The following is an excerpt from “Water Stewardship and Business Value: Creating Abundance from Scarcity,” written by Will Sarni and David Grant and published by Routledge Taylor & Francis Group.
Technology is a resource-liberating mechanism. It can make the once scarce the now abundant.
Taking this statement (from the book “Abundance: The Future is Better Than You Think”) as a starting point, we believe that a significant portion of a post-water-stewardship strategy (a robust water strategy) will be a focus on innovation.
Innovation will take us from 19th- and 20th-century public policy and infrastructure to 21st-century solutions by leveraging exponential technologies (material science, internet of things, etc.); crowdsourcing and prize competitions (XPRIZE.org, ImagineH2O.org, 101010.net); innovative business models (water as a service); financing (green bonds and socially responsible investing); and new stakeholder ecosystems (Replenish Africa Initiative).
There are several companies that are building upon water stewardship and taking a unique position by leveraging their scale, skills, partnerships and technologies to have a broader impact on addressing water quantity and quality challenges.
Be passionately committed to abundance thinking
We are mired in the same cycle — the same old actors talking about the same old problems and using the same old tools. While we all acknowledge that significant portions of the global population face water scarcity and a lack of access to safe drinking water, we must also focus on how to create abundance. Incremental improvement, through evolutionary processes, is inadequate. Instead, what is called for is a radical rethink and commitment to leveraging exponential technology and innovation in entrepreneurial models that tap into non-water actors.
What gets us to abundance? Certainly, technology innovation but also mobilizing global stakeholders to develop innovative solutions in business models, financing and partnerships.
Moving towards abundance requires innovative approaches — crowdfunding solutions, prize competitions and technology hubs/accelerators. These initiatives can move us off of a scarcity trajectory to abundance. A few examples of new approaches to solving “wicked problems” and tapping into the entrepreneurial community are XPRIZE.org, 101010.net and Houseofgenius.org.
Author Will Sarni spent a significant part of 2016 working with an exceptional team from Brita, independent consultants and a Deloitte Consulting XPRIZE Fellow on crafting an XPRIZE for Water. Our vision — universal access to safe drinking water, always — was presented in late September at the XPRIZE Visioneers Summit, sponsored by the Roddenberry Foundation.
A bit of background on XPRIZE, to tie into the view of abundance: The prize was founded by its current executive chairman, Peter Diamandis, who believes that we can achieve universal abundance by tapping into exponential technologies. A radical departure from business as usual, this instead used the experience of stakeholders outside the world of water and new technologies and business models. We were passionately committed to moving from scarcity thinking to abundance thinking.
XPRIZE is not alone in innovation and leveraging new models. For example, 101010.net is a unique platform that brings together 10 successful entrepreneurs for 10 days to address 10 “wicked problems.” The platform links successful entrepreneurs with challenging problems such as water, with the intent of solving them. While 101010.net has historically been focused on health care, it is now moving into other problems such as cities and water. Bringing in non-water practitioners to develop businesses to tackle issues such as water has enormous promise.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation (USCCF) is also framing innovative water solutions as an abundance strategy, which it outlines in a report titled “From Scarcity to Abundance: Business Solutions for a Water Constrained World.” The report was unveiled at the USCCF BusinessH2O conference, which highlighted innovative Israeli water technology companies and companies with leading water stewardship strategies.
The report cataloged case studies of companies deploying innovative technologies and approaches to address water scarcity. It identified “abundance strategies” in the following categories:
- Conservation and efficiency
- Energy-water nexus
- Infrastructure and investment
- Recycling and reuse
- Technology innovation
The authors of this book frame an abundance strategy as building up on the prior and current work in water management and water stewardship, not discarding prior thinking but recognizing that these strategies are no longer enough.
Put simply: Imagine if companies invested in activities going beyond their own footprint and beyond their value chain (supply chain, operations and product use)? What if companies invested their own funds in water technology, partnered in public infrastructure, funded prize competitions targeting technology and public policy innovation? What if they leveraged their global reach and skills in marketing and communications to increase education and awareness of water risks and solutions to address these risks?
Companies are just beginning to experiment with strategies of abundance by funding prize competitions, crowdsourcing technology solutions and establishing venture funds. These actions are not held captive by corporate social responsibility (CSR), corporate responsibility (CR) and sustainability programs — they are more aligned with creating business and societal value.
William Sarni is an internationally recognized leader on water strategy and innovation and CEO of Water Foundry, Colorado, USA, based in Denver. He has authored numerous books and articles and presented on the value of water, innovations in digital water technology, the circular economy and the energy–water–food nexus. He has been a water strategy advisor to private- and public-sector enterprises and NGOs for his entire career. He has worked with multinational companies across a range of industry sectors in evaluating the technical viability and market potential of innovative water technologies, market entry strategies and M&A programs.
David Grant currently leads the Sustainable Development function for AB InBev’s Africa Zone based out of Johannesburg South Africa. Prior to this, he was Senior Global Manager: Water Risks & Partnerships at SABMiller plc, based in Woking, UK. He has over 18 years’ experience in Sustainable Development, delivering transformational social, environmental and economic programs to ensure business continuity, brand protection and corporate leadership.