I know, I know; who needs another concern with all the focus on cutting down carbon emissions because our polar bears are dying and sea levels are rising, right? Unfortunately, I have to add to the growing list of problems; our supply of fresh drinking water is rapidly drying up.
I remember very well that when I was a young boy, everybody was talking about acid rain, the hole in the ozone layer and not spilling water. Who of us hasn’t been told not to leave the tap open while brushing our teeth or cutting down shower time? This was already an issue in 1990 and it hasn’t changed. And rightfully so; the OECD has calculated that in 2030, 40% of the world population will face fresh water scarcity. Governments and military planners around the world are preparing themselves for fights over clean and healthy drinking water.
Even though this is coming our way, on a building level we are not even aware of the leaks we might have. The ULI has estimated that hidden or neglected water leaks in the United States are responsible for 1.25 trillion gallons of water annually, which is roughly the total consumption of Los Angeles, Miami and Chicago, combined. And still, water savings isn’t even mentioned in most ESG strategies, imagine the lack of attention real estate companies without sustainability strategies are paying.
So why is this?
Maybe it’s because water prices are too low to worry about consumption. Maybe we have so many big problems already to worry about that we don’t know where to start. Well, you can start by turning down the faucet when you are brushing your teeth at home and you can make sure you know what is happening in the buildings you manage or own.
So what is the situation at the present moment?
Most buildings still have analog water meters. In those buildings property managers or owners only know if there is a water leak if tenants tell them. In a way they have to hope that leaks occur in highly visible locations because otherwise it can take months to even know there is an issue. They have no way of tracking consumption levels because portfolio wide water meter digitalization is very time consuming and costly. Water utility companies are usually owning the main meters. Some of them have digital meters but in a small country like Finland alone, there are hundreds of these regional companies. You can see why a portfolio wide digitalization project would get pushed of the priority list. Where to even start?
In creating a Proptech platform, CBRE is now also recognizing the need for innovation which spreads through the property industry like wildfire. The way of the future is sustainability and digitalization. Because you can’t manage what you can’t measure, there is an interconnectivity between the two. In making it easy to digitalize consumption patterns in buildings, real estate owners and managers can bring awareness to everybody that saving water is easy and needed.