Developing a Sustainability Rating Tool for Wastewater Systems

As part of a growing trend towards integrated economic, social, and environmental sustainability, there is interest in wastewater treatment systems that use less energy (or even produce energy), allow for the elimination or beneficial reuse of biosolids, and restore natural nutrient cycles.

A sustainability rating system specifically designed for use by wastewater utilities can serve as an industry benchmark for environmental considerations and will be of practical use to utilities. Such a tool would complement other research, decision analysis techniques, and environmental management systems being used to develop sustainability indicators for projects, industries, and geographic areas.

This concept is inspired by the successful “Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design” (LEED™) Green Building Rating System(s) developed by the U.S. Green Building Council, which provides national standards for what constitutes a “green building.”

While today’s wastewater management systems are a foundation of modern public health and environmental protection, is a new interest within the wastewater management community to establish best practices and industry benchmarking to encourage broader and more meaningful sustainability. The intent of a more sustainable wastewater management system is to use less energy (or possibly produce energy), allow for the elimination or beneficial reuse of biosolids, and restore natural nutrient cycles. (Daigger, 2005) Following are some of the drivers that are prompting the industry to consider integrating sustainability into their wastewater solutions:

  • Belief or culture that it is the “right thing to do”
  • Local and state requirements or policies to incorporate sustainability
  • Operational efficiencies
  • Cost reduction in operations and maintenance (O&M) (e.g., lower energy cost)
  • Lower risk (e.g., less management of toxic chemicals)
  • Public acceptance of a more ”green” system
  • Improved regulatory relationships

This paper presents an overview of a practical toolkit for the planning, design, construction, and operations of sustainable wastewater treatment systems. Following are positive outcomes that may arise from the use of this toolkit:

  • A mechanism for the wastewater treatment industry to quantify and set criteria for what constitutes an energy efficient and environmentally responsible “green” treatment system—it can be used to guide planning, design, and public outreach to help utilities achieve their goals.
  • A means to promote the achievement of green treatment processes and increased awareness of the benefits of incorporating sustainability principles in wastewater solutions.
  • Future adaptation for drinking water treatment and other types of industrial processes.
  • Future adaptation to include formal social credit ratings (this version includes opportunities for social credits as “innovation” credits).

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