Sustainable Development Requires Water

I live along the Verde River in north central Arizona. The Verde almost always has water in it, making it unusual among Arizona rivers. A belt of green a few hundred yards wide brackets the Verde on its trip through the desert. The very sharp contrast between the greenery near the river and the desert close by serves to constantly remind me of just how important water is.

Water and the World, a post from over two years ago, discusses and quantifies the importance of water for all of us, at work and at home. It is well worth another read.  – C.H.


Water and the World

From 31 January 2013

A recent post to this blog [1] introduced the World Business Council for Sustainable Development’s Vision 2050. The World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD) is an organization with over 190 large company members from all over the world. Vision 2050 proposes a credible pathway from “business as usual” in 2010 to a sustainable world in 2050; a world that meets the basic needs of a stable population of 9 billion, while lifting billions of people out of abject poverty [2].

The Vision 2050 pathway consists of nine parallel elements (areas in which significant changes are needed). Goals and milestones are proposed for each element, including about 40 “must have by 2020” items. The “must have by 2020” items present significant intermediate term (“by 2020”) business opportunities: opportunities to do well by doing good. This is the first of a series of posts that will comment on specific opportunities.

First “Must Have by 2020”:

Water Efficiency — Efficient water gathering, transmission, purification, distribution, utilization, recovery, repurification and reuse.

UN - Fresh Water UsageToday’s global population appropriates about 54% of all accessible fresh water contained in rivers, lakes and underground aquifers. By 2025, fresh water source drawdown is expected to increase by 18% in developed countries and by 50% in less developed countries. By 2025, about 1.8 billion people will be living in regions of absolute water scarcity [3].

Domestic Consumption

Today, 780 million people lack access to clean water for personal uses. About 1.2 billion people lack access to sanitary human waste disposal [4]. Vision 2050 sees the world’s population increasing by an additional 2 billion by the year 2050, mostly in less developed parts of the world. Over the last century, water usage has increased over twice the rate of population increase [5]

Vision 2050 sees substantial rates of human migration from rural areas to cities. Within cities, centralized water purification and waste water collection and treatment become viable. Water infrastructure in many existing cities needs to be repaired, replaced or upgraded. In the U.S., for example, about 1.7 Trillion gallons leak from transmission and delivery pipes each year.

Point > The world needs a lot of water infrastructure: about $22 Trillion worth by 2030 [6]. This work will be at the national, regional and municipal levels. Work in much of the developing world will require international participation.

Agriculture and Forests

Irrigation accounts for 70% of today’s fresh water consumption [7]. Vision 2050 projects that both food and forest products production will need to double by 2050, without adding to land area under cultivation.

Point > The efficiency with which agricultural water is gathered and delivered needs to be improved several times over. This means municipal and industrial wastewater reuse; low loss, low cost water transmission methods, and wide distribution of improved irrigation techniques.

Industry and Energy

Industry, including power generation, accounts for 22% of today’s fresh water usage, mostly for cooling purposes. In many situations, closed loop systems can substantially reduce consumption. Much of the remainder can be reclaimed and reused, especially for horticultural or agricultural purposes. Reclaimed water from municipal systems can be used instead of fresh water in many industrial applications.

Cooling water availability is already a major constraint to new industrial facility site selection, especially for electrical generation. Today, in the State of California, power consumed by pumping water is the single largest use of electricity.

Point > Industry can make really serious reductions in fresh water consumption, as many already have.

The Opportunity

There is a lot of work here, and at least some of it is going to happen. Much of the direct work on these projects will be performed by large, international firms in coordination with national governments and international entities such as the UN. All of these projects will need components, specialized subcontractors and a multitude of services. Smaller manufacturers can find profitable niches, especially through specialized products and services, through relationships with larger customer firms and through the formation of task – specific consortia, perhaps through trade associations.

This is mostly international work. Smaller manufacturers can prepare themselves by learning the ins and outs of international trade and of exporting. Your local Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MEP) office is a good place to start [8].

Chuck on Wilson Mtn.Thoughtful comments and experience reports are always appreciated.


…  Chuck Harrington (

P.S. — When it is time for your firm to serious about the realities of manufacturing in the 21st century, contact me — C.H.

Note: This blog and associated website ( are intended as a resource for smaller manufacturers in the pursuit of Sustainability. While editorial focus is on smaller manufacturers, all interested readers are welcome. New blog posts are published weekly.


Graph: UN Water website

Photo: Courtesy of Don Wilson, Sedona AZ

[1] See Down in the Dumps, this blog:

[2] Learn about Vision 2050 at the WBCSD website, The entire Vision 2050 document and/or a summary are available for free download in about 10 languages. There are also PowerPoint presentations and visual aids available.

[3] Source:, the United Nations water policy portal.

[4] Source: is a non-profit NGO that provides clean water and sanitation facilities, mainly in rural areas in the developing world.

[5] Source:

[6] Source: Booz Allen Hamilton via Vision 2050

[7] Source:

[8] Locate your nearest MEP office at