Half of the world’s population experiences severe water scarcity at least one month a year and 785m people still remain without clean drinking water, while another 2.6 billion lack proper sanitation. With a planet that’s mainly comprised of water, how on earth can this be the case?
Well, only 3% of the Earth’s water is in fresh water form. Two-thirds of that is frozen in glaciers, and of the remaining one-third only 3.6% is used for human consumption, with 4.4% used up by industry and 92% for agricultural purposes. This world-wide water crises, which affects primarily those in the developing world, (although both the southwestern United States and New South Wales in Australia are facing severe droughts) has a such a severe economic effect on our planet, it costs the global economy an estimated $500 billion every year.
More conscientious thinking by the drinks industry, regenerative methods for farming and new innovations in capturing and even building water reserves are already in use and helping to conserve more water – the basis of life itself. While many of us are encouraged to take part in water saving programs, companies and businesses have unique opportunities to champion water sustainability and make a profit on tap. Take Heineken for example.
Earlier this year Heineken relaunched its water strategy around efficiency, circularity and stewardship. And there is a practical commercial reason for the company to do so. 95% of beer is made up of water and so protecting the watershed and its access to it for local communities is an important part of its license to operate. Pepsico is another company (and one of more than one hundred others) working with cities around the world and the nature conservancy to invest in solutions to alleviating water stress – basically because they have no other choice.
Bottled water brands face a similar predicament. Billions of bottles of it are manufactured and then transported the world over, often at the expense of the natural environment. Discarded plastic bottles end up polluting our rivers and oceans. This highly conspicuous reality has in turn inspired a whole new category of ‘good water’ from Just water founded by Will Smith who ‘don’t pump water and go’ but instead only use ‘excess water that the community doesn’t need’ to new entrants like Blue Can ‘emergency’ water that have created a container that gives it a 50 year shelf life.
The French based company Evian has a three pillar program: ensuring that the water ecosystem would not be over exploited during bottling processes, that carbon neutrality during factory production is maintained, and that all bottles by 2025 are to be made from 100% recycled plastic.
Aquafina is involved with the Drink Up initiative, a collaboration to encourage American citizens to maintain healthy lifestyles and drink more water and the high end Norwegian company Voss maintains its own foundation which funds programs in the southern African nation of Swaziland to pump clean water into low income rural communities.
But with cities such as New York making a commitment to install 500 public water fountains by 2025, apps such as refill my bottle showing you nearby locations where you can refill your water bottle for free and flowater dispensing water that tastes and hydrates better than anything and saves 2.38 plastic bottles from our oceans every second, the bottled water industry has a lot to answer to – squeezed in a perilous ‘‘bear hug’ by shareholders and more conscientious stakeholders alike.
Agriculture is also playing its part. Programs in drip irrigation can diminish water wastage by 60-70% and reduce carbon emissions by premixing plant water with fertilizers. Companies like Eco-Drip, Toro, and Drip Works are already marketing drip irrigation products to farmers globally and companies such as Aston Real Estate Group are publishing useful guides for households concerned with reducing water consumption when watering gardens/landscaping.undefined
Water desalination projects championed by Middle Eastern nations such as Israel, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE are also becoming popular and a small fishing village named Kiunga on the (Kenyan Somalian border in sub-Sahran Africa) is home to to the first solar plant that transforms ocean water Into Drinking Water!
Lockheed Martin, eager to re-brand itself from an arms producing behemoth has created advanced graphene filters to transform sea and waste water into a fresh variety. The Moroccan NGO Dar Si Hmad has produced vast mesh nets which capture moisture from fog which later drips into collection trays after condensation. (The largest of these projects is on the slopes of Mount Boutmezguida in central Morocco where 6,300 liters of water can be harvested per day.)
Another innovative program, the WaterSeer condenses water from the air by drawing vapor into an underground collection chamber. This creates a condensation process essentially ‘farming’ water. Projects using this program are already in use in Saudi Arabia, India, Columbia, and San Diego.
NGOs such as Charity Water, Water Aid, Water to Thrive, Project Wet, and Dig Deep all have missions dedicated to eradicating global and domestic water insecurity and are eager to engage in partnerships with large companies which may be able to subsidize their projects. In fact public-private partnerships that unlock nature-based solutions can be cheaper, more efficient and produce additional benefits. (Water funds for example are a collective investment vehicle in which stakeholders collaborate to implement nature based water protection schemes and initiatives compensating upstream land managers for restoration activities and better management of agricultural land.)
Clean water and sanitation are of course interdependent. According to the World Bank, sanitation is the single most cost-effective public health intervention to reduce child mortality. Every year, over 800,000 children under five die from some form of diarrhoea based disease. 2.4 billion people worldwide do not have a toilet. If all 774 million people in India waiting for household toilets stood in a line, the queue would stretch from Earth, to the Moon, and beyond. In fact, more people in India own a mobile phone than they do a toilet.
Sanitation First is a highly innovative non-profit based out of the UK that has developed an eco toilet – Ecosan – that converts human waste into soil conditioning compost and fertilizer or ‘humanure’. This is used to grow crops and sustainable forests, creating jobs and returning source of income and dignity to impoverished communities.
The key to understanding the clean water and sanitation crisis isn’t because there isn’t enough water or innovation to go around – its due to infrastructural inefficiency, lack of maintenance and poor political and corporate governance around how to best manage natural water reserves responsibly. Safe and clean water is the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 6. If you are interested in learning more on how your business can help fund clean water programs or engage in similar high impact investing please contact us.