World Water Day: Lessons from A Water Expert

Mar 22, 2017 2:30 PM ET

Whether at the General Motors’ headquarters in the Great Lakes State or an assembly plant in a water-stressed area of Brazil, GM is consistently looking for ways to conserve water. In honor of World Water Day, here are five tips for industrial water conservation from Todd Williams, GM’s senior project engineer for water and wastewater treatment. 

1. Track use: What gets measured gets done. Perform site-wide water checks to better understand water use across your operations and identify areas of improvement. 

2. Develop a goal and incentivize: GM is committed to reducing water intensity from its facilities by 15 percent by 2020 over a 2010 baseline. To encourage progress, water goals are integrated into site business plans and employees are recognized for water conservation ideas. Scorecards are also used to track performance and add competition across sites. 

3. Demonstrate holistic impact: Show management the benefits of a water conservation initiative to help gain financial backing for a project. While building the Joinville Engine plant in Brazil, the GM team realized it could collect wastewater that is treated by a constructed wetland and reverse osmosis. That water is then used in industrial processes. The system now saves 5.5 million liters per year – enough to fill two Olympic swimming pools. 

4. Continually improve: GM Sao Caetano do Sol is a 90-year-old complex in Brazil, which used industrial wastewater for toilet flushing since the 1930s. The team realized they could do more and, about seven years ago, began treating wastewater for use as make-up water in the cooling towers. The site was able to use 63,400 gallons of treated industrial wastewater per month, replacing demand for drinking water by an equal amount. 

5. Engage the supply chain: GM works with CDP to request water data from its suppliers and share best practices for improvement. CDP’s World Water Day report explores the benefits realized when companies work together to manage and reuse wastewater.  

“Water is a vital resource in every community where we operate,” said Williams. “We pursue the right mix of equipment, technology and talent to best conserve and reduce our environmental impact.”  

The theme for World Water Day 2017, “why wastewater,” calls for actions to reduce and reuse untreated wastewater to increase water recycling and safe reuse. For more tips on how to manage wastewater, visit