April 12, 2019
Last month, on March 22, World Water Day was marked by dedicating awareness to the looming freshwater crisis facing our planet. Estimates vary, but as of 2018 over 844 million people globally live without safe drinking water, while another 2.6 billion lack proper sanitation. This crises, which affects primarily those in the developing world, (although both the southwestern United States and New South Wales in Australia face severe droughts) has a severe economic effect on our planet. In fact water insecurity costs the global economy an estimated $500 billion annually. Additionally, it's no surprise that some of the most water stressed regions in the world are the most conflict prone; Yemen, the Jordan River Valley, Kashmir, and the Nile basin in eastern Africa all have seen sporadic conflict or political tension which can be exacerbated by diminishing water reserves. Therefore, solving this crisis isn’t only a global health one, but an economic prerogative, and a priority to ensure global stability.
While we’d like to think that we live in a world full of this resource 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% for factory/industrial use, and 92% for agricultural purposes.
The sheer amount of water use for agricultural purposes is staggering, and if the remaining reserves are to be fully utilized sustainable programs within all sectors of the economy are increasingly necessary. More conscientious thinking by the bottling industry, better creative methods for farming, and new innovations in capturing and even building water reserves are already in use. Therefore while we are all encouraged to take part in water saving programs companies and businesses have unique opportunities to both limit water use and exploit new industries in clean water sustainability.
The bottled water industry for example greatly recognizes the existing water crisis, some of whom have made it their mission to take part in programs dedicated to ensuring global water security. The French based company Evian for example 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 in clean fresh water into low income rural communities.
Programs in drip irrigation, an innovative agricultural process can diminish water wastage by 60-70% and even lessen 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. See it here. Water desalination projects, which are being championed by Middle Eastern nations such as Israel, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE are also becoming popular. The energy cost however of transforming sea water into the drinkable fresh version is expensive and can emit substantial greenhouse gases. 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.
Of course companies can take a more indirect approach to addressing the global water crisis. 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.
The key to understanding the crisis is that there isn't necessarily not enough water to go around but how to best manage current water reserves properly. Safe and clean water is the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 6, and at Grounded ensuring that businesses and companies gear their attention towards these goals is a philosophy that we strongly believe in. 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.