The world is facing a looming water scarcity crisis, with around two-thirds of the global population living in areas at risk of water stress over the coming years. While it’s important that we all do what we can to become more sustainable at a household level, and that governments address problems such as water leaks in central supplies, it is the industry that arguably has a major role to play if we are to avert the future crisis.
Businesses are responsible for 88% of worldwide water use (69% agriculture and 19% other industries) so it’s vital that they are at the forefront of meeting the water management challenges of tomorrow.
How businesses can improve their wastewater management by adopting a multidisciplinary and circular approach
One of the biggest challenges is that most of the world currently uses a linear approach, where freshwater is extracted, used and then returned to the water cycle for fresh extraction.
Since the expansion of centralized water distribution networks in industrialized countries, starting in the late 17th/early 18th centuries, wastewater treatment systems have been in place to deal with the produced wastewater. Treatment allowed to discharge clean water back in the environment instead of untreated wastewater. This significantly helped to improve the quality of our water bodies and ensure access to the supply of water. Nonetheless, this linear model renders the extraction of big water volumes locally from the environment, which is discharged somewhere else, potentially causing local scarcity issues or pollution risks.
We live in a time where technologies exist to move to a more decentralized circular model of water use and “close the cycle”. This can be done through on-site wastewater treatment and reclamation, to recycle water rather than return it to surrounding water bodies. Implementing such practices, in combination with the centralized water supply and wastewater treatment, can seriously alleviate the pressure on our water resources by limiting and distributing the extraction of freshwater and the discharge of treated wastewater.
In recent years, the emphasis has begun to shift towards such circular, more sustainable solutions in order to conserve water. Businesses can now invest in technologies such as wastewater recycling systems, technologies consuming less water, rainwater harvesting systems and desalination technologies to help them recycle their water supply on-site and thus greatly reduce the burden they place on existing freshwater supplies.
Besides a more circular approach, data is inherently linked to our future water management plan. Collecting qualitative data on essential parameters and incorporating IoT, modeling practices and deep learning can propel the water sector to a higher level. The right kind of attention would be paid to the right kind of challenges, rendering more efficient water management with a multidisciplinary approach.
Water is a social product, for which the policy is strongly affected by psychological factors inherent to human minds. When people are not convinced of water recycling and are afraid to use products produced using reclaimed wastewater, businesses will not fully adopt a circular model. Including the human psyche in the debate and figuring out how best to promote reclaimed water use and circular models to the general public will advance the implementation, as public demand will rise and its influence on politics and business strategy will be apparent.
The future challenges of water management for businesses
Businesses need to think about sustainability and plan how they can best manage their water use to reduce their impact on the water supply and the environment. Plans will need to meet the challenges likely to face all sectors in the coming years. These include:
- the lower availability of fresh water from centralized supplies, with the likelihood of Day Zero restrictions already facing several major cities
- more stringent wastewater discharge limits to reduce pollution, with the EU bringing in new standards on water emissions in 2018
- growing social pressure at the community level for companies to think and act sustainably
- the need for a multidisciplinary approach that can propel the implementation of truly sustainable and effective water management forward
This means that all industries and individual companies will need to continuously think about their impact, collaborate and incorporate water management into their sustainability strategies and follow good practice examples available worldwide.
Developing a future-proof water management plan
A future-proof water management plan needs to take into account all of the future challenges detailed above while at the same time being mindful of the current situation of the company and what can realistically be achieved.
Elements of a water management plan can include:
- a Water Audit, where a company analyzes all elements if its current usage levels, assesses costs and identifies areas where improvements can be made
- a strategy for influencing employee behaviour in terms of reducing the overall company water footprint. This can involve seminars, workshops, and a communications plan.
- analysis of what sustainable water technologies could be used on the business premises, e.g. on-site recycling systems or rainwater harvesting systems
- Becoming part of a multidisciplinary team that tackles the future challenges and works together to build a water-efficient society
Water Experts can provide companies and organisations with specialist knowledge and expertise to fully understand their water impact, devise a future-proof water management plan and make cost-efficient sustainable choices to meet the challenges of tomorrow. The right multidisciplinary partners can be gathered to collaborate and facilitate the implementation of an effective water management plan.