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Executives Lunch

Clancy Calkins/MEDILL

The Executives' Club of Chicago met Thursday to award individuals for outstanding performance in business leadership.

Water-scarcity solutions require new thinking, new technologies, expert says.

by K. Clancy Calkins
May 16, 2013

Doug Baker

Clancy Calkins/MEDILL

Doug Baker, CEO of Ecolab emphasizes the responsibility of global stewardship by conserving natural resources.

A CEO of a water management company said Thursday that residential water use is just a “drop in the bucket” in global water consumption and that industry is the leading user of freshwater worldwide. He added that companies that waste water need to develop a water stewardship program to reduce the amount of water they use and to reverse the global water crisis.

“The frog does not drink up the pond in which he lives,” said Doug Baker, CEO of Ecolab, citing an American Indian adage that represents the foolishness of wasting a vital natural resource.

Ecolab contracts with industrial, agricultural and food-service businesses to conserve and maintain good water quality. Baker has made it the company’s goal to prioritize responsible water use and passes that responsibility on to the companies he contracts with such as Coca-Cola and McDonald’s, which traditionally use thousands of gallons daily in making their products.

According to Baker, there is a huge increase in demand in freshwater worldwide and the supply is diminishing quickly. He said freshwater demand is increasing twice as fast as population growth.

“There is no new water. All we have is here,” said Baker, who spoke to nearly 400 people at the Executives' Club of Chicago’s annual awards luncheon. “Unfortunately we suck it up faster than the earth is ready to give it up.”

He said it’s not entirely up to local residents to reverse the water crisis. Instead, he said it is up to industry water consumers that put a dent into the water supply by over-pumping freshwater used in the production process.

“We worry a lot about low-flow showers, low-flow toilets, and that’s not bad,” Baker said. “But the most water used is used by industry.”

According to the United Nations, nearly 1.8 billion people will be living in regions with water scarcity by 2025, and nearly two-thirds of the world’s populations will live in a water-stressed area.

“That’s around the corner,” Baker said. “For the business people here that’s a 10-year plan that you’d have to start working on this year or next.”

Baker said that easiest way to reduce the amount of water used in industry is to track where it is going.

“If we use the same principles to track water as we do any other commodity — you can reduce the amount of water you use.”

Another idea, Baker said, was to develop alternative technologies to use in place of water-use. He cited the Coca-Cola Company as a company that is working on ways to replace water in the production process.

According to Coca-Cola website, the company has a goal of becoming “water neutral” by 2020 by doing things such as recycling water and using Ecolab’s DryExx technology that uses a waterless lubricant to clean bottles. According to Ecolab’s website, the technology can reduce water use to up to 97 percent.

But while some companies seem to be catching on to the importance and ethical responsibility, some need to get on board, said Sanjib Sahoo, chief technology officer for the technology company tradeMONSTER.

While he doesn’t focus exclusively on water-related technologies, Sahoo said his work-related travels take him to parts of the world that are obviously water-stressed.

“Water use technology is increasing but I think the world still needs to become aware of how bad the problem is,” said Sahoo, who was presented with an award at the luncheon for outstanding leadership in technology.

He said it is ironic that educated people actually aren’t educated on the severity of the global water crisis.

“They take water for granted,” Sahoo said. “Maybe all companies need a corporate policy against wasting water.”