Water Efficiency Champions Connect With Consumers

Nov. 1, 2010

More and more, consumers are making the switch to more water efficient products and realizing utility savings in the process. In fact, in 2009 alone, consumers saved more than 36 billion gallons of water—and 4.9 billion kWh of electricity—by using WaterSense-labeled products.

But they didn’t do it alone. The nearly 2,000 WaterSense promotional, manufacturing, retail, and professional partners were integral in encouraging consumers to look for the WaterSense label and adopt other water efficient behaviors. Each year, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recognizes the best partners in four categories at increasing water efficiency and awareness of the WaterSense label across the country. This year, EPA recognized the following four Partners of the Year during the WaterSmart Innovations Conference in Las Vegas, NV, on October 6.

Promotional Partner of the Year: Cascade Water Alliance
Cascade Water Alliance, a wholesale water provider serving 400,000 residents and 22,000 businesses in King County, WA, has focused on innovative ways to educate its customers about water efficiency.

Surprisingly, the Puget Sound region isn’t as rainy as you might think, with some areas receiving less annual rainfall than Boston, MA; Atlanta, GA; or Washington, D.C. The summers are warm and dry, and, in the past two decades, the region has weathered a half-dozen droughts and water use advisories or restrictions.

“We’re using the resource carefully so we avoid the prospect of running out of water or prematurely developing an expensive new source,” says Michael Brent, Cascade’s Water Resources Manager. “By promoting water efficiency, we’ll ensure a reliable supply and push out the time when we need to develop new supplies.”

To that end, in 2009 Cascade unveiled the WaterSense Road Show, a traveling conservation booth that made numerous appearances at community hubs and events. Besides giving away free showerheads and WaterSense promotional items through the road show, Cascade also ran a WaterSense-labeled toilet rebate program for its eight member utilities.

Recognizing that a crucial time to reach consumers is at the point of purchase, Cascade partnered with nearly 100 plumbers and retailers, including The Home Depot, Lowe’s, Costco, McLendon Hardware, and Ace Hardware to help educate sales staff. Each retailer received a binder with information about WaterSense, lists of eligible toilet models, and answers to frequently asked questions. In an industry prone to high turnover, Cascade established contacts at each store, sent them regular updates, and revisited each retailer several times during the year to train sales staff about WaterSense, provide promotional materials, and catch up on trends.

Brent says according to sales staff, some retailers have gone from selling almost no WaterSense-labeled toilets to seeing 75 to 90% of their toilet sales in WaterSense-labeled models. In 2009, Cascade processed 2,154 rebates for single-family residences that upgraded to WaterSense-labeled toilets. Additionally, more than 1,000 rebates were provided to commercial and multifamily accounts. Cascade closes the loop by offering free recycling of old toilets.

Even more impressive is the high level of customer satisfaction. Cascade surveys customers after they purchase their toilets, and 94% reported that the WaterSense-labeled models work as well or better than their old water-guzzlers.

“WaterSense has done away with most—if not all—of the stigma associated with low-flow toilets and showerheads,” he says, crediting the performance criteria in the EPA specification for this change.

Brent recommends a WaterSense road show as a cost-effective communications tool for utilities, since it can be scaled up or down based on the products they offer. He also advises taking advantage of WaterSense’s annual Fix a Leak Week and sending out a leak detection mailing, as Cascade does to nearly 100,000 homes, as a way to reach customers with the water efficiency message.

“I think we’re on the verge of a major paradigm shift…. People understand we need to minimize our impact on the environment and use our resources more carefully than before,” says Brent. “We’re helping them do that, and WaterSense is a key element in our strategy.”

Manufacturer Partner of the Year: Moen
As the saying goes, if a job is worth doing, it’s worth doing well. When EPA released its WaterSense specification for bathroom sink faucets, plumbing manufacturer Moen decided to earn the WaterSense label for 100% of its residential and multifamily lavatory faucets, a feat it accomplished in 2009.

“Moen realizes that it has a responsibility to conserve water for future generations—and to help consumers make responsible choices as well,” says Tom Liebhardt, Senior Marketing Director for Moen’s Wholesale Business Unit. “Winning the WaterSense Manufacturer Partner of the Year award is validation that we did what was right.”

Moen now offers a total of 267 WaterSense labeled faucet models that save water without sacrificing performance. Faucets range from approximately $60 to $700, encompassing single-family, multifamily, and luxury models.

“There is always a concern that new features or upgrades may impact the cost of a product, [but] Moen has addressed this concern by offering high-performance, water-saving faucets and showerheads for the same cost as traditional models,” says Liebhardt. “The company has worked to spread the message that consumers can actually achieve a cost savings on utility bills through the purchase of water efficient products.”

Moen coordinated with Tom Kraeutler from The Money Pit, a national home improvement radio show, to broadcast this savings message during a media tour in July 2009. The tour reached more than 25 million listeners in the top 50 US media markets. Moen also redesigned its Web site with a new eco-performance page, promoted its WaterSense-labeled products at trade shows and collaborated with retailers such as Lowe’s, The Home Depot, and Menard’s.

The WaterSense Partner of the Year award isn’t the only accolade Moen has received for these efforts. Several of its water-efficient products have also received design awards. The Moen Envi Eco-Performance Rainshower and the ShowHouse Fina single-handle lavatory faucet recently received Gold Awards for Design Excellence, and the CFG Water Saving showerhead received a Bronze Consulting-Specifying Engineer Product of the Year Award.

Beyond designing smarter products, Moen has found additional ways to save water on the job. The company’s 3,000-person worldwide workforce has reduced its water consumption by reusing 70% of all water used in product testing, as well as installing water filtration systems in all of its facilities to reduce plastic water bottle consumption and waste.

Retailer Partner of the Year: Lowe’s
Because home improvement shoppers are looking for ways to stretch their dollar further, Lowe’s Companies Inc. rolled out the “Build Your Savings” campaign, highlighting WaterSense-labeled products as a simple way to help consumers select products that will help them save. Lowe’s promoted its vast in-stock selection of WaterSense-labeled products using the slogan “save energy, save water, save money.”

“To be awarded WaterSense Retail Partner of the Year for the second consecutive year recognizes our dedication to providing a growing number of product solutions that benefit both our customers and the environment,” says Nick Canter, Lowe’s Executive Vice President of Merchandising. “Lowe’s continues to promote water efficiency while helping to protect the future of our water supply. And the WaterSense awards challenge us to do more to help our customers save water and money.”

Like fellow Partner of the Year Cascade, Lowe’s also knows the importance of an informed sales staff, and educated the more than 238,000 employees across its 1,700 North American stores on the benefits of WaterSense with a heavy focus on trainings via its corporate intranet. The Fortune 50 company has woven WaterSense into the corporate culture by holding contests and encouraging employees to try the labeled products themselves.

The approximately 15 million customers who visited Lowe’s each week in 2009 may have noticed the difference: The number of promotional deals for WaterSense-labeled products doubled in one year. In the fall, Lowe’s emphasized seasonal deals on WaterSense-labeled products, ENERGY STAR-qualified appliances, and weatherization products for winter. The company promoted these specials with television commercials, in-store signage, announcements, and print, online, and radio advertisements.

The Build Your Savings micro Web site prominently featured WaterSense-labeled products and included a home audit tool that calculates the savings potential of switching to energy- and water-efficient products. And a “Build Your Savings” in-store guidebook explained the benefits of WaterSense-labeled products and water-saving practices.

In 2009, Lowe’s supported two tax-free events for WaterSense-labeled products, one in Louisiana and another in Virginia. Customers took advantage of special discounts for WaterSense-labeled products.

Lowe’s has also established a large network of utility partners to help spread the word about the importance of water efficiency, as well as the availability of rebates for customers who purchase WaterSense-labeled products. Note: Utilities interested in working with Lowe’s can call the company’s utility hotline at (877) 264-7585 to learn more.

Irrigation Partner of the Year: Judy Benson
As everyone knows, staying competitive in an industry closely linked to the new construction market has been tough the past several years. And while it may be tempting for some irrigation companies to look for short cuts, irrigation consultant and contractor Judy Benson has long recognized that reducing the quantity of irrigation zones or ignoring proper equipment placement would be “a recipe for long-term high water use by the unsuspecting buyer.”

Instead, Benson, president of Clear Water PSI in central Florida, decided to work with property owners interested in correcting irrigation systems and landscapes by renovating the irrigation design. Over the past 13 years, her clients have benefited from her commitment to water efficiency. In fact, her company’s irrigation systems must meet or exceed 70% distribution uniformity (a measure of how evenly irrigation is applied to a landscape).

According to Benson, her WaterSense partnership has helped to set her apart from competitors. Benson realized the benefits of partnership within two months of joining, receiving a contract award partially due to one of her WaterSense-labeled irrigation certifications. And since becoming a partner, Benson has made it a priority to incorporate WaterSense into her business.

“I decided to apply as a WaterSense partner immediately upon learning about the program. I knew that being part of this program would only enhance the direction I was leading my company,” she says. “I have always been focused on spreading the word about good irrigation practices, as this is the core of my company’s mission statement.”

Demonstrating customers’ estimated water savings and reduced landscape maintenance costs associated with efficiency renovations is key to Benson’s business model. In addition to participating in national campaigns such as “Fix a Leak Week” and distributing WaterSense materials on sales calls and at community events, Benson and her company built a working irrigation display. Benson takes the display to events and uses it as a tool to educate consumers on ways to operate their current systems with more water efficient irrigation technologies and practices.

Benson is also an Irrigation Association certified trainer who teaches other irrigation professionals water efficient techniques. In fact, Benson makes it a point to impart her irrigation efficiency knowledge to the general public, government agencies, local representatives, state agencies, water management districts, fellow contractors, and, as she jokes, “anyone who will listen to me.”

For more information about the 2010 WaterSense Partners of the Year, visit www.epa.gov/watersense.  

About the Author

Alicia Marrs

Alicia Marrs is an outreach specialist for EPA's WaterSense program.

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