Water: Habits & Actions

By Patricia Dwyer 16 May, 2016

Dwyer from The Purpose Business on how our actions, like giving up chocolate for a week, impact our waters

Many countries subsidise water so we don't know its true value; 95% of the water we use every day is invisible
Do you drink coffee or tea? How often do you flush? Habits are tough to break as they become second nature
Start with your own habits and actions; aggregated steps, however small, are powerful and make a difference

If you are reading this article, then you don’t need convincing as to why water is a pressing issue, and you have a basic understanding of the urgency to address both the scarcity and quality sides of the water crisis.  Just to give context, to those playing catch up, we are using water at an unsustainable rate that without changes in business practices, by 2030, global water demand will be 40% > supply.

“…in many countries like Hong Kong, water subsidies are in place, meaning we do not personally know the true value of water.”

If water were another commodity, this would drive prices to the roof- but in many countries like Hong Kong, water subsidies are in place, meaning we do not personally know the true value of water.

In 2015, the World Economic Forum identified water as the biggest global threat – “It is not only the fourth time water has made the annual list that ranks the greatest risks to economies, environments and people, but the first time that water has moved into the top position for impact.”  (The Global Risks Report 2015). The global water crises are inextricably tied to the other items that made it to the top risks, including extreme weather events; failure of national governance, state collapse or crisis; rapid and massive spread of infectious diseases; and failure of climate change adaptation.

In the 2016 version of the report, “climate change mitigation and adaptation rose to the top after its presence in the top five most impactful risks for the past three years, ahead of weapons of mass destruction, ranking 2nd, and water crises, ranking 3rd.” Even locally, there is heightened awareness of the water crises , following national documents such as the ‘Made in China 2025 Action Plan’ and the Water Ten Plan.

Our water challenges are massive but the power of small steps that when aggregated, makes a real drop of difference

There is actually no dearth of information on the magnitude of the crisis. We naturally turn to government and business for big answers- because we think all answers have to have the scale in order to swiftly reverse impacts. One thing I have been thinking about lately is the power of small steps that when aggregated, makes a real drop of difference.

I recently spoke on Ethics in a casual breakfast with the most unexpected “creative” audience mix: about 150 start up/ tech/ millennials/ architects/ photographers and designers. One of the biggest takeaways we discussed was to review our own thoughts, actions and habits- and how they turned into our behaviour, that which defines our character. If I took the same thought process and applied it to our personal relationship with water, I wonder what conclusions we can draw? Are we ethical about our water consumption? What is the moral use of it , when is it abusive, and why should we only change our ways when there is a crisis?

In the Ethics session I asked the audience to reflect on actions – particularly repeated actions that become just the way they do things. The way you always take car #3 on the MTR that gets you straight to the escalators – things like this become your habits and are tough to break because they simply have become second nature.

Habits are tough to break because they become second nature

If I asked the same of you now, what water-related habits have you come to adopt, what would that look like? The tap running as you brush your teeth? Watering lawns during a drought? Whatever they may be, we should reflect on why they have become our habits – and also reflect on their implications:

  • Drinking tea rather than coffee can save 120 litres of water per cup
  • With the average person flushing five times a day, toilets make up about 31% of overall household water consumption. In a home with older toilets, an average flush uses about 3.6 gallons (13.6 liters), that’s the equivalent of 18 bottles of wine
  • An 8 ounce steak uses a staggering 3,500 litres of water – or the equivalent of 17 full bathtubs

There’s many more of these astonishing statistics and the invitation is here to read more- in order to slowly change our habits. If we all adopted 1 or 2 small changes, they become manageable – and they become inspirational.
Start with yourself. It’s the only thing you can truly control.

“95% of the water we use everyday is invisible – and not as simple as counting 8 glasses to drink.”

95% of the water we use everyday is invisible – and not as simple as counting 8 glasses to drink. In fact, they are embedded in your every choice- clothing, beverage, mode of transport, etc. Make it as simple as understanding the amount of water embedded in a product, and finding out whether there are better choices out there.

One of my good friends and fellow World Economic Forum Young Global Leader Mina Guli recently ran 7 deserts in 7 continents in 7 weeks for one reason: water. Mina says “I’m doing this for our planet and the generations to come. I’m running for every person who uses water.”

During her runs she observed several instances of the water challenges we are facing today. When Mina ran through Jordan she said “Usually at this time of year the canyon should be full of water, which would last for 3-4 months. It was empty. And the next. And the next.” She also witnessed the impact of water scarcity in Spain, with the shift from subsistence farming to commercial farming when she spoke to olive grower Juan Jose during the Tabernas desert run.

Our actions and habits can make a difference, however small

I hope to raise awareness of the water crisis and inspire the next generation to believe they can make a difference by pledging to do just one thing each day to reduce their water consumption. Small steps, each day, because every drop counts.”

We won’t all have Mina’s courage, or stamina to run 7 deserts. Giving up chocolate for a week seems lame in comparison, but we can all do our own share. Our actions and habits can make a difference however small.

Further Reading

  • Changing Filters: Benefits of AFM vs Sand – Sand filters are the primary means of treatment but there are performance & stability issues. Dr Howard Dryden, inventor of the up-cycled AFM® filter tells us how his filter means lower costs & bacteria & longer life
  • Water SMART Blue Buildings For Sustainable Urbanisation – Complete coverage of centralized water & sewage systems may never be possible in China, so what can one do? Ecosoftt’s Stanley Samuel & Marcus Lin share how their Water SMART Blue Buildings Standard can be a valid alternative
  • A New Model In Village Water Management – Water projects in China suffer from sustainability issues. Ivanna Tan from Lien Aid on how their Village Water Management programme overcomes these issues and has delivered clean & sustainable water to more than 72,000 rural villagers
  • Are You A Responsible Consumer? – With waste levels already sky high and set to grow China Water Risk’s Dawn McGregor mulls over the challenges of being a responsible consumer from fashion to food to plastic. Be it as an individual or corporate, see what action you can take
  • Something Fishy This Christmas? – Some may opt for fish as a healthier option but not all is well in the oceans. With depleting stocks of some species close to 60%, Sophie le Clue explains why seafood needs to be sustainable. See which to pick & avoid
  • Bottled Water: Drink Responsibly – Know your bottled water – is it “fake water”? What’s the bottle’s environmental footprint? Those “in the know” may be more inclined to go back to the tap. Hongqiao Liu on how to drink responsibly
  • Hong Kong’s Thirst for Bottled Water – Hong Kong has a plastic waste issue & consuming less bottled water can help this. Why then is Hong Kong still thirsty for bottled water? Mandy Lao explores consumer attitudes towards these
  • Brands To Buy Over Christmas? – CWR’s McGregor reviews the top and laggard brands for green supply chains in China according to round two of the Corporate Information Transparency Index report. See which brands made which list
Patricia Dwyer
Author: Patricia Dwyer
Pat Dwyer is the Founder and Director of The Purpose Business and has over fifteen years sustainability leadership experience, most recently as Global head of CSR & Sustainability for Shangri-La Hotels & Resorts. Pat brought Shangri-La to the forefront of responsible tourism operations, making it the only Asian hotel group to be recognized in the Dow Jones Sustainability Index. She developed programmes across 90 hotels in 22 countries covering a broad spectrum including carbon management, diversity, environment stewardship and employee engagement. Pat was also the first CSR head of Ayala Land, Inc. in the Philippines. Pat was named to the World Economic Forum Young Global Leaders class of 2015 and also serves on the World Economic Forum Global Agenda Council for Oceans, is the recipient of the International Hotel Investment Forum Young Leader award and was named one of Premier Traveller’s ‘30 most Compelling Women in Travel’. Pat continues to sit on the Asia sub committee of the Make a Wish Foundation and is on the Faculty of the CSR Training Institute.
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