Fishman presented alternating stories of dramatic progress in water management and accounts of worsening access to clean drinking water as he described our changing relationship with this most basic of commodities.
Golden Age Gone Fishman barraged the audience with fascinating and sometimes frightening statistics about water availability from around the globe, including:
“Once you have tackled and solved your water problem, you have solved them,” stated Fishman, adding that he found that premise very empowering.
Fishman shared an encouraging account of the Australian town of Salisbury which constructed 36 wetlands to purify storm water and then repurpose it to supply a water-intensive wool cleaning facility, irigate athletic fields, and support other activities that can use non-potable water. Through creative thinking, this town has effectively killed two birds with one stone. It is complying with storm water management regulations while continuing to supply its residents and businesses during a prolonged drought. In fact, the town of Salisbury now brings in $1.5 million in revenue by selling water that it was going to have to pay to clean to meet more rigorous storm water management regulations.
“This town turned water that was a burden into a resource,” marveled Fishman. Predicting a coming age of incredible innovation surround water management, he also shared corporate success stories.
Smart Water Business is way ahead of consumers in recognizing and innovating solutions to water scarcity. Fishman, who also authored “The Wal-mart Effect,” described how chipmaker IBM has capitalized on its success in water conservation by leveraging this expertise into a new source of revenue.
Microchips have to be washed with ultra-pure water several times during the manufacturing process, which makes IBM’s plant in Burlington, VT, a water-intensive operation, using 3.2 million gallons of water each day. As a result, IBM has acquired a sophiscated ability to measure, manage and process water, which has enabled it to drive down both water use and chip production costs. Beyond that, IBM now sees a business opportunity for using its water sensor systems and water management expertise to help other corporations better manage their water use.
“IBM's employees now teach its customers how to manage water more intelligently,” stated Fishman. “That’s what smart water looks like.”
A Fresh Perspective Fishman urged participants to take a fresh perspective on their use of water, both at home and on the job. The first step in better water management is awareness – understanding how and when you’re using this undervalued resource. That heightened awareness can lead to new insights, solutions for water resource issues and perhaps even a strategic advantage.
“Water is a competitive advantage. Water and water expertise can be a resource and product. It is also an economic tool,” concluded Fishman.
Cindy Mehallow is principal of CRM Communications, a woman-owned sustainability communications consulting practice specializing in corporate social responsibility reporting and stakeholder communications. GRI-Certified in sustainability reporting, Cindy has produced award-winning sustainability reports for Fortune 500 clients in a variety of industries.