Tackling water challenges to drive business in Asia
“I’ve focused on making sure that sustainability is something which is integrated with day-to-day business planning systems rather than something just handled by a corporate group on the side.”
says Martin Riant a senior business leader in the consumer goods industry.
Martin, who recently retired from P&G, spent more than 36 years in the multinational company and grew its business in various national, regional and global roles. I met Martin a few months back when he became interested in Gone Adventurin’s model to integrate sustainability into the core of business – a vision he also passionately believes in.
One of the examples he discussed was how a few years back P&G had developed a water purification technology in a powder – an amazing innovation that quickly turns 10 litres of dirty, potentially deadly water into clean and drinkable water. The packet was initially invented by P&G laundry scientists who were originally separating dirt from used laundry water but in doing so also invented a breakthrough technology that can enable people anywhere in the world to purify dirty water in a simple, affordable and convenient way.
This example of how a single innovation can turn into a signature global program for P&G and to-date provide more than 9 billion litres of clean water in more than 75 countries got me curious on what is the state of water in our planet today and how other MNCs, startups and businesses are tackling water challenges.
While I had often heard of gloomy scenarios such as “Asia’s next major conflict will be over fresh water”, the potential dangers of inability to access clean water does indeed have serious consequences.
For most of us living in cities with relatively constant access to clean water, life without this precious resource is not a pressing issue. However the ground realities across the continent tell a very different story.
The World Economic Forum has recently ranked water crises as the number one highest concern for the planet in the next 10 years. 4 billion people – two-thirds of the global population – are currently facing water scarcity, and nearly half of them live in India and China.
Asia is particularly vulnerable – it has less fresh water per person than any other continent, and at the same time, has some of the world’s worst water pollution. The recent drought that hit parts of Southeast and South Asia was the worst in decades – affecting Vietnam, Thailand, Cambodia, Myanmar, and India, and claiming several lives.
Ground up solutions for water.
While the reality is challenging, the scale of the problem and Asia’s innate thirst for innovation means that several grassroots solutions are already in various stages of development.
WarkaWater – a system that consists of a bamboo frame and a mesh netting – is a design that can harvest rain, fog, and dew from the air into potable water. The simple structure can be constructed by six people in a week with locally sourced materials, and is owned and operated by communities. The latest iteration is capable of collecting up to 100 litres of potable water each day.
Drinkwell is transforming the water crisis into entrepreneurial opportunity. Their micro-franchise model enables local community members become entrepreneurs and set up water businesses in arsenic-affected areas of Asia. It provides affected villagers with water filtration technology and business tools, creating jobs, improving health and generating income at the same time.
Their systems deliver 60x more water, are 17x more energy efficient, and reduce waste by 7 orders of magnitude compared to Reverse Osmosis, the current best practice. Currently there are over 200 profitable deployments spread over India, Laos and Cambodia, with local partners.
Companies leading the change.
Companies too, have begun to spearhead change in impacting water in Asia. In 2006, Water.org approached PepsiCo to help scale ‘WaterCredit’ – an initiative that brings safe water and sanitation facilities to India’s poor. The resulting pilot exceeded expectations and a further grant of $8m from PepsiCo promises to provide 800,000 people with access to safe water this year.
It’s not just companies and nonprofits, but local researchers too are making headway in water. Last year, NUS researchers developed a new membrane, inspired by the roots of mangrove trees, that makes water purification highly efficient – and can potentially lower purification costs by 30%!
And while regional medium-sized companies such as Hyflux in Singapore and Manila Water in the Philippines are innovating new business models around water, we also see global companies such as Unilever and P&G collaborating actively with local startups, NGOs to reduce water consumption of their products. In short, water continues to be a great driver of business innovation and growth.
Here are 3 things you can do in your company
1. Involve your staff
Implementing solutions from the top down might get things done initially, but unless there is passion and commitment from your team, you will never get the sustainable results you need. Work across all your business silo’s (Talent and HR, Corporate Comms, CSR, Marketing etc.) to facilitate employee experiences to make sure everyone understands the issue and is inspired to make a difference.
How can we help? Join or send your team on a 3-day IMPACT ADVENTURE in any Asian country so your employees can meet inspiring startups, social enterprises, NGOs and local change-makers tackling water!
2. Share your stories
Already doing incredible work? Then amplify your impact throughout your business unit and global teams through authentic and engaging storytelling! Using something as simple as your smartphone, record your success and your failures to get support and strengthen your internal networks. Most importantly, exchange ideas!
If you want to go a step further, why not work with your marketing or corporate communication teams to post publicly through your social media channels to source solutions from your audience?
How can we help? Reach out to us to create compelling media and digital content telling the stories of your work, or hold a workshop to empower your team to start telling their own stories!
3. Update your strategy
The most important part of solving any social or environmental issue is to integrate it into the core of your business strategy. Explore new supply chains and form new partnerships which benefits all your stakeholders AND your shareholders. You can find a strategy to influence your consumers behaviour, or simply innovate the design of your product. Look at the materials you use and see if you can create a more transparent and effective supply chain. At the end of the day, a powerful business strategy which integrates a bigger purpose will far out-perform a strategy which just targets profit alone.
How can we help? We can work with you to refine your business strategy to engage employees, influence consumers and innovate for the future by tackling water challenges across Asia. First, why not get our team to come and do an interactive workshop & in-depth presentation to introduce your team to detailed insights and stories behind this post and the insights report below? Reach out to us at Gone Adventurin’ to adapt, apply and profit by putting sustainable development at the core of your business.
This article is part of our monthly series of insights to help business leaders discover business value through a social and environmental purpose.
Download our latest 16-page report on WATER in Asia
View our 2-min visual on WATER in Asia