The amount of water on the earth has not changed for millions of years. No one consumes water. We simply use it, release it, and eventually reuse it, while the earth’s biosphere acts as a giant water circulation and purification system.
We redirect water out of established circulation pathways into new ones of our own design. We release it back into the earth's circulation system, modified by contaminants ranging from toothpaste to human metabolic waste to industrial chemicals. We use water as a tool in manufacturing processes. It is a key component in agriculture, a major factor in power generation, an ingredient in everything from detergents to processed food, and a surprising part of many supply chains.
Most technologies that use water were developed when it was widely believed that clean, freshwater supplies were endless and that the earth would take care of whatever wastes we released. We now know that the earth's water purification and circulation system has an established rate. As we use, contaminate, and redistribute more and more water, we will exceed the rate at which nature will provide us its free services. Overuse and mismanagement of water resources will increasingly return to us in higher and higher economic costs: health care costs, treatment plant costs, and remediation costs - though our economic accounting system doesn't allow us to easily connect these costs to water use.
Every water problem comes down to one common issue: excessive use. Rather than manufacture and use vast quantities of chemicals and fuels to clean contaminated water, or use even more water to dilute contaminants, water-intensive activities need to shift towards water-minimization practices. We need to rethink how water is reused by figuring out how to deliver more benefits to people using less water. Fortunately, new technologies in almost every field are making dramatic cuts in water use easy and relatively inexpensive (see our newsletter later this week for examples).
Reducing water use has many benefits beyond the water savings itself. Using less water also often means using less of other resources, like fuels. A gallon of water weighs more than eight pounds (1 liter of water weighs 1 kilogram). Shipping less water (embodied in various products) translates into energy and other resource savings. Treating less wastewater also means a lot of energy and resource savings, as well as lower capital investment requirements for new infrastructure.
Removing water from processes and products while still delivering the same or even better function is a smart business strategy. What examples have you seen? What opportunities are there in your business?