ACEGRASAS S.A., a member of CECODES (Colombian BCSD), is a food producing company,
established in Colombia in 1959 and mainly engaged in the production and marketing of edible
vegetable oils and butters. Located to the south-west of Bogotá, its modern processing plant
refines and transforms raw materials into finished products for human consumption, to the
highest quality standards.
ACEGRASAS S.A. was one of the first enterprises in Bogotá to take account of environmental
concerns in the design of its production processes and, as a direct result, it managed to achieve
some important new efficiencies in the use of water. The background to this was that, from the
late 1980’s, water supplies began to be restricted in Colombia, the costs of maintaining supplies
were constantly increasing and regulations relating to the disposal of industrial water, issued by
the environmental authorities, were becoming ever more strict. As a consequence, in 1990, the
company decided to analyze its water consumption and found it to be above the recommended
levels in many of its main production areas.
Colombia as a country is actually blessed with a great number of water sources. It has been the
cutting down of trees and the absence of a national regime, or culture, in the use of water -
added to the special problems associated with a major increase in the population of its capital
city - that has led to diminishing availability of fresh water and rising costs of supply.
ACEGRASAS previously had no wastewater treatment plant as such, but it did have a "fat trap"
system to recover fat waste from water before disposal. Once detailed analysis of the character
of effluents from the different production areas was under way, the decision was taken to build
the company’s first full wastewater treatment plant, which was completed in 1992.
In 1993, with the creation of a Ministry of the Environment in Colombia, environmental laws and
controls became stricter and the Company was required to make yet further investment in its
wastewater treatment. While introducing measures to control its total consumption of water it
became apparent that there were also benefits to be gained from establishing eco-efficiency as
an important criteria in the selection of new equipment and technologies.
Reasons for change
The two key factors which led the company to make these changes were:
1. The need to ensure compliance with the newly-legislated standards for the treatment of
industrial effluents. These had implications for both the design and operation of a
treatment plant. In order to install a plant which would deal with the real needs of the
factory, work had to start on rationalizing the company’s total water consumption.
2. The need for cost reductions in the areas of total water consumption as well as the
subsequent treatment of waste-water before its disposal into the public sewage system.
The eco-efficient solution
An analysis of the company’s different uses of water and their volumes allowed action to be
focused on specific problem areas. For example, it showed that its greatest single use, or
consumption area, of water was in the production of steam. In 1991, a total of 113,921m of
water went into steam making, accounting for 58% of total water consumption. By 1998, through
the company’s investment in new eco-efficient technology and improved systems, this amount
had been successfully reduced to 57,510m - accounting for 37% of the total.
Other key areas of water usage were similarly identified and analyzed, and a whole series of
alternative eco-efficient processes were defined specifically to achieve water consumption
Situation before implementation
Water consumption levels in the company’s production processes were found to be extremely
high when measured against those recommended by the builders of the manufacturing
equipment. The amount of water being used (on average) was 4.98 m per ton of final packaged
product. Levels differed from plant to plant and there was little continuity. Added to which - and
perhaps most importantly - no on-going system was yet in place for the measurement and
control of water consumption in each area.
Action taken to reduce water usage
Water condensed from steam, after heat transfer, may be re-used, for example to produce new
steam. It can be recovered by a system of steam traps, pipelines, pumps and condensed-water
To tackle what appeared to be its main area of water wastage the company began by reviewing
the existing condensed-water recovery systems in all its production areas, and found serious
deficiencies. The necessary new equipment (including three condensed-water pumps, 420
meters of pipeline and a condensed-water tank) was purchased and installed in all production
areas. Its application not only reduced the amount of water used but also resulted in substantial
savings in fuel consumption, due to the thermal energy recovered in condensed water.
Furthermore, separate water supply lines were established and meters installed on each section
in order to provide continuous measurement of water consumption.
Other action taken to improve water usage efficiency included:
The installation of special indicators in each production area, linked to the processed
volume. These provide on-going, comparative consumption performance data from
which the causes of high consumption can be determined and corrections made.
The introduction of eco-efficiency as a key criteria in the general modernization of the
company’s production processes by the implementation of more efficient technologies.
For example, when it purchased a new refinery plant with greater production capacity
the particular design selected was one which was able to reduce the water consumption
per ton of product processed. So the company now always takes eco-efficiency into
account as a key factor in evaluating which new plant to acquire in the expansion of its
A water supply shortage in 1997, caused by problems in Chingaza, one of the
reservoirs which provides water to Bogotá, led the Utilities Company of Bogotá to fix
water-saving targets in order to prevent future rationing. ACEGRASAS S.A. took up the
challenge and established its own water-saving strategy based on a large-scale
educational campaign for all company personnel, designed to change attitudes and
encourage staff to suggest alternative water-saving methods.
Between 1991 and 1998 the company invested in the following:
a. Condensed Water
b. Pipelines 10,000
c. Condensed Water Tank 8,000
d. Water Meters 5,000
f. Administration 5,000
Items a, b and c refer to the equipment needed to increase the recovery of condensed water.
Items d, e and f relate to water consumption control and education.
The consumption of water in the production process for each year since 1991, expressed in m
per ton of finished product, is shown in the following chart:
These results have been achieved with the full participation of the company’s workforce whose
commitment to water-saving has been such that employees have come up with a number of
practical proposals for the recovery and re-use of water, often involving more than one
Among the savings and economies made, the following are worthy of special mention:
Over this 8-year period since 1991, total savings of 1.000,000 m of water usage have
been made. This adds up to a total value of US$940,000 over the period, from an
investment of just US$45,000. It equates, if you like, to a pay-back period on the
investment of 4.6 months (average).
In 1997 alone, the indicator showed that consumption was down by 18.7% versus the
previous year. This produced savings of US$42,000.
Recovery of water which is used to make refrigerating checks on centrifugal pumps has
resulted, over the period, in a 35% decrease in the amount of water consumed
specifically for this purpose.
The staff training program, which has concentrated on the efficient use of water, has not
only achieved a reduction in production costs, but also generated favorable attitudes
towards the company for its preservation of the environment.
And alongside the economic and environmental benefits, there have been notable social
benefits as well:
Within the company
Throughout the entire process (and particularly during the water supply crisis suffered by Santa
Fe de Bogota in 1997), a strong consciousness of the importance of the efficient use of water
has developed among the Company´s personnel. In other words, they have acquired the culture
of continually monitoring water consumption, detecting abnormalities and correcting them. At
the same time, production processes are being subjected to regular studies with a view to
making further improvements which might result in more efficient use of this precious resource.
In the community
The active participation of the company’s workers in the water-saving campaign has also filtered
through to the local community. As educational materials have been taken home, so families
have become involved and the whole community has started to make a contribution to water-
saving in response to the Utilities Company of Bogotá’s request.
Conclusions and lessons learnt
Systems which continuously measure water consumption in each area and the
establishment of indicators are important tools in the control of water use.
With the engagement and participation of the whole workforce, it is possible for a
company to change attitudes and get alternative methods considered which improve
efficiency in the use of resources.
The views taken by ACEGRASAS S.A. towards the management of water resources,
and similar action programs, can be used to good effect in other production sectors
anywhere around the world.