Coleridge never wrote so prescient a line. Water issues are dominating the utilities agenda for the moment.
Consciously spreading Armageddon-like doom, to alert everyone to the plight of his existing and potential clients, food giant Nestlé’s Chairman, Peter Brabeck-Letmathe, told his audience at the World Economic Forum in Davos that global water shortages over the next twenty years will reduce cereal production by a third and ‘trigger’ social unrest. “Water shortage will intensify competition between countries for access to water”, he added.
Stoking up the downbeat mood, a recent comprehensive climate change risk study commissioned by the Government warned that water scarcity and flooding are likely to become the main problems facing the UK in the future.
Whilst it would be interesting to add the cost of putting on the Davos chat show/networking event and the outlay of each attendee (transport, accommodation, time wasted planning, etc.) to the cost of the melodramatic study and consider what impact this money could have on tackling the water supply issues faced by countries around the world, it is surely more enriching to understand and applaud the efforts being made by a number of large water-guzzling organisations around the world.
Coca-Cola is on target to become ‘water-neutral’ by 2020. It has improved water efficiency for the eighth consecutive year and water quality through wastewater recycling; it has also offset or replenished 23% of the water used in production in 2010.
Ford is aiming to cut water usage per vehicle built by 30% in 2015, compared to a 2009 baseline. A biological water treatment system has been installed at a number of plants worldwide, enabling reuse of 65% of the plant’s wastewater for irrigation or elsewhere in the facility
Even in the UK, Premier Inn owner Whitbread has announced its green drive on water: grey water recycling and ‘lowflow’ showerheads in guest bathrooms and toilets flushed with recycled water from showers and baths will cut down on water use.
Doom-mongers and Cassandra’s will always counterbalance the optimism of pioneers and innovators. The work of the companies above is small fry compared to the overall action required, but it would be beneficial to us all if the energy used to warn or lament could be converted instead into encouragement for and support of these projects.
Coca-Cola, Ford and Whitbread continue to make a difference. Let’s nurture this and hope many copy them. After all, necessity is the mother of invention.