Over the next five years, water efficiency and conservation will become critical factors in green design, construction and product selection, according to McGraw-Hill Construction’s latest SmartMarket Report, “Water Use in Buildings.” Architecture and engineering (A/E) firms, contractors and owners report that water efficiency is rapidly becoming a higher priority than other aspects of green building, such as energy efficiency and waste reduction.

According to the United Nations Environmental Program, buildings consume 20 percent of the world’s available water, a resource that becomes scarcer each year. Efficient practices and products, such as grey water treatment and low-flow plumbing fixtures, provide significant opportunities for the A/E industry to respond to this trend and build high-tech, low-water-demand projects that will turn the tide on the water crisis and create the conscientious buildings of tomorrow.

“This study sheds light on the shift in what will define a green building,” said Harvey Bernstein, vice president of Industry Analytics, Alliances & Strategic Initiatives, McGraw-Hill Construction. “The results are especially telling – the increasing importance of water issues, the business benefits from water-efficient products and processes, and building owner buy-in all point to how critical it will be for the industry to address responsible water practices in the future.”

The report covers involvement levels and growth opportunities over the next five years, as well business benefits, motives and obstacles encountered in this advancing market. Highlights include:

Industry involvement and the perceived importance of water efficiency are growing dramatically. By 2013, 85 percent of industry reports that water efficiency will be an extremely important aspect of a green building, up from 69 percent this year.

Owners are especially committed to water-efficient practices, with 42 percent reporting that more than three-quarters of current projects incorporate water-efficient designs; 50 percent expect to incorporate water-efficient practices in at least half of their building portfolios by 2013.

Business benefits are the key growth drivers as companies focus on the bottom-line. Primary motivators include reducing energy use (87%) and reducing operating costs (84%).

Increased government regulation and the desire to lower energy costs also are expected to trigger faster adoption of water-efficient products and methods. 73 percent of respondents are motivated by energy cost increases, while more than two-thirds expect to respond to regulations on wastewater runoff (69%) and water efficiency (68%).

A/E firms, contractors, owners, and product manufacturers can take advantage of this market opportunity by quantifying and explaining to customers how water-efficient practices and products can contribute to improved building performance.