A water-abundant vision of 2017

ShutterstockTzido Sun

I believe we are at an inflection point regarding how the public and private sectors view water as a resource. This is not to say that there is a groundswell of private sector commitment to invest in mitigating water risks, or that the public sector has completely addressed policy and governance issues related to the long-term management of water resources. Instead, there is a noticeable shift in thinking about water as a resource. It's a move from an entirely risk mindset to one of growth and innovation.  

We have heard many times that we are on a water scarcity trajectory. This trajectory, a 40 percent shortfall between supply and demand, assumes business as usual. Instead, we are witnessing "business as unusual," which is deflecting this scarcity trajectory through innovation in technology, partnerships, business models and financing.

There are a few examples of how this shift in thinking is taking hold. I spent a significant part of 2016 working with an exceptional team from Clorox and Brita, independent consultants and a Deloitte 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 in 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. The exponential technologies we used for our prize concept were material science (such as nanotechnology) and data (such as inexpensive sensors, Big Data and artificial intelligence). Our prize concept targeted decentralized water treatment and real-time water quality and quantity monitoring, essentially democratizing access to safe drinking water and data. 

Our vision was to exploit exponential thinking and technologies to achieve a breakthrough in access to safe drinking water. 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 moved from scarcity thinking to abundance thinking.

XPRIZE is not alone in innovation and a move towards abundance. For example, this year, ImagineH2O launched a water policy prize challenge. Imagine innovation in public policy! There was also innovation in financing as highlighted in a report by Encourage Capital, which focuses on nine investment blueprint areas.

We are also seeing innovation in business models by leveraging lessons learned from the solar industry; essentially, the move from selling products to selling water treatment as a service. Finally, to illustrate the shift in thinking, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce released a report titled "From Scarcity to Abundance: Business Solutions for a Water Constrained World." The report was unveiled at the Chamber’s BusinessH2O conference that highlighted innovative Israeli water technology companies and companies with leading water stewardship strategies.

There are signs that the private and public sectors are reframing water as more than a scarcity and risk issue through innovation in public policy, technology, financing and business models. Water can "fuel" economic development, business growth, social well-being and ecosystem health. This is a sign of good things to come. While water can be a material risk, it is not always viewed as a priority when compared to other business or public sector issues. However, is much easier to engage the private and public sector on water issues if they are framed as a growth strategy.