Case Studies

Ford Motor Company

  • Issue: Ford opened a plant in the Mexican state of Chihuahua in 1983.This state has experienced rapid industrial growth in recent decades and is also prone to droughts. As a result, the Rio Grande River, which is the main water source for the area, cannot accommodate the increasing population and development.
  • Action: Given the strain on the local water supply, Ford determined that it should reduce its water footprint by treating the water for the plant and reusing it. Around 80 percent of this treated water is used in the industrial process and the rest is used for irrigation; none is discharged to the municipal sewer system. Thus, rather than using high quality drinking water for its cooling towers -- for compressor machines and other manufacturing processes including washing machines and the coolant system, Ford uses reverse osmosis to treat gray water. It also uses this reverse osmosis-treated water for washing floors and equipment. Management decided that potable water would be only for personal use at the plant.
  • Savings: About $65,500 annually from two projects that save 3,500 cubic meters of water per year
  • Industry: Manufacturing
  • Corporate Function: Business operations
  • Ecosystem Service: Water
  • Further information:

Kraft Foods

  • Issue: Kraft had installed highly efficient boilers and invested in other technology to capture and recover heat from boiler stacks at its food processing plant in Davenport, Iowa. However, it was still using electricity to get rid of heat from refrigerated areas and expelling that heat into the atmosphere. And it was paying for natural gas to heat water for hygiene-related plant cleaning.
  • Action: A custom ammonia heat pump system was installed to increase the capture and recovery of heat from refrigeration and convert/reuse it for high temperature water heating rather than to allow it into the atmosphere. Altogether, this action diminished the use of fossil fuels used to power the boilers and hot water heaters.
  • Savings: About $250,000 annually in operating costs and water savings amounting to 14 million gallons of water for consumption and 7 million gallons drained to sewers annually. Further, an additional $15,000 is saved in summer and winter because of the increased efficiency/condensing capacity of the heat pump.
  • Industry: Manufacturing
  • Corporate Function: Business operations
  • Ecosystem Service: Fossil fuel, water
  • Further information:


  • Issue: Costco is a water-dependent company, relying upon water for food preparation and refrigeration. Costco had been using treatment systems to clean this water so that it could be discharged back into waterways. However, water use was intensifying at its facilities in Mexico and, given this increased use combined with droughts and growing risks of water scarcity, it wanted to undertake more water conservation.
  • Action: Costco installed sensors and meters using Apana technology that analyzes water use on a minute-by-minute basis and sounds alarms to signal unusual spikes in water use. Costco first used this technology at several buildings in Mexico, but as a result of significant cost savings at these initial locations, it expanded the use of the technology to more than 50 buildings in the U.S. and Mexico.
  • Savings: Water usage has declined by 22 percent and “the savings have already paid for the cost of installing the system and then some,” according to a Costco official.
  • Industry: Retail trade
  • Corporate Function: Business operations
  • Ecosystem Service: Water
  • Further information:


  • Issue: Hoboken, N.J. borders the Hudson River directly across from Manhattan. As a result of being built on marshes, it has a tendency to flood when storms occur with high tides; this tendency is aggravated by the fact that most of the city’s surfaces are paved or overlaid with nonporous material. Hoboken also has a sewer system that has reached its capacity. In addition, it is operating with older infrastructure that is challenged with rising water levels; is facing a greater number of storms and storm surges; and has a population that has been growing at a rapid pace. The city, which is relatively small, is not in a position to undertake a full-scale reworking of infrastructure and private sector action probably would not be on the scale needed to provide a solution.
  • Action: The city asked the Re-invest group, including Bechtel, to concentrate on two sites for redesign ideas. One site is a 6-acre industrial area slated for redevelopment, and the other is a parking lot. An underground parking garage was designed that also would double as a sub-surface storm water retention chamber topped with public recreation green and open spaces to contain even more water. Different levels of the facility would be specifically identified for either parking or water storage.
  • Savings: This project, in addition to creating parking revenues, will obviate payments for combined sewer overflow/ storm water detention to meet regulations, avoided wet-weather pumping, wastewater treatment, emergency services, avoided flood temporary protection (e.g. sandbags), damage cleanup and reduced insurance premiums for both public and private property.
  • Industry: Real estate/construction/finance
  • Corporate Function: Facilities/green infrastructure investing, corporate image
  • Ecosystem Service: Water
  • Note: Ongoing

Clean Water Services

  • Issue: The health of the Tualatin River depends on lower water temperatures which have more dissolved oxygen; more oxygen is important to aquatic life such as salmon. Before the 1930s, actions taken around the Tualatin River in Washington County in Oregon such as land clearing for agriculture and for urbanization led to a decrease in riparian vegetation. This loss led to lower capacity for stream temperature regulation, lower sediment/nutrient filtration, lower carbon sequestration, and loss/degradation of wildlife habitation. More recently, Clean Water Services has been collecting and treating wastewater and also managing storm water. Pollution from Clean Water Services’ plants contributed more than 40 percent of the flow of the river in the summer, affecting its temperature level since the amount of wastewater dumped into the river can raise its temperature. Solar radiation, in part because of the inadequate shade, also contributed to the elevated temperature in the river. In 2001, the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality created daily temperature requirements for the river to limit how much daily pollution the river could take in; alternative methods for addressing these problems, which included mechanical cooling with refrigeration, exporting effluent, evaporative cooling with cooling towers, and cooling ponds, were considered but were found to be either too costly or ineffective for temperature regulation
  • Action: Clean Water Services used the water quality trading program to offset the elevated temperatures from its effluent by providing land rental payments for riparian vegetation planting to help provide shade and to get rid of invasive species. In the summer and fall, when the water temperatures are higher than average, Clear Water also releases additional cooler, stored water from its reservoirs. The benefits to the watershed are the habitat provision for wildlife and fish, lower soil erosion, and carbon sequestration. Other benefits include payments to the landowners and the improved aesthetic value of the restored areas.
  • Savings: Savings to Clean Water and its ratepayers equal $60-150 million in construction/maintenance costs for refrigeration and $2 million a year in electricity costs. This represented a 95 percent cost saving compared to alternative engineered methods.
  • Industry: Utilities
  • Corporate Function: Business operations, corporate image
  • Ecosystem Service: Water, living organisms, climate
  • Further information:

DOW Chemical

  • Issue: Dow needed a strategy to meet its discharge limits under the Clean Water Act at one of their Texas facilities in 1995.
  • Action: With collaboration from The Nature Conservancy, Dow constructed an engineered natural treatment system for industrial wastewater -- essentially a man-made wetland. The idea was to mimic natural ecosystems and mechanisms it uses for hydraulic buffering, filtration, organic removal, and fungi for degradation.
  • Savings: The capital costs were just $1.4 million compared with $40 million for the next-best option of a conventional wastewater treatment plant. The company says the net present value of cost savings of the installation over the project’s lifetime (about 30 years) is $280 million. Discharge levels continue to be below required discharge limits and so the wetland has provided regulatory and operational reliability. Co-benefits include dramatically lower maintenance and personnel costs, and the attraction of native wildlife to the site.
  • Industry: Chemicals/manufacturing
  • Corporate Function: Business operations/corporate image/legal
  • Ecosystem Service: Water
  • Further information: A Financial and Environmental Analysis of Constructed Wetlands for Industrial Wastewater Treatment and
  • Other Dow references: 2025 Nature Goal

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The U.S. Department of Commerce created and unveiled a natural capital website to provide resources and information to businesses seeking to incorporate natural capital into their planning and operations. Natural capital refers to the Earth’s stock of natural resources – air, water, soil, and living resources – that provide a range of goods and services on which the global economy depends.

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