It takes about 100,000 gallons of water a year to generate the ice needed to fill a standard seafood counter in an average-size grocery store, according to the Ratio Institute.
That’s 100,000 gallons of water that is operationally unnecessary, given that ice today is often used in seafood display cases purely for aesthetic reasons, notes the Santa Cruz, California-based organization, which works with grocery retailers to advance their sustainability initiatives.
“Using ice to merchandise seafood isn’t just unnecessary, it’s costly,” Ratio’s Aaron Daly and Jonathan Tan state in a blog post on the company’s website, cautioning retailers that it can take $5,000 worth of electricity a year to generate this seafood window dressing. And using hot water to get rid of the ice once it’s time for it to be removed wastes additional water and energy, Ratio notes.
“Ice has long outlived its usefulness in merchandising seafood,” Daly and Tan write. As with other not-optimally-efficient practices, however, using ice where it’s not needed persists in part because of a “that’s how we’ve always done it/that’s what consumers are used to” mentality.
For retailers, maximizing water savings demands going beyond the most visible solutions and low-hanging fruit—installing low-flow faucets or dual-flush toilets, for example—and doing a deep dive into a store’s water use. The savings that can be realized through finding and fixing leaks—a process made easier by new, 24/7 monitoring technologies and predictive analytics capabilities—can be enormous, notes Bellingham, Washington-based Apana, which describes itself as offering “water efficiency as a service.”
An Oregon grocer that contracted with Apana for water-use monitoring typically used north of 3,600 gallons of water a day, according to Apana. A hidden leak in a bathroom wall, however, was found to be wasting nearly 2,900 gallons a day on top of the grocer’s regular water use. Depending on the retailer’s size and how often water-waste events such as toilet failures and faucet malfunctions occur, the cost of leaks and malfunctions—sometimes hidden in old plumbing and little-used or rarely checked spaces—can run into thousands of dollars per month, Apana notes.
Sylmar, California-based Vallarta Supermarkets, which has installed smart sensors and water-efficiency-focused technologies such as low-flow produce sprays in its stores, achieved a 21% reduction in water use in 2020 and was honored as a “Hometown Hero” by the U.S. Energy Department last year.
Smarter water management requires a proactive approach to monitoring water use throughout the store throughout the month vs. launching a reactive investigation when a water bill spikes, Apana notes. “Good water management starts with data,” the company states. “As the saying goes, what gets measured, gets managed.”