Water scarcity is an acute problem in India currently. That’s why, at its Chennai site, the BMW Group is developing innovative approaches to conserve water and change employee thinking for the long term.
Weeks of seemingly never-ending rainfall, accompanied by storms and consistently high humidity, don’t usually make people happy. Especially not if you live in Chennai, where the weather phenomenon known as the monsoon brings torrential rain that falls more steadily and more relentlessly than anywhere else in the world. At least, that used to be the case; in recent years, things have been different. For the past three consecutive years, the monsoon has brought here significantly less rain than usual – resulting in falling water tables and acute water shortages. The wealthy stock up on pricey bottled water from the supermarket – while members at the lower end of economic strata are left to fend for themselves. Some schools only teach classes every other day, because there is not enough water for pupils. Despite all this, according to those affected, the population does not yet seem to have realised that they need to use the available water more sparingly.
This is not just a call for policymakers to act. The BMW Group is also playing its part. The company’s ultramodern plant in Chennai, on the Bay of Bengal in south-east India, produces 11 different BMW models, including the BMW 3 Series, BMW 3 Series Gran Turismo, BMW 5 Series, BMW 6 Series Gran Turismo, BMW 7 Series, BMW X1, BMW X3, BMW X4, BMW X5, BMW X7 and MINI Countryman. The BMW Group wants to help at the very least alleviate the situation – insofar as that is possible for an individual plant. This means not only actively conserving drinking water, but also maximising awareness among colleagues.
Mr. Thomas Dose who took over the responsibility as Managing Director, BMW Group Plant Chennai a few months ago already realises the extent of this problem and is putting into action ways multiple to address it. He says, “At BMW Group Plant Chennai, sustainability is a top priority and all plant processes are designed to maximise conservation of resources. But in Chennai, water shortage can be a serious issue. We have continuously been working on long-term solutions to address it and minimise the impact by acting responsibly. We cannot control the rains, but we can be wise about controlling how we consume and preserve what we have. While the management is taking steps to introduce sustainable innovations for water conservation throughout the infrastructure and facilities, the associates are also playing an important role by promoting an attitude that is pro-conservation and makes a huge difference in day-to-day working.”
“Water is a valuable resource and, this year, we had a severe drought with nearly 200 days without rain. Many of the city’s seven million inhabitants are suffering,” states Ramakrishnan Muralidaran, who manages sustainability and environmental issues at the BMW Group Plant Chennai.
The plant’s own technical measures are based on three pillars: use of rainwater, conservation of fresh water and water treatment. Tanks have been installed all across the site to collect rainwater for this purpose. More than 3,40,000 litres of rainwater have so far been collected in this way. To reduce freshwater consumption, older, conventional taps have been replaced by sensor-based controls that automatically stop the stream of water when they no longer detect the presence of a hand.
BMW Group Plant Chennai has also had considerable success with water treatment. The process water used in production can now be fully recycled at the plant’s own treatment facility and fed back into the process. Water that has been used for cleaning is also treated so that it can be reused in gardening activities. The plant grounds have a total green area of 7.7 hectares – about the size of ten football fields. This area, and another 2,000 trees in the greenbelt surrounding the plant grounds, are suffering as much from the drought as the city’s millions of inhabitants. They need watering on a daily basis to help keep the surroundings cool. Future plans also call for treated process water to be used for flushing toilets.
In combination, these three pillars have helped reduce water consumption by more than 30 percent – from 41995 KL to 28977 KL (Period 2016 to 2018). But saving water is not the only area of sustainability where the BMW Group seeks to set a good example in India. “Paper cups were banned from our cafeteria a long time ago and we switched to reusable cups,” explains Muralidaran. “We also encourage staff to pay attention to their food consumption: In the cafeteria, every day, we show how much food was put onto plates and how much wasn’t eaten. We hope this direct feedback will create a lasting awareness of sustainability that extends beyond people’s everyday work.”
BMW Group Plant Chennai is also planning additional measures to protect the environment even more effectively going forward. The plant aims to go from 50 percent carbon-free energy currently to 100 percent in the near future. Experts are currently exploring next steps and considering how to improve the solar power installation on the plant's roofs.
Water scarcity in the region is likely to remain high on the agenda. The team at BMW Group Plant Chennai is currently working on a recharge well project, for instance. Instead of withdrawing water, this type of well releases it into the ground in a controlled manner in an effort to bring the water table back to normal levels.