#WorldWaterDay: Green groups and businesses unite in fresh awareness drive

With today (22 march) marking the UN's World Water Day, edie has rounded up all of the latest company announcements and industry statistics that together highlight how critical the issue of water scarcity has become.

As World Water Day thrusts the alarmingly real issue of water as a scarce product into the public limelight, NGOs and businesses alike have been collecting data and announcing new initiatives, all with the intention of lowering global water use in order to protect future generations.

There may not be a silver bullet to tackle the ‘largely forgotten problem’ of water use, but that hasn’t stopped a collaborative push to tackle the issue. Here, we’ve pulled out the most alarming new stats related to water use, along with details of what some of the largest water consumers are doing to lower their water use and create a more sustainable supply chain environment.

World Water Day: In numbers

A new report released from Greenpeace International has revealed that the dwindling supply of freshwater resources could be depleted further if planning permission is given to the hundreds of new coal-fired power plants across the globe are given the go ahead.

The report found that the 8,359 existing coal power plants already in operation consume enough water to meet the basic needs on one billion people. A quarter of the proposals for new plants are planned for regions that are already operating at a freshwater deficit.

Another new report, from the International Resource Panel (IRP), has revealed that almost half of the world’s population will suffer from water stress by 2030. The most affected region during this timeframe looks set to be the sub-Saharan area of Africa, which could see water demand rise by almost 300% against 2005 levels.

This report states that Governments will be forced to spend around $200bn annually to account for water supply, compared to the current average cost of around $40bn.

A recent study carried out by The Nature Conservancy revealed that London ranked as the 15th most water stressed city in the world, behind the likes of Tokyo (1st), Delhi (2nd) and Mexico City (3rd).

According to the research, one-quarter of the largest cities suffering from water stress are having to spent $4.8trn to account economic damage caused by water stress, as cities make moves to improve water supply and transportation systems.

Last year, the World Resources Institute (WRI) found that countries from the Middle East will likely be exposed to ‘extreme water stress’ by 2040, threatening national security.

WRI scored future water stress—a measure of population and surface water depletion—in 167 countries using their Aqueduct analysis. The report suggested that 33 countries would be at risk from water-stress, 14 of them from the Middle East.

A new poll produced by Nestlé Water UK and NGO Project WET reveals that only 44% of young people know what steps to take to conserve water – compared to 82% of 65 year olds or older. The survey found that while 90% of the 2,100 respondents acknowledged the role water had in a sustainable future, 86% believe that more education is needed to address the issue.

To raise awareness, the partnership will deliver educational programmes on water scarcity to thousands of children across 30 countries.

Commenting on the programme, Nestlé Waters’ water quality assurance manager Matthew Faulkner said: “At Nestlé Waters we work closely with nature every day and work hard to promote water stewardship, encourage sustainable use and protect unique water sources.

“However, responsible water management does not stop at being best-in-class within the walls of our factories, but extends to collective actions with other water stakeholders to ensure the long-term sustainability. There are many simple things we can do to save and protect our water sources, and we encourage everyone to make a small change to their daily routine to mark this year’s World Water Day.” 

To tackle this shocking stat of almost 800 million people lacking access to clean water, cleantech company Watly is preparing to open an Indiegogo campaign to help sanitise more than 5000 litres of water a day.

The Watley 3.0 thermodynamic computer uses solar energy as a clean method of sanitising undrinkable water, while also reducing carbon emissions and providing free and clean electricity for developing countries such as Ghana.

World Water Day: Business announcments

Nestlé – which is also delivering educational programmes to dairy farmers – and Watley aren’t the only companies introducing new initiatives on World Water Day. Currently, consumer goods company Procter & Gamble (P&G) has invested more than $50m towards creating clean drinking water.

P&G’s global sustainability brand director Virginie Helias said: “This year on World Water Day, one in ten of the world’s population won’t have access to clean, safe drinking water.  Eleven years ago, our P&G scientist Dr. Phil Souter developed a solution to clean dirty water and since then we’ve been working with 150 organisations to distribute packets of our powdered water purification technology.

“Over more than a decade and across 75 counties we’ve made over nine billion litres of water clean and safe to drink. P&G is proud to be part of the solution not only today but every day because we believe clean water can not only save lives but transform them.”

Also not content with working within its operations, M&S is another company making strides to future-proof water use through improved supply chain management.

In a blog post published today, M&S’s head of responsible sourcing Louise Nicholls said: “Globally water resources are under immense pressure which is why as a business we are actively striving to be more efficient users of water and also working with others to manage this precious resource.

“Lack of access to this water can have a profound impact on the health and the ability of individuals to support themselves and their families. Since 1998, all of our suppliers have been required to provide access to water and sanitation facilities for workers in our supply chain. To go further in this area, this year we also aim to embark on a pilot project with WaterAid focussing on improving access to Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) facilities.”

A host of businesses are also working with International NGO Ceres – which is present at today’s White House Water Summit – to collectively commit to saving one billion gallons of water by 2020. Five new companies, including Kellogg, Eileen Fisher and Xylem have signed up to the Connect the Drops stewardship pledge.

Existing companies of this pledge, including General Mills, Genentech and Levis Strauss & Co have also launched new initiatives which target water use in supply chains and wastewater reuse projects.

#WorldWaterDay: Twitter reaction

Edie Corporate Water Management Conference

The issue of water scarcity, and how businesses can react, is being discussed at edie’s half-day Corporate Water Management Conference in London, 26 April.

The event will offer an understanding of water stewardship in relation to business growth, allow businesses to discover new ways to measure consumption and build water resilience into a business. Registration can be found here.

Matt Mace

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