The Impact on Home Care of Water Scarcity: Conservation and New Sources of Water

October 2018

Water scarcity is rising in strategic importance to the Consumer Appliances, Home Care and Apparel industries. This affects regions at a crisis level now, with a long-term growing impact on consumer psychology and key buying priorities. Water is an opportunity for brands to differentiate, positively impact consumers’ quality of life, and help fulfil a duty of care around a crisis. This topic affects the high-growth emerging markets now - but long term, every market will be impacted by scarcity.

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Physical scarcity versus economic scarcity

The African continent and especially the Middle East region suffer from extreme physical water scarcity across large portions of inhabited land. These regions withdraw large portions of precipitation from their ground water for human use, and the vast majority is needed for food production, placing strains on economic growth and needed infrastructures for societal progress and new technologies. India, on the other hand, has economic scarcity -it is one of the most water-affluent nations on earth with high levels of rainfall, but a lack of investment in infrastructure means enormous amounts of that water are lost, either to pollution or through leaks that remove more than 30% of the supply from the system. Physical scarcity needs a focus on new sources of water, but economic scarcity needs better water management policy and investment to solve the issue. The worst affected areas of economic scarcity show no signs of such change.

Three water psychologies

Large portions of the world live in a mindset of “abundance”, never giving consideration to water as a finite resource, taking for granted an endless and cheap supply. A water shock lies ahead for these people -scarcity will affect us all. The psychology of “crisis” hits during a water shortage and throws all assumptions and priorities in the air. Once this settles back to normality, it moves to “compromise” with water as more important.

Embedded water is a driver for global change

20% of the human water “footprint” is embedded in agricultural and textile products and exported from one country to another for currency. The global trade system is based on embedded water, but the biggest exporters are running out, and cannot sustain the drain.

There is no magic bullet solution yet

Desalination is the best technology so far, and even this falls short of solving the problem. Brands can improve quality of life for consumers in a water crisis, and have a duty to do more about water scarcity in product development and CSR programmes. 



What this Report Series is all About

How this report fits into the overall picture for water scarcity
Key findings: introduction, conservation and new sources of water
Report 1 focuses on macro aspects creating water scarcity today
A snapshot of topics in report 1: conservation and new sources
Report 2 looks at products and appliances addressing water scarcity
Snapshot of topics in report 2 : “low water products and appliances”
A water scarcity spotlight: HydroFinity’s polymer saves 80% water
A water scarcity spotlight: the Cape Town “Day Zero” case study
If you have already examined other reports in the water series…
The wettest place on earth is also one of the most water scarce
Water can be the great peace maker and equaliser
A water treaty (1996) normalised relations between India and Bangladesh
However, water is intrinsically linked to massive levels of inequality
There is a major “water wealth” disparity in types of problem felt
The UN’s development goals are heavily reliant on water equality
Water scarcity by region and the current “hot spots” for shortages
Climate change is increasing the frequency of floods and shortages
We see this in knock-on economic impacts from crises over time
UN precipitation predictions are that scarce regions will get worse
Economically created water scarcity adds to the problem
Water is breaking into the agenda for governments and business
Water scarcity crises are also driving greater public awareness
Abundant water, food and economic progress are inter-connected
Cost of water redistribution remains one of the key barriers
Water is buried inside many of the things we import and wear
Another country’s water is also hidden inside many imported foods
Crazy as it might sound, embedded water is even inside water
Major exporters of products with embedded water are running dry
Water scarcity grows in key food and cotton exporting countries
Water stress increases when embedded exporters cut back supply
UK is looking at 25% of its food supply with extreme cost increases
Water conflict and resource jealousy exists within everyday society
The role of water in economic development and standard of living
Some key statistics: water withdrawn, who is using it, to what end
Conclusions include a water withdrawal link to income and BMI
A sign of trouble is large withdrawal and farms taking 60% or more
Countries withdrawing around 7% or more self-harm on biodiversity
Our understanding of the full embedded water “cost” is improving
New underground scanning technology illuminates aquifer issues
Urbanisation creates contradictions for water scarcity
Cities have better infrastructure but also larger thirstier populations
It would be a mistake to think this will not affect us all eventually

Water Scarcity Psychologies

Water drives three psychologies in a person and community
These psychologies relate to the severity of issues from shortages
A psychology of water: abundance – example the UK
Even water-abundant markets will feel the global water scarcity
A UK example: importing avocados from a water-scarce region
A psychology of water: compromise – example the US
Water scarcity changes purchasing priorities if felt long enough
A psychology of water: crisis – example Cape Town, South Africa
Entering the mindset of a water crisis has effects beyond the crisis
Transition periods between these psychological states are valuable

Conservation of Water

Before seeking new water, we must protect what we already have
NRW (or non-revenue water) comes via leaks, theft and bad debt
The UN provides guidelines on sustainable water management
Degrees of leakage and the subsequent investment vicious circle
The status of water regulation so far
Gross margin achievement by region is from 20% to 70%
Continuous rising cost of water will drive investment and attention
Abundant water makes utilities and regulators lazy on leakages
Smart meters are a technology keystone to an anti-leak strategy
Looking at usage (and wastage) happening at the macro level

Conservation of Water: Agriculture

71% of treated water goes to farming; clearly “low hanging fruit”
The catch 22 of creating both hygienic water and safe-to-eat food
Water gets embedded in farming produce and exported
The exporting of embedded water is unsustainable in multiple ways
India is building towards break point and exemplifies the issue
This is already driving a change in where we get our protein from
Once cattle exports reduce, are insects the protein replacement?
Global food security is also threatened by rising sea levels

Conservation of Water: Industry

Industry is mainly about energy, and this is focusing on sea water
Sustainability plans are all starting to contain water reduction goals
Fmcg brands tend to be ahead, embracing water reduction targets
Water awareness campaigns come from fmcg brands and NGOs

Conservation of Water: Homes and Domestic Use

Water use at home is a focus topic for two reports in this series
Mild scarcity is regulated by social stigma around wasteful abuses
As the crisis deepens however, home use takes a very severe hit
Utility companies give generic water saving advice with low impact
In a crisis, consumers do not need generic water data, but specific
It is a hygiene issue in homes if pollution is seen as “cost effective”
Even “harsh” penalties can leave pollution as an economic choice
India’s capital Delhi is again the exemplar of “worst case scenario”

New Sources of Water

Not solving water scarcity in a region will impact everyone nearby
Finding new sources of water: technologies and experiments
Desalination is an outstanding solution to create new drinking water
Four barriers to desalination being a full solution to water scarcity
Only two of those barriers have been overcome so far
First issue: Scarcity affects inland regions, desalination does not
A “drop in the ocean” creates a much larger splash in the sea
Bore holes give good medium-term access to a new (finite) supply
We sometimes get more than we bargained for with drilled “water”
Turning to some of the less concrete solutions being explored
Weather modification and cloud seeding
Bacteria and algae that eat waste and can clean the water
Sponge cities and waste water reclamation efforts
At the other end of the realism scale sits “iceberg recovery”
There is no magic bullet, all the potential solutions have limitations

Recovery of Used Water

Grey “used” water defined: what’s in…and what’s out?
What uses are typically made of grey water in the home?
It is normal in Brazil to use laundry water on floors and the garden
60% of Japanese homes re-use bath water for laundry
There are anti-odour products for re-using bath water in laundry
Alternative water sources (grey and rainwater) for use in laundry
Home garden irrigation can be set up to use grey water on plants
There are implications to laundry grey water used in the garden
New build housing has game changer trends: Aquarevo Australia
Singapore has been a role model city for future water management

Conclusions for this Report

Water is one of three life preservation resources (plus food and air)
Europe is already affected directly by water scarcity in Africa
The US faces similar migration concerns around Mexico City
Isolationism and selfishness are self-defeating for water scarcity
Stepping back to look at actions from a wider perspective
Our current path and our current attitudes cannot remain as they are
Water scarcity is rarely an easy topic: this is life and death for many
Water also complicates many aspects of “right and wrong”
So what are we doing about it? Current macro trends
Extrapolating: so where do these macro trends take us?
We must fix this…therefore we will fix this. What other choice?
This series examines products in the psychology of “compromise”
A spotlight report in this series examines the psychology of “crisis”
A spotlight report in this series examines HydroFinity (formerly Xeros)
Water in the world today is a good news/bad news story


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