Water has an inextricable link to all forms of life, yet this chemical compound has an elusive world that remains invisible to the naked eye. Liters upon liters of water are poured into every aspect of our lives, from everything we eat to everything we use and buy. That favorite T-Shirt you are so fond of wearing on a night out needed 3,000 liters to grow and process the cotton, or that cup of coffee you desperately chug down on the way to work used up 140 liters. The importance of this invaluable resource cannot be overstated since water scarcity has become a painful reality for many in this world. Approximately 2 billion people suffer shortages every year, and 1.2 billion live in regions of chronic scarcity.
Developed countries have not been left unscathed; a clear example of this would be the water woes of California in the US. According to experts, California’s epic drought will require more than 40km3 of water to return the state to its normal condition. NASA used its Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (GRACE) satellites in orbit to make these calculations; the result was worked out by weighing the land from space. This dreary result is just a taste of what is to come.
Water is rising as one of the greatest global threats and it is complicated to confront, especially given its inextricable ties to energy production. Around 15% of water extraction is used for energy production worldwide, whether it is used to generate hydropower, to extract gas, or for cooling processes in power plants. The public and private sectors alike are beginning to grasp the fact that energy and water problems are connected and that as such the focus must turn to integrated and holistic solutions.
Some industries have begun to change their approach to managing limited natural resources, and the most striking is the automotive industry. A notable example would be Volkswagen’s Think Blue factory program, which aims to reduce energy and water consumption throughout its vehicle production process. This is achieved by adopting sustainable energy sources, such as geothermal and solar, and keeping a close eye on energy inventories. In the water front, Volkswagen has adapted its vehicle production equipment and improved water efficiency in upstream manufacturing processes where the most water consumption occurs.
Companies in other sectors have begun to take note of the reliance they have on local communities for water and energy. As such, they are taking the initiative to lessen their regional footprint. For instance, Coca-Cola recently joined the Latin American Water Funds Partnership to encourage the replenishment and security of water. So far it has invested US$7.5 million in conservation actions at the watershed level. Coca-Cola’s move to replenish its water consumption will significantly reduce its impact on local water supplies and indirectly it will free up water for other uses such as energy generation.
While a few players have taken steps to improve their approach to water consumption and management, the solution ultimately lies in the hands of the government. The public sector must provide clear rules for water management and find effective methods for their implementation. As the corporate and natural worlds collide, governments must quickly address how to allocate water fairly and effectively. Water experts estimate that by 2025 three in five people will live their lives with continuous water shortages. By instilling preventative measures and solid regulations surrounding precious limited natural resources, then mankind might, just might, avoid coming to blows over the last bottle of water in existence.