Bengaluru: For everything a company makes, water is the default ingredient—from cigarettes to semi-conductors and everything in between, companies are big consumers of water, a fast-depleting resource.

Even though agriculture accounts for 82% of the water used in India, the industries’ share (10%) is far from negligible. Given the business risk water depletion poses to them, corporate entities have begun acting to save water.

As India battles its worst water crisis in decades, the conservation strategies of companies such as Infosys Ltd, Mahindra and Mahindra Ltd, Nestle India Ltd, Ambuja Cements Ltd and Microsoft Corp. India Pvt. Ltd offer a glimmer of hope—they are adopting a strategy of reducing consumption of water, and reusing and recycling it at their campuses and plants.

Some units of manufacturing are water guzzlers, and paint shops in factories are one such section. Around half of a car maker’s water usage is in its paint shop, says Vijay Kalra, chief of manufacturing operations at the automotive division of Mahindra and Mahindra.

The company took a serious look at the water it consumed from 2012, when it began tracking the usage per unit. It currently uses 2,300 litres, 27% lesser than in 2012, to make one car and is looking to reduce it further by 25%, to 1,600 litres by 2019. The company is also looking to increase the use of rainwater by harvesting more—from the current 6% to 16% by 2019.

All companies are required to set up a sewage treatment and an effluent treatment plant.

“We use this treated water for washrooms and gardening, but now we are going to further process this using reverse osmosis and direct it to the manufacturing process," says Kalra. This could further drive down consumption in the manufacturing process, he adds.

Besides conservation, just keeping a close eye on consumption can also pay dividends. Companies such as Infosys and Microsoft have installed water meters on all their water lines to track the consumption of water on a real-time basis.

“Many a time, it gets difficult to spot the location of a leak. The meter helps exactly spot a leak and helps plug it immediately," says Guruprakash Sastry, regional manager, infrastructure, at Infosys, which invested 5 crore to set up water meters in its 11 campuses. Infosys’s 1.9 lakh employees consume 12.4 million litres of water a day.

While it is quite hard to find a substitute for water for most things, Mahindra has found a replacement for washing cars by switching to an eco-friendly liquid called mEcowash for cleaning cars at its Mumbai plant.

“We require 60 to 70 litres of water to clean one car in the plant, so by using this liquid, we can save almost 12,000 litres of water a day, and it is expected to further increase, when we roll it out in all plants and dealerships. This way we don’t compromise on quality and we are able to save water," says Kalra.

Ambuja Cements is trying to get even its end-users to be conscious about water conservation. The cement maker looked at the curing process used by its builders, architects and contractors. Here, water is poured or sprayed on concrete or mortar surfaces for seven days and it has to be continuously replenished as and when it evaporates due to high temperature and low humidity.

“We introduced a new method called Ambuja Modular Curing Solution, where with a customised plastic sheet, one can prevent water loss due to evaporation and it also protects the surface from strong winds, low humidity and high ambient temperatures," says Umesh Soni, senior vice-president and corporate head, technical services, Ambuja Cement Ltd. This method helped save 57 million litres in 2015, adds Soni.

Companies such as Mahindra and Infosys have been investing in the range of 5 crore to 8 crore a year towards building infrastructure to conserve water.

But it is not just the structural efforts, but also small efforts and common sense that go a long way to conserving water.

Microsoft makes sure it collects all the leftover water from bubbletops and water bottles and uses it to water the plants.

Infosys has built a small collection unit to collect the dripping condensate from air-conditioners and connects it to the water supply used for the cooling towers. “We were able to collect 5,000 litres of such water in our Mangalore campus in a day. Since the water collected is already cool, the energy consumption to cool down the water for the cooling towers goes down further," says Sastry.

While these are signs of progress, India still has a long way to go when it comes to the way businesses view water, says Arvind Sharma, executive director, sustainability and climate change, at PricewaterhouseCoopers India. “It is still not seen as a key risk. Water needs to be discussed at (company) boards and needs to be part of the regular internal business audits," says Sharma.

He says regulation has not pushed firms enough. “We don’t have a water withdrawal guideline and penalties for not meeting zero-discharge. These are of paramount importance for the times that we live in," he adds.

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