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When Debbie Burke and her daughter Bailey first decided to open Bodystream, a wellness clinic in Barrie, Ont., they knew they were going to have to "walk the talk."

The facility, which offers acupuncture, holistic nutrition and massage therapy, promises to "take healthy living to a whole new standard." But when they began building their facility in June, 2009, the Burkes felt they needed to prove their commitment not only to the physical well-being of their clients, but to the environment as well.

"It's being aware of how the health of the planet affects our health as individuals," said operations manager Bailey Burke.

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Bodystream goes through a lot of water. The clinic offers therapeutic showers and baths. It also uses a reverse-osmosis process to make demineralized water to spray a three-metre-square "living wall," a self-sustaining ecosystem of plants and flowers that is a focal point of the building's interior. For every litre of purified water, the process can produce litres of brine that would otherwise head down the drain to the sewer system.

"Water conservation was a big mandate when setting up our business, so we were looking at how we could use as little water as possible within our building," said Ms. Burke.

The cornerstone of their strategy is a rainwater harvesting and grey-water recycling system. It's a move that more Canadian small businesses are making, to reduce waste and save on water bills.

The grey-water recycling system allows the shower water (known as grey water, as opposed to toilet wastewater, which is known as "black water") ) and excess water from the osmosis process to be collected in holding tanks, filtered and disinfected with chlorine. The treated water is then sent to the six toilets in the facility (the recycled water is not used for drinking). When the system is low on grey water, it calls on rainwater, which is collected from the roof, filtered, stored in tanks and used to flush toilets as needed.

The total equipment cost for the rainwater and grey water system was between $8,000 and $10,000. But Ms. Burke said the company is saving about one million litres of fresh water per year, and between $2,500 and $4,000 on their water bill annually.

"And as the cost of water goes up, the savings goes up as well," said Ms. Burke.

In Bodystream's case, environmental consciousness, rather than cost savings, was the motivating factor. But for some small businesses, the motivation to install these systems is increasingly a financial one.

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Chris Thompson is the Ontario distributor for Brac Systems, the Montreal-based company that makes the setup used by Bodystream. Mr. Thompson said his business is split about 50/50 between residential and commercial clients, and that a basic grey water system can be purchased for $2,000 to $3,000. He said that media reports of water scarcity issues, and documentaries like the National Film Board's Waterlife (about increasing threats to the Great Lakes because of pollution, sewage and climate change) have piqued interest in his industry.

"We're still in the early-adopter stages, so it's primarily people thinking about the environment. But over the last year it's been starting to shift," said Mr. Thompson. "As there's more publicity about water cost increases, people realize water is becoming a little more precious every day, and that means prices are going to go up. So there's a financial incentive."

Aqueduct Water Solutions, based in Welland, Ont., sells filtered water and in-home filtration equipment. The store is in a strip mall along with seven other businesses. A prior agreement with his landlord had made Aqueduct owner Arnold Dube responsible for the plaza's entire water bill, because he was using the lion's share for the water-hogging reverse-osmosis process he uses to purify his water. To offset his costs, Dube decided to install a Brac grey water recycling system that cost about $3,300. He then persuaded the plaza's landlord to connect the toilets from all eight businesses in the strip mall to the Brac system. Aqueduct's grey water now supplies flushing for the entire plaza, and so saves thousands of litres of water that would simply have gone down the drain.

"I'm saving at least 50 per cent of the water that was going down into the sewer and using it to flush the 22 toilets in the mall," said Mr. Dube. "And I'm saving about 50 per cent on my water bill."

These kinds of systems would have been almost unheard of in Ontario five or 10 years ago. Provincial and municipal governments in Canada have long been uncomfortable with the idea of non-potable water being reused within homes and businesses, primarily because of fears of cross-contamination of the public water supply. But as countries such as Australia, Israel and the United States have increasingly used grey water recycling to deal with water scarcity issues, acceptance is growing here.

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Across the country, building codes vary when it comes to such water systems. In British Columbia, a business owner can apply for a permit to install a grey-water recycling system as an "alternative solution." But the province's Department of Housing and Social Development has stated through its Greening the B.C. Building Code initiative that they are exploring requirements to "support increased use of non-potable water for toilet flushing" in 2011.

Since 2006, the Ontario Building Code has allowed the use of grey water or rainwater for toilet flushing, providing they get a permit from their local municipality. Many Ontario municipalities have not yet followed the province's example and changed their bylaws to include non-potable water for indoor use. But Mr. Thompson said that in his experience, municipal acceptance of these kind of projects has grown dramatically in the last couple of years, and it's become much easier to get approval to install the Brac systems.

As Bodystream celebrates its one-year anniversary, Bailey Burke is pleased with their decision.

"It's about raising the bar and saying this can be done, and this should be considered when people are starting their business."

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About the Author

Shelley White is a freelance writer, editor, video producer and mother of twins. Before taking the plunge into the wild world of freelance work, she produced educational programming at TVO, explored digital culture at the late lamented Shift magazine and entertained young minds at MuchMusic. More

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