The Graduate Green Living Program

Following last week’s green activities, students around campus may have noticed the presence of a green creature-none other than the Green Frog, a mascot for the Graduate Green Living Program! This month, the Green Frog is focused on conserving a resource important to its habitat and nature’s very own lifeblood: water.

Many people don’t fully realize the uses of water extend far beyond simple washing and bathing. Literally every product we use in our daily lives requires water – and usually large amounts of it – at some point before arriving on store shelves. Growing crops, raising livestock, generating energy at power plants, manufacturing plastics and metals, making paper, shipping raw materials and finished products – all require water.

Since water does so much work “behind the scenes,” we often forget water conservation involves more than just taking shorter showers and turning the faucet off while shaving or brushing your teeth. Although these are great habits to form, using water wisely also means changing some other wasteful practices that are less obvious.

Water conservation means not only maintaining an adequate supply of water but also making sure water of adequate quality is available for human use. Accordingly, water conservation efforts must also emphasize the effects of industrial and domestic water pollution and target ways individuals can minimize their harmful impact on water quality.

Lastly, individuals must also recognize the importance of water to the health of the general ecosystem. When water supplies dwindle and water quality worsens, plant and animal species suffer, disrupting both natural ecology, as well as many industries.

In theory, water is renewable – nature does an excellent job of recycling freshwater, while modern water treatment facilities and purification plants can decontaminate a large quantity of used water for human consumption. But water is by no means inexhaustible.

Overusing and polluting water severely limit the ability of nature and technology to recycle it. If humans extract more water than the natural flow, shortages and ecological consequences are inevitable. In addition, many urban areas in the United States, including Cambridge, have not yet installed “graywater” systems. This means we wash our clothes and flush our toilets with drinking-water standard purified water! Much of our wastewater is disinfected and then discharged as effluence into the Massachusetts Bay.

Furthermore, an increasing amount of water is being “mined” from groundwater reserves, which have much fewer points of contact with nature. This explains why current rates of groundwater recharge are essentially nil. Hence, tapping into groundwater (often referred to as “mining fossil water”) is hardly a sustainable practice.

There are a number of actions HBS students can take to conserve water and ensure sustainable water use. Many may not realize that switching from bottled water to tap water can help reduce ecological damage! Bottled water is usually no safer or cleaner than tap water (at least here in Cambridge) and has a much more significant environmental footprint than tap water. It takes more transport, packaging, and manufacturing to produce and deliver bottled water than it does to provide clean tap water.

Furthermore, Cambridge enjoys some of the highest-quality water in the nation. Specifically, Cambridge water (which is regulated by the EPA) is tested at eight locations in the treatment plant every day. In contrast, bottled water (which is regulated by the FDA) is required to undergo testing only once a year!

Other Tips for Saving Water at Home Include:

 Turning off the tap while brushing teeth or shaving saves 4-10 gallons a day.
 Not using the toilet as a wastebasket saves 3-7 gallons per flush.
 Don’t take marathon showers: five minutes will get you clean while saving 3-7 gallons per shower.
 Close your tub drain before turning on the water to save 3 gallons or more.
 Fill your bathtub only halfway to save 5 gallons or more.

 Fill your sink or basin when washing and rinsing dishes to save 8-15 gallons per day.
 Running your dishwasher only when full saves up to 15 gallons per load.
 Wash vegetables and fruit in a basin and use a vegetable brush to remove dirt. This can save 2-4 gallons per day.
 Run your garbage disposal only when necessary to save 2-7 gallons per minute.
 Run the washing machine only when full and adjust the water level setting carefully. Washing machines use 22-25 gallons per load. Save the water for 1-2 loads every week.