Lindsay Kunkle writes:
A group of us from the Chapel Hill office went to a lecture at the University of North Carolina’s business school this week on the future of water. The speaker was Charles Fishman (author of The Big Thirst, as well as The Wal-Mart Effect). Mr. Fishman was quite engaging, and the clear implication of his talk was that our perceptions of water – that it is safe, free, and unlimited – are already out of date.
Some of the stories that he told about water issues, in the US and elsewhere, were alarming. A few highlights:
- Lake Mead, the largest reservoir in the U.S., and the water source for Las Vegas, is now half empty; areas of the reservoir that were once 100 feet deep are now bone dry.
- 70% of the people in India’s hospitals are there because of water related problems (treatment of diarrhoea is a huge cost for the country—and could be resolved almost completely by providing the population with safe drinking water)
- Still in India, one-sixth of the population still relies on “foot carried” water—in order for a family to have water the wife and daughters transport water from a well (often not close) to the family’s home.
However, Fishman stresses there is no ‘global water crisis,’ but rather there are local and regional water problems—conserving water in North Carolina will not help India have more water (just as cleaning one’s plate every night as a child did not help feed starving children in Africa, no matter what parents said.
And despite the portents, Mr. Fishman was hopeful about the future of ‘smart water’. In the U.S., Las Vegas is the poster child as the ‘smartest water city.’ The city has enacted many laws to control water use and to increase the amount of water that can safely be recycled for continued use. For example, it is illegal to let sprinkler water hit the sidewalk; new homes aren’t permitted to have pretty green front lawns; and as a result, 94% of the city’s water can be be reused.
And there are implications for the future of how we manage water.
- As long as water is ‘free’, it decreases consumer and business willingness to invest money or time in smart water solutions. And since American consumers drink on average 4 bottles of water per a week, they are not completely unfamiliar with the idea of actually paying for water.
- There is an emotional connection to water (think a hot bath on a cold day or diving into the cool ocean as a kid) that can be promoted to drive more creative smart water solutions as well as more creative water management in general.
- Water needs to be marketed! Promoting water through marketing campaigns that educate consumers on their water sources and how water gets to their homes is a good first step in working towards solving the water problems so many face.
It happens that this is an area in which The Futures Company has already engaged with a wide range of clients, both commercial and in government. It’s clear that water needs to rise up the agenda of most businesses and organisations – wherever they are based.
The photograph of Lake Mead at the top of the post is from the Scripps Institute at UCSD, and is used here with thanks.