From GreenBiz (Will Sarni):
With another World Water Day upon us, it is a good time to examine how we can accelerate progress in solving wicked water problems, including achieving United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 6, ensuring the availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all.
I come back to the belief that we can create water abundance and achieve SDG 6. I am not alone in believing we can create abundance with regards to water. What that looks like is universal access to safe drinking water and ample water supply for economic development, business growth and ecosystem health.
This is not a strategy of increasing water supplies to accommodate business-as-usual practices in the water sector. Instead, it is a view that innovation in technology, financing, business models, partnerships and policy will enable society and business to do more with less water in a sustainable manner.
Creating abundance is integral to the work of Peter Diamandis and the X-PRIZE Foundation. I was introduced to the mindset of creating abundance when I led the 2016 Safe Drinking Water X-PRIZE Sponsored by Brita. This experience convinced me that we can create abundance through deploying exponential technologies such as digital solutions (think: IoT devices, artificial intelligence applications and data acquisition and analytics via remote sensing).
Consider what digital technologies have accomplished in education, healthcare and transportation — increasing access to essential services and resources. The same potential exists for water. I also have expanded my view that it is not just innovation in scaling exponential technologies but also driving innovation in financing, business models, partnerships and policy that can create water abundance.
The view of water abundance has gained traction over the last few years, in reports such as “Creating 21st Century Abundance through Public Policy Innovation: Moving Beyond Business as Usual” and “Water Stewardship and Business Value: Creating Abundance from Scarcity.” A recent report from the World Resources Institute (WRI). “Achieving Abundance: Understanding the Cost of a Sustainable Water Future,” advances the thinking behind this strategy.
Sure, a sustainable water future comes at a cost. However, compared to the cost of business as usual, the investment is more than reasonable. As outlined in the WRI report, “It is estimated that to achieve sustainable water management for all countries and major basins is $1.04 trillion annually to close the gap between renewable water supply and demand.”
The report also references specific benefits of sustainable and accessible water management:
The return on investment ratio for water access, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) services ranges from 0.6 to 8.0. The primary drivers of these economic benefits are health-related improvements and fewer deaths associated with water-related diseases. The World Bank estimates that regional GDP decline from water scarcity can be avoided through more efficient water allocation and policies. The estimated benefit of reducing water scarcity risk globally for agriculture at $94 billion annually. It is estimated that one in six cities (sample size was 4,000) that implemented source protection measures could net immediate positive returns through recued treatment costs. Associated benefits would be improved local health and well-being, higher biodiversity value and carbon value on top of saving water treatment costs.
It is unclear if these estimates assume incremental improvements in technologies and if the positive impact of deploying exponential technologies (such as digital solutions) and innovation in financing, business models, partnerships and policy were considered. Regardless, the WRI paper does map out a path forward and the investment required with a focus on the private sector.
The bottom line is that water abundance is achievable, and I believe even more so if exponential technologies are commercially scaled.