During the oil rush, a Texan shouted, "Oil is liquid gold!" Now, listening to the cries and concerns about water shortages in the United States, the new liquid gold may be H2O. There is clearly a growing awareness of the value of water and how limited and precious it is in a wasteful world.

Water consumption is on the rise. The United States uses more than 43.3 billion gallons of water each day. As the population continues to increase, so does the demand for water. Small changes to save water will have lasting, valuable effects. All building service contractors have the responsibility to look for ways to save water and make it a part of their company culture; best of all, these methods will impress environmentally conscious customers and new prospects.

How to Save Water

Tracking performance is the key to improvement and how to know how much water is being saved. William Thomson (Lord Kelvin) said, "If you cannot measure it, you cannot improve it."

For a BSC, the key is to measure how much water is being consumed by the building and/or operation right now. That becomes the baseline, which is measured during a performance period. Installing a water meter and tracking the usage from 12 to 24 months will clearly show a reduction in water consumption. The LEED rating system from the United States Green Building Council calls this a performance period.

Building owners have a keen appreciation for return on investment (ROI). Programs that save water result in saving money and that gets the interest of any stakeholder.

Becoming aware of the problem is the first part to the solution. Choosing the right water-conserving products is the next step.

For example, Brian Mitchell, president/owner of B-K Janitorial in Pueblo, Colo., uses a combination of microfiber, steam and water-conserving equipment to save water and supplies. Being aware that stripping uses a significantly large volume of water, Mitchell changed his approach to maintaining hard floor surfaces and now uses a scrub-and-recoat method to restore floors. Janitors apply two to four coats more of finish than when stripping and re-finishing in order to keep enough finish on the floor for burnishing. The result has been a reduction in stripper and water while keeping floors safe and with a brilliant shine.

B-K is also interested in automatic floor scrubbers that can save water. Today's technology provides for equipment that can scrub floors using water only, or some that re-use the scrubbing solution. Other machines electrically convert water to act like a cleaning solution. Even though these machines use water to clean, they actually are saving water, too — up to 70 percent less water than traditional chemical methods.

Steam vapor units are another way to clean without chemicals and save water.

"Steam vapors use about one pint of water per hour to clean and sanitize surfaces," says Michael Merrill, owner/president of Pure Cleaning Co., Palm Beach, Fla.

Comparatively, spray and squeegee or spray and vac machines use one gallon of water per minute when spraying at 500 psi.

Merrill tells his clients they will not use chemicals to clean and by using steam and microfiber they will leave behind a clean, safe environment and will use less water. Studies show that steam can clean and disinfect surfaces faster and more effectively than chemical products. Steam can kill antibiotic-resistant bacteria and viruses on surfaces in less than five seconds.

Helping Customers Conserve, Too

Often, marketing experts are challenged to come up with a means to increase a market share. The efforts circle around spinning a company's prowess for their particular product, process or operational endeavors. Saving water or using water-saving products or equipment is a simple, safe method toward achieving increased market share. BSCs can benefit from their plans to save more water largely because it's simply the right thing to do.

Customers, especially those located in states that chronically suffer from water shortages, want to know if cleaning with water is part of daily operations and what types of water-saving products are being used. In July 2010, the National Resources Defense Council identified Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado and Florida as the top five high-risk states for severe water shortages. Clients in these areas will definitely want to know what efforts BSCs are making to conserve water.

Kimberly Chung, president/CEO of KC Maintenance in Los Angeles, knows about customer care and customer awareness. KC Maintenance is responsible for a large base of customers including federal, state and county buildings. In 2009, Chung noticed that there was an increasing need to conserve water. At the same time, she realized that her outdoor maintenance crews could switch from garden hoses to pressure washers and not only improve performance but save water as well. Parking lots, building entrances and other outdoor areas now are all cleaned using pressure washers with water only. Some areas are pre-treated with degreasers and the waste water removed by special handling.

It wasn't long before Los Angeles County noticed the efforts and mandated that all contract cleaners clean outside areas with pressure washers. The change began saving water and that's important to L.A. County.

Under a proactive plan all BSCs can demonstrate a true concern for their customers by addressing ways to save water outside of their responsibility. For example, the LEED Reference Guide for Green Buildings Operations and Maintenance suggests installing low-flow faucets in restrooms, dual flush toilets (these use 0.8 gallons vs. 1.6 gallons of water), drip vs. spray landscape irrigation and a water meter to measure the reduction. Installing low-flow faucet heads in janitorial closets is an easy, effective way to improve water efficiency. Also, using foam soap dispensers results in less water being used to clean hands as opposed to gel soaps. Installing waterless urinals saves approximately 40,000 gallons a year, per urinal.

Becoming water-efficient also allows for energy reduction to pump, heat and dispose of water coming into and going out of buildings. When BSCs are aware of the problems, they can more easily suggest solutions. By suggesting means to save water that are not connected to cleaning, a BSC will build integrity into the relationship.

Start incorporating ways to save water during cleaning and the methods to prove it. A cleaning program designed around water conservation can help land new customers and impress current clients.

Vince Fagan is the founder of Frankfurt, Ill.-based Fagan Solutions Inc., a national organization serving green markets in the cleaning industry. For more information, visit www.fagansolutions.net.