Finding Hope & Heroes

How we’re trying to save 1 billion cubic metres of water in Vietnam

Many people hold the opinion that the next world war will be fought over water. This might be true.

By 2025, 4 billion people could be living in countries or regions with absolute water scarcity. Right now, in Vietnam, there’s already an estimated 30% urban and 60% rural households who don’t have access to clean water. Not only that, but 9000 Vietnamese people die every year due to unhygienic water related causes.

When you wash clothes, you’re going to use a lot of water — in fact, 20% of water consumption is for washing clothes & laundry. Rinsing alone accounts for about 80% of water consumption in laundry. Consumers who hand-wash clothes normally continue to rinse until the stickiness, soapiness and foam is removed, which is why on an average 3–4 buckets of water are used for rinsing.

It might seem unavoidable at first, but all it takes is some innovation to find better solutions. That is what the Unilever brand Comfort has done.

They re-designed their fabric softener to need just 1 rinse and aptly renamed it to “Comfort One Rinse” — saving about 30 litres per wash, which might not sound like much, but it’s estimated to save 10 billion litres in Vietnam by 2015, and the potential for around 500 billion litres of water to be saved if all the laundry consumers in Asia and Africa did the same.

A local woman from the centre of Vietnam washing her clothes in the local river.

This is all great in theory — but you can’t simply design a product and expect people to change their behaviour. If a woman has washed clothes all her life a certain way, it will take more than packaging instructions to change her habits. We’ve seen sad examples of this through experiences filming other nonprofit organisations. Even if you give a community a better solution for their health or wellbeing, unless it involves them and inspires them to change behaviour, all good efforts can be wasted.

So what’s the solution?

The goal for Comfort One Rinse Vietnam was to educate consumers to reduce the number of clothes’ rinses and create a movement which would motivate positive behaviour-change towards water usage. They wanted to inspire more Vietnamese to save water — about 10 billion litres to be exact. Now to put that in perspective; that’s equivalent to about 4 olympic swimming pools per day and a total of 4,000 olympic sized swimming pools over 3 years. In short, a lot of water!

That’s where we got involved.

Our team at Gone Adventurin’ had been working with Comfort in Singapore and Vietnam for months to incubate a good strategy to tackle the problem throughout South East Asia. We didn’t want to create a solution and teach people the way —instead — we wanted to FIND inspiring local solutions already active on the ground, and reward them so that other members of the community could look up to their local counterparts for inspiration.

We all agreed that by having the voice come from within the community, the message is much clearer and much much more powerful.

Then came our first challenge: would we be able to find “Water Heroes” in Vietnam? Did they even exist? And if so, how do we find them?

The Idea

Our dream was to showcase inspiring stories of local people who have not had previous recognition, unsung heroes, who are taking action to save water in their communities across all of Vietnam.

So — through a lot of networking and research, alongside a massive exploration into the heart of the country (a bit Indiana Jones style) GA and our local partner & entrepreneur Uyen, found 5 of the most inspiring Water Heroes throughout Vietnam.

From Left to Right: Professor Con (whom created a water filter for Hanoi) — Mrs. Huc Mon (whom built a water tower for children in need) — Uncle Tan (whom keeps his canal clean) — Miss Mai Anh (Author of a Green Handbook for housewives) and Vi & Jung (two students who created a water filter from local materials)

The Action

The next step was activation.

How do we capture Vietnamese stories, staying true to local customs and sensitivities, while making sure the visuals are stunning but the voices real? We needed a team.

Laura and Uyen working on the logistics of the trip.

Uyen is an incredible young woman from Vietnam, who Laura had met through AIESEC. Uyen has a passion for social good and environmental awareness — her dream is to become a life coach encouraging more Vietnamese youth to break the stereotypes and raise their ambitions to achieve more for themselves and the planet. She’s awesome.

Uyen translating a touching moment on the scene while Matt takes some stills in the background.

So we began their thorough research and logistics to make sure that we could, within 9 days, visit 5 locals in 5 separate regions of Vietnam. That meant, flying between Ho Chi Minh and Hanoi, but also travelling to the centre to visit areas of extreme water scarcity such as Danang and Quang Ngai to get a really thorough and diverse understanding of the issue and the people working for a better future.

We couldn’t have been happier with the way everything went. Not only did the Water Heroes we found come to life when we met them face to face, but the impact they had made was so much more powerful than I ever could have expected.

Especially this story:

Grandfather Tan is a 75 year old man that cleans his canal every morning before he begins work. He earns $2 a day repairing bicycles or cutting up the tiny plastic toothpaste tubes they give you in Hotels.

The canal he goes out to clean, was so disgustingly polluted it almost made us sick. You could see the mosquito larvae in the surface — stuck between the trash. But the old grandfather remained determined to continue cleaning, no matter how hopeless it seemed. He told us he would continue as long as his health would let him.

Obviously inspired by his commitment, we eventually found out his motivation: he used to swim in this river, and he wanted it to return to the way it was when he was a child — so his granddaughter could swim in it too.

When Uncle Tan told us his story, we started to tear up.

Post Production

It was an epic rush to make sure everything would be completed in time for World Water Day!

Mai Anh and her mum. Mai Anh knew that mums want to save money so they can give their kids a better life. So she created an eco-handbook for housewives, enabling housewives to save money through saving water and energy — and through recycling plastic, paper & leftovers.
A hero in Hanoi, Professor Con has spent 18 years to create a water filtration system to remove deadly arsenic and other pollutants from the waterways.

Organic Outreach: Amplifying the Impact

The project was launched on World Water Day, 22nd March 2014, in collaboration with the Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources in Vietnam. The launch video reached over 400 000 people through youtube and stories of the water heroes has sparked truly engaging and inspiring conversations!

It’s been so touching to see so many people “liking” his story and commenting with their ideas.
Creating a ground up movement — 500 local water heroes nominated across the country — people of all ages in rural and urban areas and impacting water in their own ways.

We were overwhelmed by the number of water saving projects that have been sparked since, with over 500 new water heroes nominated in local communities all across Vietnam!

Thousands of university students created water projects over their summer break, and collaborations developed with supermarkets, universities, student groups and government to impact water scarcity all across Vietnam!

And more than anything, we’re thrilled that the Vietnam brand and marketing team realizes the impact they can create. I can’t describe the feeling when you hear from an employee that they’ve never been so proud to work for their company. That’s when we know we’re planting many seeds of change from within the core of business!

… but it doesn’t end there.

On the last weekend of September 2014 — 6 months since the launch — we traveled back to Ho Chi Minh City to raise more awareness amongst consumers — by delivering a water truck with 10,000 L of water savings for a rural community facing water scarcity just 30kms outside of the city. As community members filled up their water bottles from the truck, we realized first hand the magnitude of the issue. As I was doing the maths, it suddenly hit home:

1 truck = 10,000 litres of water.

If all consumers across Vietnam rinse just once, then EACH day about 250 trucks full of water will be saved.


Enthusiastic Comfort One Rinse team members delivering the 20L bottles to rural communities facing water scarcity on the outskirts of HCMC.

When the truck was almost empty, we loaded a smaller tuk-tuk, which could handle the pot-hole ridden pathways, to reach the communities even further out. One family we spoke with only had access to rain water, and when it didn’t rain, they use the water from the river. Thoughts of the Grandfathers canal came to our mind, and our hearts sank.

Will Grandfather Tan live to see his canal free from pollution and trash? We hope so. Will water scarcity get worse before it gets better? Maybe. But our objective is always to plant a seed of hope, which hopefully will one day grow into something bigger than we could have ever imagined.

The ‘Water Heroes’ movement in Vietnam will continue for at-least 5 years— and likely many more. But we’re in this for the long run, already getting excited to be increasing the momentum next year and strengthening the education and impact in rural communities most in need.

If you have any ideas, suggestions or know of water heroes throughout South East Asia, we’d love to hear from you!

The First Vietnam Water Heroes:

Summary Video


Article by Laura Allen from Team Gone Adventurin’.

Laura Allen

Firm believer that companies can unlock great business opportunities in tackling social and environmental challenges in their communities. Outside of the world of social business, Laura is an avid cyclist and rock-climber, and is passionate about topics such as the FutureOfFood (she co-founded a community farm in Singapore) and mindfulness.

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