USGBC-LA Releases White Paper on the Nexus between Water, Energy & Carbon

LOS ANGELES (October 25, 2023) The U.S. Green Building Council – Los Angeles (USGBC-LA) today is releasing a white paper, “The Energy Cost of Water”, a comprehensive effort to delve into a crucial, but often overlooked aspect of water management – the embedded energy and carbon costs associated with water usage. For this paper, the regional focus is the arid landscape of Southern California, with a specific focus on Los Angeles. The paper is produced in collaboration with USGBC-LA’s Los Angeles Sustainability Roundtable (LASER), which is composed of the region’s top corporate sustainability executives and leaders, and supported in part by the 50L Home Coalition (convened by the World Business Council for Sustainable Development, and the World Economic Forum), and Southern California Gas Company.

The white paper was presented last week as part of USGBC-LA’s final Thought Leadership Series event of 2023. The event discussed the paper’s findings; how we can be more efficient with our use of water, energy and carbon; and unpacked the policy and funding landscapes around the energy intensity of water use. (To access last week’s panel event, please click here.)

“We developed this paper because we wanted to shine a light on the fact that every drop of water we use has a carbon footprint and currently we are not calculating that into the majority of our commitments to create a net zero future,” states Ben Stapleton, USGBC-LA Executive Director. “Our paper shows that water conservation programs can be just as effective in reducing energy use as energy efficiency programs, which currently receive far less funding and deserve more, especially when you compound that with the fact that over 65,000 tons of CO2 would be avoided by just a 10% reduction in water use in Los Angeles, which is more than three times the savings of the next-largest city.”

The relentless challenges posed by climate change have directly highlighted the critical interplay between water resource management and sustainable development. And with Southern California standing as a microcosm of the global water crisis, it is critical to comprehend that the true extent of water’s impact necessitates a paradigm shift – one that integrates the dimensions of energy and carbon costs into the analysis.

The report can be downloaded for freeHighlights include:

  • Overview of the region’s water sources and associated costs and energy use, as well as where the different source options and opportunities are headed for the region to be water secure yet energy-intensive conscious–from the LA Aqueduct and imported water to local groundwater and recycled water.
  • Comparison of the water sources in regards to relative energy intensities and energy consumption, and the role of water distribution as the third-largest component of energy consumption within our water supply system, including Potable Water Distribution’s substantial role in our water value chain.
  • Translating these energy costs into their environmental counterpart: carbon costs. The resulting staggering figure–total carbon emissions amounted to 133,829 tons of CO2 in 2018–underscores the energy impact of Los Angeles’ water supply system (water sources and distribution). 
  • Comparison of urban system water intensity across CA’s hydrologic regions, and the positive outlook from the Pacific Institute which expects a 2% reduction between 2015 and 2035 driven by the expanding use of alternative local water sources such as brackish desalination, potable recycled water, and captured stormwater.
  • Tracking the externalities associated with the lifecycle and long-term impacts of water extraction, processing, distribution, use, and disposal–including biodiversity loss, equity and health concerns, wastewater considerations and more.
  • Understanding the status of building-level water-related energy use, and identifying the most significant warm water uses–across residential, institutional, commercial, and industrial.
  • Presenting practical best practices for water conservation, including behavioral efforts and upgrades such as high-efficiency fixtures, stormwater capture, and native landscaping. These efforts not only reduce environmental impact but also save money for businesses and households through energy cost savings and rebates.

The report can be downloaded for free from


About U.S. Green Building Council-Los Angeles

Founded in 2002, USGBC-LA is a 501(c)3 non-profit and member-based organization whose mission is to transform Southern California’s built environment into a more sustainable, resilient, and equitable region for all. We lead by inspiring leaders throughout our communities to take action on climate change, public health, and environmental justice while educating, developing, and empowering a diverse talent pipeline through our training, mentorship, and direct-to-community programs. We connect by merging interdisciplinary perspectives and collaborations to create positive systemic change. We advocate through promoting innovative, impactful policy solutions addressing the most urgent environmental and social challenges of our time.(

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