COVID-19 has shifted consumer perspectives in unexpected ways. Residential clients have analyzed their outdoor living spaces and engaged in improvements. They’ve also sought ways to tighten budgets due to economic impacts. With that, sustainability has become a hot topic—not only saving the environment, but saving costs.
At Conserva, an irrigation company founded solely on the principle of water conservation, our goal is to provide a simple program for our clients to reduce water waste and save on their monthly bills. We do this through an audit process, called a “System Efficiency Score.” Since franchising our model in 2017, Conserva Irrigation has improved the water efficiency of tens of thousands of existing sprinkler systems across 26 states. Here’s what we’ve learned.
Diving Into Water Conservation
When the convenience of automation and fresh water come together, there’s a high propensity for waste. Most landscape irrigation systems are programmed to water automatically two to three times per week, regardless of current weather conditions. Run times are often based more on “gut feeling” than on science and rarely adjusted for plants’ seasonal water needs.
This “set it and forget it” mentality, with systems even running during the night, leads to little oversight and wasted water. Factor in line- and head-breaks and you have the perfect storm for freshwater waste. In fact, U.S. households waste over a trillion gallons of water each year and 1.5 billion gallons daily on irrigation losses alone. Clearly, irrigation is an area in dire need of remediation at many properties.
At client meetings, the message of “every drop counts” must register since water is so scarce and precious. According to Barron’s, nearly 70% of U.S. and Canadian consumers think it’s important that a brand is sustainable or eco-friendly. And Harvard Business Review reports, “Consumers—particularly Millennials—increasingly say they want brands that embrace purpose and sustainability. Indeed, one recent report revealed that certain categories of products with sustainability claims showed twice the growth of their traditional counterparts.”
It continues, “Yet a frustrating paradox remains at the heart of green business: Few consumers who report positive attitudes toward eco-friendly products and services follow through with their wallets. In one recent survey 65% said they want to buy purpose-driven brands that advocate sustainability, yet only about 26% actually do so.”
To overcome this, Conserva has created a business model by which all consumer solutions we offer are eco-friendly. In other words, we have eliminated the ability for Conserva customers to choose the inefficient solution. How do we make it work?
Sustainable technology in the irrigation industry can be achieved simply by specifying the most efficient heads, nozzles, and controllers, coupled with an efficient design. The irrigation systems we sell utilize updated high-efficient components and are professionally assessed. As a result, we know they use 40 to 60% less water. For the customer, this saves up to 60% on a monthly water bill (that’s up to 33,000 gallons of water per month per household)!
But ultimately, it comes down to establishing the best management practices for sustainable field protocols. Much of our success at Conserva can be credited to our proprietary process to audit irrigation systems. This System Efficiency Score (SES) rates the water efficiency of a system based on a numerical scale, allowing clients to understand how much water their old sprinkler systems are wasting. The audit also outlines which improvements need to be made to reduce water consumption and lower water bills. Since the SES process justifies, quantifies, and monetizes the experience for the client, the most impactful water-saving choices can be deployed first.
The savings are significant, for obvious reasons, when performing triage-type repairs like fixing lateral and mainline leaks or replacing broken heads. But equally as significant, in our opinion and as our case studies indicate, is the act of replacing old VAN nozzles with highly efficient Toro Precision™ Spray Nozzles (PSN). This nozzle swap is so simple (envision swapping an LED bulb for an incandescent), yet the immediate and long-term impact is phenomenal. Conserva promotes the average savings to align with the manufacturer’s claims of 35%, however practical field tests have led to much higher savings. In a case study by four Certified Landscape Irrigation Auditors in the town of Cary, NC, the act of swapping out “good” VAN nozzles with highly efficient Toro PSN nozzles produced a total savings of 53%. That is one system in one town in one state in one nation. Imagine the impact if deployed nationwide.
Beyond triage-type repairs and swapping out nozzles, we focus on the overall system design and layout. Often the client’s property changes significantly over time (landscape beds, hardscapes, etc.), but the irrigation system is not redesigned accordingly. This leads to poor plant coverage, or worse, active sprinkler heads trapped under or behind plants and structures. Our SES process identifies these issues and creates dialogue for necessary design changes.
Another important practice is ditching simple sprinkler timers and installing smart, weather-based controllers. Simple timers water each zone the same amount of time each programmed day regardless of season or weather. Smart controllers have historical weather data embedded, are synced to local weather stations for live real-time weather, and have forward-predicting capabilities which “instruct” systems to not deploy water when “free” rainfall is on its way. Smart controllers, when properly installed and programmed, can account for an additional 20% to 30% water savings.
At the end of the day, we all have a choice. We can accept the status quo of an industry with millions of poorly designed and maintained systems that waste more than 1.5 billion gallons per day. Or, we can reimagine our very purpose in business and promote change.
Jundt is the Founder, Vice President, and Brand Leader of Conserva Irrigation, an irrigation company founded on the principles of water conservation. As brand leader, Jundt drives the overall priorities and focus of the company including the service offerings, sales processes, strategic partnerships, and more. For more information on becoming a Conserva Irrigation Franchise Partner, visit irrigationfranchise.com.
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