use, and in the case of ready-mix concrete, in the products themselves. That widespread usage adds up. By prioritizing water conservation and using innovative technologies and process improvements, organizations can achieve a meaningful reduction in water usage.

What building materials companies can do to conserve water

Here are just some of the ways companies like Summit Materials are working to reduce water consumption and promote sustainable environmental stewardship in the aggregates, cement concrete, and asphalt and paving industry.

Water metering and monitoring

Water conservation initiatives typically start with a baselining exercise to determine how much water is being used across an enterprise organization. Water metering can provide that benchmark by measuring water usage at all operating sites for all uses.

Companies can also consider tracking baseline water stress levels at all operating locations. Baseline water stress measures the ratio of total water withdrawals to available renewable surface and groundwater supplies. These ratios are then converted into risk scores defined by the World Resources Institute (WRI) ranging from low water stress (<10%) to extremely high-water stress (>80%). Understanding which locations are in areas of higher water stress can help business leaders manage risk and make better strategic decisions to protect company interests, local communities and the environment.

Wash water stabilization

While companies are establishing a baseline of current water consumption, operational improvements can start to be implemented, including wash water stabilization. With this technique, water used to wash equipment is recycled and used multiple times to cut down on the total water draw at a given location. In addition to the reduction in water used, there can be up to a 13-minute average reduction per truck in end-of-day wash out time, and up to a 50% reduction in chipping costs – saving water, time and money.

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Load and Go Truck Wash systems

Finding ways to reduce water consumption in routine, everyday operations can be key to achieving sustainability goals. To that end, organizations may want to install Load and Go Ready Mix Truck Wash systems at operations sites. These automatic power washes for trucks can thoroughly clean equipment before it leaves a site while using a minimal amount of water. This type of technology is a water management tool as well as a safety feature.

Closed-loop systems

At Summit, we have developed and implemented water conservation programs and closed-loop water systems across our operations sites. These recycling measures are based on water that is reused many times to perform similar tasks, including washing vehicles, washing rock products, dust suppression and more. We can also use recycled water in our concrete production process. These projects not only save water use in daily operations, but produce cost savings by reducing nonproductive time at the end of the day.

Water conservation is a shared goal

Water conservation is a global issue. But we believe there is a path forward to a more sustainable future. By taking stock of water consumption and introducing new operational processes, building materials companies can reduce water usage in aggregates, cement, concrete, asphalt and paving mixture production and help create more sustainable communities.

To learn more about Summit’s corporate sustainability program, download our 2021 ESG Report or contact us for more information.