World Water Day: A day to reflect, change and prepare

  • Aerial view wastewater treatment plant at Roche Penzberg, Germany
    Aerial view wastewater treatment plant at Roche Penzberg, Germany
  • Aerobic treatment aeration tanks in front with high performance treatment in the background, Roche Penzberg
    Aerobic treatment aeration tanks in front with high performance treatment in the background, Roche Penzberg
  • Aerial view of the Roche Penzberg site in Germany
    Aerial view of the Roche Penzberg site in Germany
  • Wastewater treatment plant, Roche Penzberg
    Wastewater treatment plant, Roche Penzberg

Water is one of our most valuable resources. However, the Earth’s drinking water reserves are limited, with parts of the world facing a true water crisis. Many people are living in countries where clean water is scarce. Population growth, negligent use of water (in particular in agriculture) and the effects of climate change will maintain this trend, according to the UN. Maintaining reliable sources of clean drinking water and the availability of water for food production are challenges to sustainable development.

Roche, like most companies, depends on reliable supplies of clean water. Nearly all of our chemical, biotech, pharmaceutical and diagnostics manufacturing processes involve water as a reagent, solvent, cleaning and/or cooling agent.

To help, Roche has a number of programmes around the world to promote water protection, conserve water resources and improve access to clean water. We are also supporting international and national efforts to save and protect water.

Conserving and protecting water

Our water use has remained relatively unchanged over the past five years, despite the growth of the company. In 2014 we withdrew 18.4 million cubic metres of water, which is roughly the size of 7000 Olympic swimming pools. The majority of this came from municipal sources (47%) and surface water (34%).

More than half of the water we draw is used in cooling circuits, which is returned to the waterways, and only around 15 % of the water used is actually consumed (e.g. water in our products). “Our SHE goal for 2015–2020 is to reduce water consumption per employee by 10%, weighted according to water stress for the local region,” said Peter Schnurrenberger, Group Chief Safety, Security, Health and Environment Officer. “Our approach is to manage and monitor water use locally. Even though most of the sites that use large volumes of water are not located in areas of water scarcity, we adopt conservation and reduction programmes according to local needs,” stresses Peter.

Providing safe water in the workplace

We are also taking steps to ensure that all employees, at all of our sites, have access to clean water, hygiene and sanitation, including signing the WASH Pledge (Access to Safe Water, Sanitation and Hygiene at the Workplace).

“By signing this pledge we hope to set a leadership example as well as help make a positive contribution to universal access to safe drinking water and sanitation,” says Peter.

The pledge was started by the Geneva-based World Business Council for Sustainable Development to highlight the importance of water to the health and productivity of employees.

Doing our bit with smart planning and innovation

Roche Penzberg, Germany, has pioneered many areas of biotechnology, covering the entire spectrum from science to patient. The site has also earned several awards for innovation and environmental responsibility for its self-powered, high-efficiency wastewater treatment plant.

Heat and power unit plant, Roche Penzberg

Wastewater from the site is collected and delivered to an onsite treatment plant, where it is treated biologically. One biological treatment step is aerobic, using a high-performance pure oxygen bioreactor. Low load wastewater (industrial and domestic) is treated using a membrane bioreactor with a membrane filtration plant, which retains all bacteria from the water and produces treated wastewater that is “good enough to bathe in” and can be discharged into the river Loisach.

In another treatment method, highly concentrated waste water is pre-treated using an expanded granular sludge blanket bioreactor. This highly efficient anaerobic process generates biogas with a mean methane content of 72% which is desulphurised and burnt in a combined heat and power unit plant to produce electricity and heat. This heat by-product is then used to heat three production buildings and one administration building.

By moving to anaerobic wastewater treatment, the benefits include approximately 175 fewer truckloads of waste transported from the site each year. Generation of electricity from sources other than fossil fuels reduces our CO2 emissions, and, importantly, as the process produces more energy than we need to run the plant, it changes our water treatment from an energy user to an energy producer.

Other examples

Based on local needs we instigate water conservation and reduction programmes at most of our sites.  Examples include:

  • Sites in California that use drought resistant landscaping
  • Use of biodegradable water crystals in the soil of plants, lawns and gardens that capture moisture and reduce evaporation of water, thereby reducing irrigation water consumption
  • Installing sensor-based  hygiene-systems for hand washing in labs (vs. hand/elbow-operated systems), which distributes a defined portion of soap, disinfectant and water, reducing consumption up to 70 percent compared with conventional systems
  • Installing a heat-recovery system to capture heat from water used to quench boiler water in order to reduce the amount of water needed, plus save wasted energy
  • Collecting and recycling water from cooling towers (closed loop system), reducing cooling requirements and improving cooling processes.

World Water Day 2015

World Water Day is marked on 22 March every year. It’s a day to celebrate water. It’s a day to make a difference for the people who suffer from water-related issues. And it’s a day to prepare for how we manage water in the future.

The theme for World Water Day 2015 is Water and Sustainable Development – how water links to all of the areas we need to consider to create the future we want. Learn more: www.unwater.org/worldwaterday/learn/en/

Tags: Sustainability, Environment, Society