Sustainability Matters Feb/Mar 2022

Page 10

water management


Water scarcity may spur improvements at manufacturing facilities Water is often consumed in large amounts and is a vital ingredient for making many common products, ranging from cars to smartphones and computer chips.


ow a new study from

ask how industry is responding to climate-

only when they face persistent drought,”

Penn State and UCLA

change-induced events, like droughts.

said Muthulingam, an associate professor

has discovered that com-

“Most of the prior research has been

of supply chain management. “These effects

panies that use water

focused on how companies are negatively

also extended into the facilities reducing

in their manufacturing

affecting the environment,” Dhanorkar said.

emissions in other ways, such as into the

processes may actually

“We wanted to flip it and see how companies

land and air, too.”

pivot to become efficient and more eco-

respond to climate change. It opens a new

The researchers said one explanation

friendly when water becomes increasingly

area of research that can, in the future, start

for the results could be that water scarcity

scarce during times of drought.

to look at not just manufacturing, but also

prompts companies to become more careful

The researchers — including Suvrat

how these climate-change-induced events

about how they use water. But, because

Dhanorkar and Suresh Muthulingam from

affect innovation and other economic factors

water is used across processes, companies

Penn State and Charles Corbett from UCLA

like unemployment.”

become aware of other areas where they

— found in their study that subsequent to

For the study, the researchers gathered

periods of water scarcity, manufacturing

data from 3092 manufacturing facilities in

“A lot of these industries use water

facilities that use water extensively stream-

Texas from 2000 to 2016. The research-

at different points in their processes,”

lined their processes to lower their toxic

ers focused their study on Texas because

Dhanorkar said. “So, when there’s water

emissions into water, like lakes and rivers.

the state frequently experiences droughts

shortage and you’re investigating how to

An added benefit the researchers found

and periods of water scarcity, as well as

improve water usage, it may also reveal

was that the changes in the processes also

producing many types of products including

shortcomings in other aspects of the

resulted in reduced toxic emissions into land

food, petroleum, coal, chemicals and metal.

processes that aren’t related to water as

and air. On average, the estimated reductions

The data included information on the

well. These companies might be learning

weeks of drought experienced by each facil-

a lot about their processes not just from

ity and the total amount of toxic emissions

a water standpoint, but more broadly.”

in toxic emissions were more than 2.5%. Dhanorkar, an associate professor of supply chain and information systems,

recorded at each facility.

can improve as well.

Dhanorkar and Muthulingam said they

said the study — recently published in the

“We found that water scarcity can induce

hope that in addition to spurring additional

journal Management Science — is one of the

manufacturing facilities that rely heavily

research on the topic, policymakers could

first to flip the question of how industry is

on water to improve their environmental

also use the findings to inform future poli-

contributing to climate change and instead

performance by lowering toxic releases, but

cies around climate change.

10 Sustainability Matters - Feb/Mar 2022