Business owners in South Africa can play an important part in conserving water resources while reducing their utility bills by embracing water efficiency as a way of life. In doing so, they can play a valuable role in assisting the country to manage the effects of a prolonged drought.
That’s according to Anton van Heerden, executive vice-president: Africa and Middle East at Sage, who says the challenge is for small businesses that depend heavily on water to produce goods or deliver services – for example, gyms, laundromats, agribusinesses, restaurants, hair dressers, car washes, the hospitality sector and many factories.
The current drought is the worst that South Africa has experienced in decades, and it has already had a severe impact on jobs in agriculture and food manufacturing. Earlier this year, Stats SA reported that the drought last summer saw jobs in agriculture decline by 37 000. At the same time, food prices are rising because of poor rainfall.
Van Heerden offers some tips for SMEs about how they can improve their water efficiency into the future:
* Be creative – Many South African entrepreneurs who are the business builders of the country are finding creative ways to work around the water crisis – for example, we are starting to see waterless car wash franchises emerge. This reduces the amount of water wasted from using unnecessary hose pipes and installed washers.
* Water efficiency in the kitchen and canteen – When it’s time to replace fittings and equipment, buy pressurised coffee machines, water-wise baseline dishwashers, efficient tap fittings and so on. They are sometimes more expensive, but will pay for themselves over time.
* Clean without wasting water – Many South African businesses waste water when washing floors, cars and walls. Rather use a bucket and a cloth, mop or a broom to clean.
* Detect leaks and plug them – Keep an eye on your water bill. If it’s unexpectedly large, you might have a leaking pipe or dripping tap. If you notice a pipe or tap is leaking, fix it immediately.
* Make sure your bathrooms are water-wise – Consider using water-efficient bathroom fittings – for example, taps with an aerator or flow restrictor to use less water as well as water-efficient urinals.
* Tending to the grounds and garden – Go for drought-tolerant, indigenous plants rather than thirstier alien plants; if you have an irrigation system, make sure it is properly maintained and configured – and switch it off completely if there’s rain. A more affordable option to consider is a greywater system, or install a rainwater tank and use that for watering your plants. These options can be very useful especially for companies involved in the agriculture sector where most of their fresh produce comes from farms which require constant maintenance.
* Be sceptical of silver bullets – There are many innovations that can help you to save water, but be sceptical of the sales pitches of fly-by-night companies that have emerged to take advantage of the water crisis. As this was also the case during the months of load shedding, many people are looking to make a quick buck rather than to sell you a sustainable solution. Ask for customer references and find out about a supplier’s track record before you buy its water-efficient taps or kitchen equipment. Get quotes from multiple suppliers before you commit – alarm bells should be going out when a quote is much higher or lower than the average among the competition.
* Educate employees – To ensure that your efforts to conserve water are successful, you may need to change behaviour among your employees. Educate them about how they can avoid waste – for example, by not leaving taps running when they wash their hands or their lunch dishes. You could, for example, put water saving tips up near kitchen and bathroom taps to remind team members of the importance of saving water.
“At Sage, we believe in a socially-responsible world and in playing a positive role in communities and with entrepreneurs,” says Van Heerden. “The business community needs to step up and play a role in safeguarding our precious water resources as an urgency, and we all need to accept that water scarcity is likely to become a way of life into the future.”