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Commercial buildings, which use large volumes of water, can increase their sustainability by recycling grey water and blackwater.

Recycling water is becoming more practical as technology improves and governments provide incentives

Industry has already discovered the value of water reuse for managing water costs, ensuring water supplies, and demonstrating a corporate commitment to sustainability. Now, commercial real estate developers are increasingly reaping the same benefits in their office buildings.

Reuse systems in office buildings can provide a steady stream of water for landscape irrigation or cooling towers. In a time of increasing water scarcity, even retrofitting toilet plumbing for wastewater reuse systems is gaining ground after long being considered cost-prohibitive because a second set of pipes is needed.

Office buildings can use a great deal of water. For instance, San Francisco’s office buildings account for almost a third of the city’s water use. The high water demand, along with persistent drought conditions in the region, has put San Francisco at the forefront of office building water reuse.

The San Francisco Public Utilities Commission led the city to become the first in the United States to mandate that new buildings with more than 250,000 square feet of space install onsite water reuse systems.

Blackwater Reuse

One notable adopter is Salesforce, which collaborated with the owner of its Salesforce Tower building and the City of San Francisco to install a system to reuse wastewater from toilets, or blackwater. It’s one of the first partnerships in the nation between a city, a property owner, and tenant corporation to establish blackwater reuse in a commercial high-rise, and it will be the largest. But it’s not the only project.

  • Facebook’s Menlo Park campus recycles approximately 17 million gallons of water annually, making it California’s largest blackwater recycling system.
  • 10SVN, a 55-story mixed-use development planned for San Francisco, will recover not just water from the development’s wastewater stream, but also solids and energy.

A few forward-thinking cities such as Boston, New York, and Los Angeles are now catching up with regulatory incentives to expand adoption of water reuse, and states like Hawaii and Washington are taking regulatory steps toward reuse.

In Brooklyn, the conversion of an old Domino sugar refinery into retail and office space will include a 400,000 GPD blackwater system that was encouraged by a Department of Environmental Protection incentive — a 25% sewer service discount.

Bonnie Campbell of Two Trees Management, the project’s lead developer, explained the benefits of decentralized wastewater treatment:

It’s no secret that the city’s infrastructure is overburdened. New development increases reliance on that system, which is scary, so decentralized systems like ours are a hedge against that.

Both municipal and developer interests are aligned behind the project. Discussing centralized water treatment, one department spokesperson said, “We … don’t have land to build infrastructure under. Incentivizing is providing the sweet spots for private developers to take advantage.”

Aligning Industry and Municipal Interests

Fluence repeatedly sees the win-win power of reuse to align industry and municipal interests, simultaneously lowering water bills, easing the load on overburdened local infrastructure, and slashing water demands on potentially contentious water supplies.

Fluence’s Aspiral™ modular units have the smallest physical footprint in the business for office building and campus environments, where space is of prime concern and noise and odor are unacceptable. With water exceeding California’s Title 22 regulatory framework for water reuse, Aspiral™ plants are capable of satisfying any office building reuse goals, from nonpotable blackwater reuse to resource recovery. Contact Fluence and tell us about your development. We provide globally-validated technology and 30 years of experience to make reuse work in office buildings and corporate campuses, and with Water Management Services, it can happen with no upfront investment.

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