A growing number of large corporations that use large amounts of water in their operations are shifting part of their sustainability focus to become water positive. Microsoft, Google, PepsiCo, and Facebook have all promised to become water-positive by 2030, and other companies such as BP and Gap are also jumping on board for 2035 and 2060, respectively.
For a company to become water-positive, it must put more water back into the environment than they take out. To achieve these water-positive goals, companies are implementing immediate water-saving strategies and long-term projects involving infrastructure changes.
One example is PepsiCo; their largest food manufacturing plant sits in the Valley of Mexico watershed, which provides water to 21 million people in Mexico City and its surrounding suburbs. The aquifer below the city is so low that the city is sinking, and the pipes that bring water in from surrounding rivers and lakes are in disrepair. PepsiCo has committed to decreasing its water consumption in the area and plans to treat wastewater on-site. This will allow the factory to reuse 80% of the water it draws from the tap.
Global water resources face much pressure, worsened by the growing climate crisis. The UN predicts a 40% shortfall in freshwater resources by 2030. The solutions and severity of problems vary significantly by the area since water issues are extremely hyperlocal. The water challenges in one community may be very different from another one.
According to the US Food and Agriculture Organization, the amount of freshwater available per person has fallen by a fifth over the past two decades. Top National Water Expert Riggs Eckelberry, the Founder/CEO of OriginClear a clean water innovation hub, explains the process for companies to join the water-positive movement. “The first thing to know is that industry and agriculture account for 9/10ths of freshwater usage. Not only that, but their wastewater output places a huge burden on the centralized systems,” he shares. Despite these systems being primarily built to serve the people, they have since contributed to potential pollution in today’s environment and left residents to endure the negative impact. “If we get companies to treat and recycle their wastewater, we will have better, cleaner, and more abundant water for all. Companies benefit too. It’s a win-win, and why we believe decentralized water treatment is the future.”
Various industries and types of businesses could benefit from treating their own water and becoming more water positive. From animal farms and agriculture to beverage manufacturers, hotels, automobile manufacturing, and textiles – any industry with a large wastewater output. There are also financial and environmental benefits that result from forward-thinking initiatives. “They can potentially save on water fees, avoid fines, and get more turns out of their water,” Eckelberry added. This reduces costs, environmental impacts, and fewer issues in cities – many of whom can no longer handle the volume of water-related needs and are forcing companies to treat their own.
As companies continue to discover that cities can’t treat their wastewater, this presents an opportunity for them to conduct the treatment and recycling themselves. “We’ve been in the water industry for a while, and we found that it was incredibly slow to adopt new technologies, despite a lot of need for them. Then we realized, ‘It’s the money!’ We’d have these long, drawn-out sales cycles for treatment systems because these companies – that weren’t even in the water industry – couldn’t afford this sudden expense,” Eckelberry explains.
This inspired the launch of their investor-funded Water On Demand, a pay-per-gallon water recycling system that treats water on-site for businesses, agriculture, and housing developments and allows companies to sign a long-term service contract and pay only for the water they use. “We could bypass the whole sales cycle, get them this vital technology, and they would wind up with an OpEx expense just like they’re used to with their water bill.”
Companies are starting to acknowledge the impact of their actions on water security and that the government of the cities in which they conduct business alone cannot meet the responsibility for water. Removing the high upfront cost allows more businesses, not just the large corporations, to have access to become more water positive. This appeals to companies at every level, from start-ups to seasoned businesses. “Both can benefit, and you don’t need to be pre-established. It’s great for start-ups because it doesn’t require a big, upfront expense,” Eckelberry adds.