IIMB Networking event

IIMBAA – Delhi Chapter brainstormed to guide FORCE’s efforts for water efficiency at their networking event on March 18, 2017. Thank you! You contributed to FORCE in many ways:

  • Your funds donations – We received Rs 39,000/-.
  • Some of you had indicated that you may be able to support us through Corporate Social Responsibility projects. Please do let us know how we can take those conversations forward with you.
  • Some of you also volunteered your time, effort and organizational support for our work. Thank you, this is invaluable support. We look forward to even more of your volunteer support !
  • The discussions also helped us structure our thoughts regarding how to plan our campaign for Water Footprints and Water Use Efficiency.
  • Last, but not the least, in the very act of participating in this discussion, you have become more aware about Water Efficiency than you were already. I suspect, these conversations will stay on in your mind and make you wiser water users as individuals and organizations. Click here to see your ‘Quotable Quotes’. I hope that this also makes you ‘Jal Rakshaks’ – that you become active advocates for Water efficient and low water footprint living. Thank you!

Insights for our Water Footprint and Water Use Efficiency campaign

The first and most important insight was that we must build in a strong awareness component in our campaign and that it should initially focus on the individual. It should be personalized, with a greater emphasis on ‘cause ambassadors’ in each community who, through word of mouth, spread awareness. Our campaign should not be mass media led.  We must coin catchy slogans. We must also identify 2 or 3 practices that most of us follow, and that are high water wasting. Our campaign must not only identify those, but also suggest alternatives that reduce / do away with this wastage.

ACTION POINT 1 – We will create / promote a communication module that will :

  • Allow people to calculate their own water footprint
  • Allow people to find out the highest water wasting activities
  • Suggest substitutes that give them similar satisfaction but with a lower footprint

IIM Networking eventThe second tip was that there is an opportunity in consulting, technology and information aspects of this sector. As regulatory pressure on companies’ increases (which is happening already) there is a need for those who can audit water flows and suggest ways to reduce the water footprints of organizations. Also, in virtual interface based information sharing, there seems to be a strong felt gap. Innovative, user friendly solutions will make it possible for decision makers to choose water saving methods over those that waste water. They will also add directly to our revenues thereby making us less donor dependent.  Also, we could develop or become an aggregator for new technologies in the sector. Basically, I saw this as a vote for ‘Facilitation’ as being a top agenda of the FORCE Institute of Water Footprints and Water Efficiency.

ACTION POINT 2A – Expedite the launch of the Training & Consultancy vertical and the Incubation Cell of FORCE. These are to be operated as revenue generating business verticals. Since they will be part of the non-profit, any profits generated by them will be used by FORCE to further the cause of Water Efficiency. In the incubation cell prioritize on information technology innovations and water treatment cost reduction

I also found the suggestion about focusing on one powerful sector very insightful. The discussion was on the textile industry, for which water scarcity and pollution are blackholes that can gobble up entire businesses. For them, a solutions based approach is a survival necessity for which they would be willing to pay. It does seem to make sense to start with the textile industry as our major partner.

ACTION POINT 2B –  For Training and Consultancy to industry, start with a clear focus on the textile sector.

Finally your suggestions pointed to a need for us to be strong advocates of a policy shift towards a more rational use of water. We need to induce policies that penalize wastage / incentivize responsible behaviors and make water efficient / low footprint products more attractive to consumers. Market forces can also play a role in this. By introducing labeling and certification of products based on their water footprint and by linking a distinct consumer advantage to using such products, we can achieve our organizational goal. I also think that the example of rice cultivation boom cause by a change in trade policy gives a great cue for our advocacy focus. We could also look at making international trade, and the conditions imposed by importers on their suppliers, as the trigger to water efficient production. In our advocacy efforts, however, we need to be mindful of government and society’s priorities. We will need to work within the boundaries set by what the government feels is the prime welfare requirement of the population. Water, however, already seems to be moving towards becoming one such priority.

ACTION POINT 3 – Position FORCE as a Water Efficiency Think tank for the government. Focus on facilitation of information that allows decision makers to select low water footprint options without adversely affecting their welfare targets.

DETAILED SUMMARY OF DISCUSSION

Discussion

The first major learning for me was that very few people were aware of the extent of the water crisis.  The water problem was being spoken about in a ‘third person’ mode – like it happens to others and not to us. There were a few exceptions, of course – those who have lived in water scarce parts of Bangalore or Delhi – and so have somewhat experienced water scarcity first hand.

There seems to be a conscious effort by companies to ‘conserve’ direct water use in offices though. Many of you spoke of initiatives taken by your companies or governments such as Bio-toilets; timed taps (Open for a specific duration), sprinkler taps, flushless urinals in public places.

To start with, awareness levels about the ‘water footprint’ were even lower. However, because awareness about ‘Carbon Footprint’ was very high, everyone quickly figured out what it meant.

Your suggestions

The one suggestion that came up loud and clear across all tables was that ‘Education and Awareness’ needs to be created. People are just not aware enough about the water crisis we are gradually getting pulled into. They are not aware of how much water they are actually consuming and how they may be contributing to that crisis by unthinking actions causing water wastage. Even more so, they are not aware about alternative products and solutions that can help them reduce their water wastage. This lack of awareness exists both at the individual and the corporate levels. Given this background, the most loudly resonating suggestion was that we must create and support campaigns that create awareness about the issue and possible solution

Jyoti Sharma President FORCESome of you, infact, detailed this out further. One suggestion was that we have to create campaigns that lead to word of mouth awareness. Mass media ads will not personalize the problem enough for people to take it seriously. Another was to coin a catchy slogan. Also that in stage one, the effort must be to create awareness about water footprints at the individual level. Then transplanting the same awareness to larger units such as companies and governments would be easier. You also stressed on combining awareness with actionable suggestions.  Educate people on how much they are consuming everyday and if there are two or three areas where too much is being consumed. Suggest alternatives.”

At a more basic level, many of you discussed the reasons why water conservation is not given the respect it deserves. A common view was that the pricing of water does not reflect its value. This makes it seen as an easy to obtain resource and not worth planning much for. Its wastage or pollution does not pinch the pocket – and so goes unstopped.  This is particularly true of companies where investment decisions are based on profitability, not on sentiment.  Some of you also spoke about the problem of measurement of water consumed. Water consumption is usually measured at a consolidated level. In housing societies, every household does not know how much water it consumes…leave alone an individual.  In companies, every process does not know how much it consumes.  This lack of measurement makes it difficult for people to benchmark and reduce their water consumption. Since water is not an expensive resource anyway, there is no incentive to households or companies to have more decentralized water consumption measurement systems that may help individuals plan their use better.  The consensus however was, as one of you quoted “Numbers are important.” Putting a number to water quantity used for a product or a household can help people become more mindful.

There was also a broad consensus that stronger policy measures are required. Many of you felt that despite water being such a scarce but important basic necessity, the level of regulation on it was very low. Most of you felt that greater regulations were required to curtail wasteful use. Also that pricing water more realistically was required.  Infact, many of you felt that restrictive policy can become the tool that can make water impact the P&L of companies and hence force them into taking action on lowering their water footprint.  Other suggestions for regulatory control were for making rainwater harvesting compulsory, penalizing water wastage. Making water recycling and reuse mandatory for large waste water generators or incentivizing it through policy direction was also discussed.

On the other hand, our alumni from the government felt that society should not look to policy to create behavioral transformation towards water conservation. They felt that individuals and corporates too have a responsibility towards creating a water efficient society that they must willingly take up. Infact, one of them very aptly said, ”As citizens we criticize the government for creating too many regulations. On the other hand we expect government to make regulations for this.”

The apparent lack of regulation and control over water used for agriculture came in for major criticism. The subsidy for electricity was also criticized for being responsible for encouraging wasteful use of water.  An overarching suggestion was that agriculture should be taxed and subsidy on electricity removed – especially for larger farmers. It was also suggested that grey water should be used for agriculture. On the technology side, people felt that organizations like Indian Agricultural Research Institute (IARI) should be given the mandate to develop new types of seeds for crop varieties that need less water. Also that a target should be set for each year for the government agricultural departments that water consumption has to be reduced by a certain percent that year. A similar discussion was also held in the context of the power sector. This is one of the major users of water and will need increasingly more water in the years ahead. It was mentioned that the ‘green’ alternatives like solar and nuclear energy actually have a higher water footprint than conventional sources. Policy makers need to be aware of that.

In this case too, alumni with a connect with policy makers had a different take on the issue. They felt that decision makers have to evaluate the priorities of the state. The green revolution is held responsible for the fast depleting water resources of Punjab but for a country with a fast growing population, food security and livelihoods of farmers is a greater priority than conserving water. Similarly, providing electricity to all is a top priority as is adhering to the Green Energy targets committed to by the Government of India in the Paris convention for climate change. In this process, if water footprints increase, then that will be seen as a necessary collateral damage. Also, they felt that the choice of type of crop is made by the farmer and policy makers cannot force the farmer to do something he does not want to do.

An interesting offshoot of this discussion was the mention of a policy decision on making rice exports easier and more lucrative as being the trigger that led to explosive growth of rice cultivation in Punjab. It was stated as an example of a decision in one department having an impact on the work of another sector.

Many technology and market solutions were also discussed. Labeling of products with their water footprint – a la Star rating for electricity – was suggested by many. They felt that this rating would enable consumers to make choices in favor of low water footprint products.  “Numbers are important. Numbers can help people become more responsible.” Another area where technology can cover a major gap is that of information sharing.  This was echoed, perhaps most strongly, by the policy makers. They felt that it was lack of easily accessible, manageable information that leads to inappropriate choices. They strongly advocated the creation of a virtual interface that allows them to get information about the technology choices and service providers for purchases they need to make.  Desalination and making water from air were two supply augmentation techniques that you felt had the potential to remove water scarcity altogether. The challenge is the current high cost of these procedures. You suggested that significant effort should be made to overcome this challenge. You also advocated design and promotion of good drip irrigation and low flow faucets.

Quotable quotes from IIMB Alumni Meet On Water Security At Delhi

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