Water conservation – harder than it sounds

Denver Water, the county and city of Denver’s water utility, has an extensive water conservation campaign. This is because, like many areas around the nation, Denver’s population is growing but it’s water sources aren’t.

Benjamin and I have been doing our part for a while now. Last year we bought a high efficiency washer and dryer when we moved into the new house. Living in a townhouse we don’t have much of a yard (no grass at all) but we do have some raised beds for flowers and vegetables. The previous owners installed a time-controlled watering system for those beds which we use during the summer. Our house was built in 2005 so it has low-flow toilets. We run the dishwasher only when full.

The last bastion of water wastage in our house is the shower. We use between 2000 and 3000 gallons of water a month and I believe around 1000 of that is from our shower usage. Benjamin likes to take longer showers and while he’s flexed on just about every other aspect of my environmentalist agenda, taking shorter showers is just isn’t in the cards. After some cajoling/sweet talking/bribing I was able to talk him into letting me replace our 2.5 gal/min shower head with a 1.5 gal/min shower head. He wasn’t happy about it but I promised him that I would never again bring up his longer-than-I-think-are-necessary showers if he’d let me install it.

As a bonus the new shower head has a pause feature allowing for Navy showers. No, when the button is pushed your shower stall does not fill with hot navy sailors — instead the flow of water either stops or the flow is significantly reduced. According to the package the pause button was suppose to stop all water flow but in reality it just reduces it down to a mere dribble.

My back-of-the-envelope calculations says that without the use of the pause button the new shower head is conserving around 390 gallons of water a month (estimated 13 minutes of shower for both people per day and changing from 2.5 to 1.5 gal/min flow) — and that’s a pretty conservative estimate. With my use of the pause button we probably shave another 45 gallons/month beyond that for a total savings of 435 — or about 45% savings total.

There was an interesting article last month in the WSJ that talks about shower water conservation and the resistance to it.

IBM Thanks! awards

IBM has an internal employee appreciation program called Thanks! Awards. This program allows employees to show appreciation to a fellow coworker for going above-and-beyond the call of duty. The award is actually a placeholder. After being given the recipient goes to a specific website to redeem the placeholder for an IBM-branded item of their choice.

Each employee is allowed to give up to 12 Thanks! awards a year and can receive up to 3 of them (the limit on receiving only 3 is presumably linked to the IRS regulations that says employees can gift up to $75 to an employee tax-free and the items to choose from are all easily under $25 each). I’ve maxed out the number of Thanks! awards that I can receive every year that I can remember, and each year I race with myself to see how close to January 1st I can max out. Not that I solicit them or do anything different than I usually do in my day-to-day job ’cause that would be cheating. In 2008 I received my 3rd award on Feb 25. This year it was on Feb 16. We’ll see what happens in 2010. I’m not the only one who keeps track of this as a quick google says some people even mention the number they get on their resume.

After your limit is reached coworkers are suggested to send internal eCards instead – which are admittedly corny but in my mind have the same personal recognition impact. Because lets be honest, it isn’t the IBM-branded stuff that’s the big win from the Thanks! award program, but the recognition of a fellow coworker of a job well done.

And in that vein my work resolution for the new year is to be better about giving out Thanks! awards (and corny eCards if necessary) where appropriate.