Clare Pierson: What were common themes emphasized at the World Water Forum?
Bjorn Von Euler: There was urgency, this time in the realization that water and energy are extremely at risk due to climate change. Whatever you have done before, you need to take a closer look at what you’re going to do for the future. Whether you’re a utility or government agency or business, you need to have strategies to mitigate or take into account climate change.
For that, you need data. From the standpoint of hydropower generation, water/energy/carbon consumption and footprints, data is needed. Previously, we did not have data that changed priorities; however, now we’re talking about health. We need to establish a link between safe water distribution and our health. We do not have data that will allow a country’s finance minister, for example, to look at the need for this investment and what the return would be.
Pierson: Describe the white paper that ITT/WBCSD introduced at the forum. What kind of prescription to the water crisis is outlined in this paper?
Von Euler: The World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD) represents 200-plus companies and industries around the world, and they’re thinking about many issues. We needed to put together something that explained business’ roles in the water, energy and climate change nexus. In the paper, we give examples of the issues we’re looking at, why it’s important to organizations and governments and what they can do from a legislative point of view.
We were able to bring some data to the discussion at the forum and point to things that are easy to do right now. For instance, the Minister of Forestry & Environment in Turkey talked about pumps and pump systems and how there are many inefficiencies in energy usage, leading the discussion on what we can save before we start purchasing or building something new.
Pierson: Was there much talk of the recent financial crisis at the forum, and how did this tie into water/energy issues and possible solutions?
Von Euler: The bigger organizations like U.N. and World Bank did discuss these topics. These organizations understand the complications and seriousness of what is going on. There was a report that global water investments are declining to the point of about $40 billion. This is a major decline from an already low number, and represents a serious issue.
There was consensus at the forum that we must continue investment in infrastructure. In regard to the stimulus package, water/wastewater is not high on the list in Europe. New countries coming into the European Union, such as eastern European countries, have poor infrastructure, and even the western E.U. countries have very old infrastructure. The stimulus packages in the U.S. and other countries are big, but do not reflect or give evidence that the decision makers understand the importance and urgency of water/wastewater infrastructure needs.
Pierson: What is ITT Watermark, why was it founded and what kind of progress is it making thus far?
Von Euler: ITT Watermark is a foundation that is a collaboration with Water for People. It’s a three-year program where we will visit and provide education and supplies to 300 schools in countries like India, Honduras, Guatemala and China.
ITT Watermark is investing $3 million into bringing safe water, sanitation and hygiene education to schools. We must include the next generation in this, or else sustainability cannot happen. Schools are often right in the middle of a municipality, and by reaching students, we will reach families as well. This is how you build sustainability in a society.
The group is partnering with Mercy Corps to channel our emergency readiness and resources. By doing this, we can follow up, make assessments, deploy ideas and continue to improve results. The day after we signed up, we deployed help to Nepal, where there were huge floods and destruction. We sent several treatment units to Myanmar during their floods. I am proud that we were able to reach those people because access was severely restricted.
We are approaching this as we do any new product development activity, by studying the customers’ needs and then finding solutions. In the long term, this will translate into business.
Bjorn Von Euler is director of corporate philanthropy for ITT. Von Euler can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.