Commercial, Industrial, Institutional

The commercial, industrial, and institutional (CII) sector is the most diverse collection of water users in the urban environment. This customer category includes retail, grocery, office buildings, hotels and motels, schools, universities, car washes, manufacturing, and many other types of customers. End uses of water in this sector vary widely by industry and by individual facility.

Saving water should be front of mind for facility managers, for many reasons. From a financial standpoint, using less water will save the facility money on water bills. While there may be an initial upfront cost, e.g. the cost of purchasing high-efficiency toilets to replace outdated models, the costs will likely be recouped as the facility’s water bills go down. Such actions often reduce not only water usage and costs but energy usage and costs as well. For example, if a restaurant installs faucet aerators that reduce the amount of hot water needed for a given task, the energy cost of heating water will also be reduced. There is a clear financial case for implementing water conservation and efficiency measures for nearly every CII facility.

Saving water makes financial sense, but it is also the socially and ecologically responsible choice. Reducing water consumption in a utility’s service area helps delay or prevent the need for construction of additional water infrastructure, which can be expensive and damaging to the environment. Reducing water consumption protects water supply for future needs and helps maintain environmental flows, i.e. keeps water in aquifers, rivers, and streams where it meets the needs of flora and fauna and provides spiritual and recreational benefits. For public-facing CII water users, improving water efficiency indicates to customers that the facility is committed to their social responsibility.

The US EPA publication WaterSense at Work: Best Management Practices for Commercial and Institutional Facilities  provides further reading and guidance on improving water efficiency in CII facilities.

The City Energy Project's Water Audit Guidance for Commercial Buildings  is another valuable resource. 

The car wash industry has made great strides in reducing water use through the implementation of efficient technologies and practices. An efficient automatic car wash often uses less water per vehicle than one would consume by washing the same car at home.

Commercial food service represents one of the larger water-using sectors in the non-residential category. Thousands of meals are prepared and hundreds of thousands of pieces of dishware washed every year in just one single restaurant. Water use in food service is especially important because the high-volume applications in those facilities are generally using hot water, and a restaurant can use up to three times as much energy as other commercial buildings. As such, the energy required to heat that water can be significant, and reduction of hot water consumption is therefore of much interest to both the energy utilities and the water providers.

Access all information for the Alliance for Water Efficiency's first Learning Cohort focused on Cooling Technology!

This page contains download links for all the Cooling Technology Study Resources.

Through its Cooling Technology Study, the Alliance for Water Efficiency is developing tools and resources to help its members design and implement effective cooling tower water efficiency programs.  The Cooling Tower Estimating Model is a foundational resource that provides insightful estimates such as the number of cooling towers, water use, and water conservation potential.  The Cooling Tower Estimating Model and accompanying guide, Taking Inventory: A Guide for Identifying Cooling Towers and Estimating Water Use are available free of charge to all AWE members in good standing. 

Implementing water conservation at schools, colleges, and universities offers two-fold benefits: the students receive practical education and experience on the merits of water conservation and water is saved at the facility. Replacing inefficient fixtures in educational institutions can yield large water savings due to the high person to fixture ratio.

Golf courses use significant quantities of water for irrigation and maintenance of their grounds, especially during hot, dry weather.

There are numerous water saving measures and retrofits available for government facilities. The water use profile may lead to short payback periods, and the facilities can be a significant portion of a utility’s institutional sector water use.  

Health clubs and recreation centers may have a wide variety of water uses, depending on the services offered. These facilities will require basic use for restrooms and drinking water but may also include swimming pools and spas, food service, outdoor playing fields, and more features that can make the water use profile more complex.

Water savings potential in this sector varies depending on the type of facility and how guests use the hotel. Guest rooms are one source of savings, but many larger hotels have significant water use resulting from banquets, conferences, restaurants, nightclubs, day spas, and more. Each hotel has different functions and water use patterns that should be considered.

There are many opportunities for water conservation by replacing certain types of clothes washers in laundromats, multi-family buildings, and apartment complexes. 

Manufacturing facilities can provide great opportunity for water efficiency and conservation. This sector is diverse and often contains a water provider’s largest customers. The most common uses for water in manufacturing are cooling, process uses, cleaning, employee sanitation, and steam generation, all of which present opportunities to improve water use efficiency.

Office buildings can present great opportunity for water use reduction through conservation and efficiency, though this will require some coordination between facility owners, managers, tenants, and maintenance staff.

Supermarkets have all the water uses of typical retail outlets, such as sanitary fixtures and landscape irrigation, plus much more. Due to these factors, supermarkets have a very high water savings potential and there are a variety of ways for supermarkets to achieve these significant water savings. 

The following are general water saving tips for general operations, cooling, steam, cleaning, sanitary, kitchen, laundry, and landscape water uses in the CII sector.