In the immortal words of Dorothea MacKellar, Australia is a land of droughts and flooding rains.

With a changing climate, the temperature of the Pacific Ocean is rising, intensifying El Niño and La Niña cycles. As a result, Australia’s experiencing more severe droughts and floods – as we have certainly seen across the east coast in recent times.

At the same time, a number of major Australian cities—not only Perth and Alice Springs, but even Sydney and Melbourne—face long-term challenges around finding enough clean water for their growing populations.

That’s why, for Aussie businesses, a big part of building resilience to a changing climate is becoming smarter about water use.

Here’s a look at how one of Australia’s most well-known and trusted retailers, Woolworths Group, is doing just that, through its partnership with WaterGroup.

Fresh sustainability ideas from the fresh food people

Over the past few years, Woolworths Group has shown real leadership on sustainability, through its Sustainability Plan 2025 strategy.

On energy, it aims to source 100 per cent of its electricity from renewables by 2025, and to be net carbon positive by 2050.

The company is also leading the way on making its products more sustainable. It’s aiming to send zero food waste to landfill by 2025, and make 100 per cent of its own brand packaging sustainable.

Now, on one of the driest continents on Earth, the company is turning its attention to water, starting with its extensive network of Woolworths supermarkets across Australia.

The thirsty supermarket

Your average local supermarket can use a lot of water – especially when it comes to preparing and storing fresh food.

There’s the water that’s used to wash fresh produce and clean the equipment in the deli section. There are often large heating and cooling systems, hot water systems, rotisseries, and bain maries for roast chickens. There are commercial fridges, freezers, and cold storage units.

Over time, this equipment can develop leaks and faults that can waste a lot of water. According to a report by the Queensland Government, even a slowly dripping tap can waste 9000 litres of water a year.

If a supermarket isn’t actively monitoring its equipment for leaks and faults, problems can persist for weeks or even years.

Multiply those issues by more than 1000 stores, and that can add up to a huge amount of water across a major retailer, like Woolworths.

Smart Water Metering to quickly identify issues

To get to the bottom of where the water issues were, in 2019 Woolworths Group partnered with respected water sustainability experts the WaterGroup.

As a starting point, WaterGroup helped Woolworths Group to identify 35 supermarkets with the highest water usage.

WaterGroup installed a smart device that connects to the stores’ existing water meters, monitoring water use in real time.

Information from the smart meters was automatically fed—in real time—into WaterGroup’s Aware Monitoring Service. This meant that the store’s water use was constantly being monitored.

The combination of smart meters with the Aware Monitoring Service meant that any abnormalities in water use were automatically detected.

When this happened, Woolworths Group was automatically notified, and given targeted advice for tracking down and fixing the issue. WaterGroup also provided follow-up calls at least once a week, along with high-level performance reports.

Creating a corporate water tree

To better understand its company-wide water use, WaterGroup helped Woolworths Group by creating what’s known as a corporate water tree.

Corporate water tree breaks down the company’s total water usage by business unit, regions or stores

At its simplest, a corporate water tree breaks down the company’s total water usage by business unit, regions, or stores.

By getting this overall picture of exactly where its water was being used (through the corporate water tree), along with a baseline of how much was being used, Woolworths Group could start to find cost effective ways to reduce its water use.

After all, you can’t improve what you don’t measure.

The corporate water tree gave Woolworths Group a realistic picture of what kinds of savings it could achieve with different strategies. And it allowed it to report on how those initiatives were working, compared to the baseline.

Insights that have made impact

Thanks to WaterGroup, Woolworths Group was able to identify and fix a number of real-world problems in its stores. Resolving these issues led to big savings in both water and cost.

For example, at a Woolworths supermarket in Melbourne’s south-eastern suburbs, a leak was identified and rectified quickly, saving 4200 kilolitres of water and reducing the store’s water bill in the process.

Swimming in water savings

As of March 2022, Woolworths Group has saved almost 58 million litres of water in total through greater efficiency and quicker identification and response to leaks – that’s more than 23 Olympic swimming pools.

Smart water meters have now been rolled out to 300 stores identified by the corporate water tree, meaning that any anomalies will now be quickly identified and fixed. Real-time online monitoring has reduced the time, cost and risk involved

And, in this sunburnt land of ours, every drop counts.