What innovations in water and sustainability are you most excited about?

Eric Hoek: This is the golden age of innovation in water solutions. Energy reduction is key and so are technology developments that reduce cost so that users – whether municipalities or industrial users – will be more inclined to implement advanced solutions.

In particular, breakthrough membrane technologies offer exciting opportunities to reduce the energy and cost of treating highly contaminated wastewaters to very high purity for reuse by industry and even agriculture, reducing the need to find new sources of clean water. Other innovations that are exciting include decentralized water treatment, improved water quality analyses and the role of data analytics across the industry.

Lance Pierce: Companies are achieving greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions reductions, thanks to effective water management, and they are transitioning to renewable energy sources such as wind and solar. Of 607 companies surveyed in 2016, more than half reported that more efficient use of water has led to lower GHG emissions.

Corporations can recognize huge returns while positively impacting communities when it comes to water. Chemicals giant BASF reported potential sales from solutions-oriented water products of $1 billion up to 2020, and licensing revenues in the tens of millions from innovations, like their new drought-tolerant corn hybrid.

What is the most pressing issue in your line of work today?

EH: It’s all about water reuse. The only water resource on Earth that increases with population and industrialization is wastewater. Hence, water reuse is the most sustainable approach to meet future agriculture, energy, industry and domestic water demands. Its importance will continue to grow as reuse programs are more widely adopted.

Membrane filtration is, and will remain, at the heart of water reuse for many years to come. However, the primary performance limitation, which drives the cost and energy associated water reuse, is “membrane fouling.” Our technology overcomes this limitation – lowering cost and energy – by advancements in both software and materials.

“Corporations can recognize huge returns while positively impacting communities when it comes to water.”

LP: The lack of visibility into corporate water use is a critical issue for investors and business decision makers. The four-fold increase in investor signatories to water programs since 2010 demonstrates the growing awareness that water is a critical business issue. We must continue to raise the profile of corporate water risk and opportunities, arm investors with the tools needed to incentivize companies to take action and provide companies the framework to do so. 

What is one thing our readers can do to start living a more sustainable lifestyle?

EH: Start by minimizing your personal or household energy and water footprint. It’s not easy, but it helps. Support locally sourced food products, which reduces transportation-related energy demand and carbon footprint.

Contact your legislators to let them know how important it is to create both market incentives as well as regulatory measures to drive sustainability. Vote for candidates who acknowledge climate change and exhibit track records of supporting environmental protection and sustainability measures. If you are a manufacturing business owner, keep your plant in the United States, set sustainability goals and meet environmental regulations. Our society benefits doubly when this happens.

LP: Consumers have an essential role to play in influencing how companies deal with water. Many of the companies we work with are the biggest brands in the world. Readers can also take advantage of water-related community outreach benefits corporations make available. Sempra Energy reported they offer a no-cost water usage kit that can help California customers reduce water usage up to 11 percent. Make your consumer voice heard and reach out to the companies whose products you buy.

“Support locally sourced food products, which reduces transportation-related energy demand and carbon footprint.”

How do you see the issues of water and sustainability evolving in the next 10 years?

EH: There will be growth in water reuse and desalination as well as continued pressure to conserve water, and to reduce distribution system losses at water utilities. But I expect the biggest change will be enormous increases in water reuse both in developed and developing worlds.

In the United States, we only reuse about 4 percent of our municipal water. This will have to change, especially in the arid Southwest United States. I think the rest of the world is catching up technologically, economically and from a regulation or enforcement perspective. I expect a lot of change throughout China, India and Africa, too.

LP: This can only continue to evolve in a positive direction. The competition for water will get tougher as water scarcity and stress increase. We are already seeing companies look outside their own walls and work to collaboratively manage water resources with governments, local communities and civil societies. This will become a new norm for business.

There is strong financial incentive to do so. A new global water report reveals water-impacts cost business $14 billion in one year. However, the report also reveals that many water-related opportunities companies have identified are untapped. Establishing strategies to realize these will be the path forward.