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The river runs through the good business

Another new story in Woolworths’ Good Business Journey: the group is tapping into an underground water supply to meet some of its daily water needs at its Cape Town headquarters.

Woolworths installed a water treatment system that uses water under its Cape Town head office building to flush toilets, run the building’s car wash, the fountain outside the building and the cooling towers for the air conditioning units.

This will save the Cape Town municipality an estimated 27 375 000 litres of water a year, or no less than 75 000 litres of municipal water a day! In addition, the retailer’s water bill will be reduced.

The underground water runs about 20 metres under Woolworths head office in the centre of Cape Town. This water flows into the City of Cape Town’s storm water system, and is eventually discharged into the sea. After much enquiry, the source of the underground stream is still somewhat of a mystery.

Alex Kuzma, head of Engineering Services at Woolworths says: “We started investigating this project three years ago. After consulting with the City of Cape Town, and a range of experts, we realised we could harvest the underground water, treat it and use it instead of municipal water. Everyone wins: Woolworths, the City of Cape Town, residents, and importantly, the environment.

“This is part of our Good business journey which helps to conserve natural resources and conduct business as responsibly as we can. The conservation and management of water is a major focus area of our Good business journey programme, as it should be in a country where water is a scarce resource.”

The treated water is completely safe for use, even though it will not be used as drinking water. To do this they invested in a treatment plant that purifies the water using a number of steps, including reverse osmosis.

Reverse osmosis is where pressure pushes the underground water through a semi permeable membrane. The membrane (which is about as thick as cellophane tape) allows only the water to pass through, eliminating impurities or contaminates.

Drinking water will continue to be channelled separately into the building for the 2 000 people who occupy it daily. Once the treated water has been used, it will exit the building into the municipal waste water system.

Woolworths water conservation targets include:

  • Reducing its relative water consumption by 30% by 2012;
  • Working with suppliers to reduce water use and improve waste water management; and
  • Researching and understanding the water footprint of selected priority products.

Source: Woolworths

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