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Conserve and Restore: How Business Can Leverage a Holistic Approach to Water Management

By 3p Editors
colorado river water

This article is sponsored by P&G

More than half of the United States is experiencing some form of drought, with areas in the west and southwest seeing extreme or exceptional drought conditions. Unfortunately, this is becoming the new normal as climate change increases the likelihood of water scarcity in already drought-prone areas. Recent reports from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) further underscore the risk a warming planet poses to the global water cycle. Climate change acts as a threat multiplier to existing water crises globally, leading to significant damage across watersheds. Further, many experts have declared water stress to be a top risk factor for companies.

Water stress is often a locally-felt pressure. Wildlife and natural ecosystems rely on watersheds. So do cities, electric utilities, agriculture and corporations — not to mention every one of us. Since every facet of our lives depends on water, every water stakeholder — from companies and governments down to individuals — has a role to play in safeguarding water supplies now and into the future. For example, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates that the average American household uses approximately 300 gallons of water per day, but this figure can be cut by a third with some simple shifts to our household habits. In response to findings like these, dish care brand Cascade is looking to help millions of households reduce their water consumption, along with reducing the water footprint of its own operations and working with partners to restore water in at-risk watersheds, in a holistic approach to water management. 

One of the partners Cascade works with on this front is Change the Course, a hybrid water restoration and awareness-building campaign introduced by National Geographic, Bonneville Environmental Foundation (BEF) and Participant Media in 2014.

What is Change the Course? 

The idea behind Change the Course is to engage corporate partners to support water stewardship and restoration projects in the communities where they operate or source inputs, while simultaneously educating consumers about how to reduce their own water use. The initiative has since scored corporate sponsors and partners from a wide range of industries, including Cascade and its parent company Procter & Gamble (P&G).

What started as a three-way partnership to promote a film about building coalitions in watersheds quickly become much more. “We were trying to think of a way to engage corporate funders to fund projects outside their walls,” Sara Hoversten, director of business for water stewardship at BEF, told TriplePundit. “We came up with Change the Course to engage people in understanding their individual water footprint and fund on-the-ground restoration projects for gallon-for-gallon restoration.” The driving force is to ensure “we have enough clean water where we need it, when we need it, for communities and economies to thrive,” she said. 

How and where it works

For its part, BEF works on scoping and vetting on-the-ground projects and figuring out how to engage with corporate partners to create a vision for water stewardship. BEF works directly with project partners — for example on irrigation efficiency projects in the Southwest, stormwater projects in the Northeast, and restoration of vital salmon spawning grounds in the Pacific Northwest — to ensure implementation and confirm the volume of restored water, which is communicated to the sponsoring company for its reporting purposes. 

Beyond the logistics of how the projects work, the partnerships have begun to shift the conversation around water security and the corporate role in stewardship. “Over the past five years, we have seen an incredible uptick in corporate engagement,” Hoversten said. “[We’re] seeing these big brands putting their reputation, weight and funding behind restoration projects.” 

Cascade is one of dozens of Change the Course brand partners. So far, its project portfolio supported will restore over 2.6 billion gallons over the lifetime of the projects to rivers and wetlands in the U.S. The brand has also looked to integrate water conservation into its consumer communications. 

For example, household water use has increased globally by 600 percent since 1960. To help address that, Cascade has shifted its messaging to consumers to underscore the importance of water conservation at home. “This awareness is critical because through the life cycle assessment of our products, we’ve found the consumer phase (when people use our products) is the most water-intensive part of many of our products’ life cycles,” said Shannon Quinn, water stewardship leader for P&G. 

Raising awareness and empowering individuals to save water at home

The partnership Cascade has forged with Change the Course and other nonprofits is part of P&G’s wider efforts to provide 1 billion people with products that now require far less water for daily use. The Cascade brand, along with others including Dawn and Swiffer, are developing more water-efficient formulas that can help people decrease in-home water use while completing their daily household routines.

But there’s still room for even more water efficiency in U.S. households. For example, Cascade’s dishwasher detergents are designed to work efficiently with dishwashers without the need to pre-rinse dishes, reducing the need for both water and energy. The company estimates that skipping the pre-rinse and putting dishes directly in the dishwasher can conserve about 140 gallons per week, per home. And those gallons add up, with P&G reporting that its public awareness campaigns last year empowered consumers to save 1.6 billion gallons of water and $27 million on their energy bills by running their dishwashers instead of hand-washing. 

Cascade’s multi-tiered campaign aimed at raising awareness about in-home water conservation has reached an estimated 70 percent of U.S. adults to date, according to the company. “We understand the important role we can play in making sure that not only are we designing our products to be efficient, but creatively educating and inspiring our consumers to take full advantage of the benefits our technology can provide to them and our planet,” Quinn said. “Each and every one of us can take small steps that help reduce water use at home and lower our overall environmental footprints through simple and surprising ways, including the way we clean our dishes.” 

Making a difference

Change the Course and its partners, including P&G, are striving to shift the narrative to make sure water stewardship is part of the conversation — both from the corporate side through funding restoration and the customer side through increased efficiency and conservation via education. 

As the initiative has grown, it has been able to diversify the types of projects it works on with partners. For example, in the U.S. Southwest, it’s working with DigDeep, a nonprofit aimed at closing the water gap, to provide permanent drinking water for five families in the Navajo Nation in Dilkon, Arizona, whose water stress has existed long before its profile was raised during the COVID-19 pandemic. (Members of the Navajo Nation are 67 percent more likely than the average American not to have access to running water.) The company supported the restoration of meadows, wetlands, and springs that serve as critical water sources and wildlife habitats in California, Arizona and Minnesota. 

To that end, Change the Course helps companies determine which projects to add to their portfolios by going directly to the communities and watersheds to understand their needs. “It is crucial for us to engage in the community, when and how they want,” Hoversten told TriplePundit. Change the Course asks to understand where it can support local communities and relays that information to its corporate partners, as well as local nonprofits and water access organizations.

“Change the Course is trying to create and sustain a movement of collective action,” Hoversten said. Addressing water scarcity at the community level, but with corporate support, creates a network and shared vision of a healthy ecosystem for everyone, she said. Change the Course has so far funded 79 projects in the U.S. and globally on behalf of its corporate partners.

Climate change means water stress will only worsen, and Hoversten envisions a “move from transactional to transformational: working with tribal nations, large-scale geographic projects, and continuing to engage brands in funding and using their influence on water restoration.” Water touches everyone. It is common sense that everyone should also be engaged in ensuring there is enough.

This article is sponsored by P&G

Image credit: Mike Newbry/Unsplash

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TriplePundit editors offer news and insights on sustainable business.

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