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The built environment is one of the world’s most significant sources of carbon emissions. According to the National Building Performance Standards Coalition, buildings are responsible for 35% of total energy-related greenhouse gas emissions in the United States.

The water systems involved in the construction and operation of buildings are a major source of those carbon emissions A reliable supply of clean water requires enormous amounts of energy. In the United States, 13% of electricity use is related to water treatment and delivery. Sewage treatment is an especially resource-intensive process. On average, every cubic meter of water consumed generates 23 pounds (or 10.6Kg) of carbon emissions.

While the availability of clean water has been recognized as an urgent worldwide concern, however, carbon emissions associated with the production, treatment and distribution of clean water rarely factor into the ongoing conversation on climate policy and carbon mitigation, and their contribution to the global climate crisis is often overlooked.

What’s worse is that much of the water consumed in the construction and operation of the built environment is simply waste. Approximately 25% of all water entering residential and commercial buildings, construction sites and industrial facilities is ultimately wasted.

For instance, water lost from a single cooling tower malfunction can generate emissions equivalent to a transatlantic flight. And one leaky toilet can waste more than 1 million gallons of water a year, resulting in 46 tons of carbon released into the atmosphere every year.

When considering the amplifying effect that water waste has, by driving increased water-related energy consumption and further greenhouse gas emissions, the staggering effect of chronic water inefficiency becomes clear.

Solving the problem of water waste in the built environment won’t address all the world’s climate challenges. But the disproportionate and multiplying impact that water waste has on the climate demonstrates how critical efficient stewardship of this essential natural resource is. Reducing water waste protects a rapidly diminishing resource and also minimizes carbon emissions, so it must be a central part of any successful sustainability strategy.

One reason water waste is overlooked is that it is largely invisible. Most of the water wasted in building construction and operations results from hidden leaks that go undetected, from micro-leakages to pipe bursts. Many contractors and building managers have accepted that such loss is simply part of the nature of their business. Some have tried to mitigate the risk with simplistic tools such as leak sensors or through human intervention with in-person visual inspections, but with limited success. These familiar but frustrating tools don’t empower teams to properly manage water and monitor waste.

Fortunately, new solutions powered by artificial intelligence and machine learning promise to transform how construction, building operations and property and facilities management professionals deal with water waste. Innovations in "Internet of Things" and artificial intelligence make it possible to mitigate water waste and meet sustainability goals proactively.

Powerful water management and analytics solutions provide intelligent real-time monitoring, helping contractors, owners, developers and managers identify leaks at the source, eliminating the risk of water loss, property damage and interrupted workflows while also addressing the growing problem of carbon emissions related to water waste.

The right leak detection and analytics solution supports a building’s complete operational lifecycle, from construction to operation. During construction, the system can provide accurate real-time data on water consumption, identify the location of a leak and even shut off the water supply automatically in case the leak has the potential to cause damage. By using advanced algorithms to learn water use patterns, the system can alert project teams when an anomaly is detected.

Communicating over cellular networks and powered by battery, they can be deployed even before Internet and electrical infrastructure has been installed and can continue to operate in case of outages or service interruptions. And once the building is completed, the system integrates into the building management system.

Water loss in the built environment is a serious challenge, and it will only become more urgent as concerns about sustainability among consumers, investors and regulators drive demand for increased transparency and efficiency. There is no doubt that all companies will soon be required to disclose information about the climate impact of their operations.

Data-powered water management solutions offer a way for businesses to proactively respond to these concerns by optimizing water use and demonstrate their commitment to a clean environment and their sustainability goals.

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