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What is the role of industry in water stewardship?

What is the role of industry in water stewardship?
July 3, 2018 Mary Ellen Geist
Photo by Mary Ellen Geist

Water Leaders Summit 2018 | Milwaukee, Wisconsin

The sign at the entrance to the Water Leaders Summit 2018 at the Harley Davidson Museum in Milwaukee says, “Welcome to Milwaukee: A Place Where Water Works.”

Wisconsin’s Lieutenant Governor Rebecca Kleefisch underscored the way water has worked for her region in her welcoming remarks, by saying, “Milwaukee has become a hotbed of freshwater technology.”

But is industry giving back what it’s getting from bodies of water like the Great Lakes?

Photo by Shealah Craighead via whitehouse.gov

President Trump welcomes Foxconn to the White House, Photo by Shealah Craighead via whitehouse.gov

That’s the question this two-day summit is addressing. And in what’s being termed by some “a strange coincidence,” as corporate heads, water industry experts and environmentalists gathered to talk about the role business plays in water stewardship, President Trump began to wing his way to Milwaukee aboard Air Force One to participate in the groundbreaking for Foxconn, which has recently been granted the right to withdraw six million gallons of day from Lake Michigan to help the company manufacture LCD screens used in cellphone, televisions and cars. Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker gave FoxConn 3 billion dollars in incentives to build the 10-billion dollar factory in Mount Pleasant, which FoxConn’s executives say will someday create more than 13,000 jobs.

Wisconsin U.S. Senator Tammy Baldwin recorded a video message to conference members, in which she stated Milwaukee is a world center for water research. She said, “Communities in every state including Wisconsin are facing serious challenges in protecting their water supplies to keep families and children safe, and to protect the safety of our drinking water and improve our water infrastructure.”

Photo by wef.org

Eileen O’Neill, Executive Director of the Water Environment Federation, Photo by wef.org

At the Summit’s Waterside Chat along the riverfront in Milwaukee, the Water Council’s President and CEO Dean Amhaus and Executive Director of the Water Environment Federation Eileen O’Neill talked about how their organizations support water innovation and community impact. O’Neill said, “There are huge challenges and huge opportunities to manage and treat water.” She said, “It’s vital to accelerate development of innovative water technologies for industry and municipalities.”

The latest stats on the nation’s water use (from 2016) are reason to believe the U.S. is improving the way it uses water: the nation is using 332 billion gallons a water a day. The last time the amount was that small was in 1965.

But as experts here explained, that number doesn’t reflect the way we use the water, and what we do with it once we’ve used it.

 Photo by Mary Ellen Geist

UW-Milwaukee School of Freshwater Sciences, Photo by Mary Ellen Geist

The Summit featured fascinating emerging innovations which included a cheesemaker who tapped NASA technology to help save water and create a new niche market; a water park manager who used advanced technology to trigger constant water conservation; and a data analyst who used her skills in the cellphone industry to save a city from high water rates and create a new way to approach municipal water use.

Matt Howard, Vice President for Water Stewardship North America, moderated a panel on the responsibility of the food and beverage industry in water use. He said, “By 2030, 40 percent of the population is projected to face an absolute water shortfall. We are going to need to double  our irrigation by 2050 to really meet our food needs.”

Howard said, “If you look in North America at our most productive agricultural basins and regions, they’re stressed.” He said, “Up here in the Great Lakes, yeah, we’ve got 20 percent of the world’s freshwater reserves but we face any number of quality related issues in the Great Lakes – in fact, Lake Erie, every year, forms toxic harmful algal blooms from agricultural and storm run-offs. So, we’re growing food, but all the regions where we’re growing food are facing stress.”

Alexis Morgan who leads the World Wildlife Funds global efforts on water stewardship said,

Photo by bluetechforum.com

Alexis Morgan, Lead, Water Stewardship, WWF International, Photo by bluetechforum.com

“Once you go into a water foot-printing exercise, you very quickly realize that the vast majority of water use is coming from your supply chain, when you come to a food and beverage company.” He said there’s a genuine desire to address water stewardship in corporations across the U.S.

General Mills Applied Sustainability Manager Jeff Hanratty says the company has been out ahead in developing its own waste water plants and looking at ways to reuse water since 2005. He says the company is encouraging collaborations among suppliers to cut back on water use and make better use of all natural resources. He says the bottom line: water stewardship and sustainability saves money.

Vice President of Corporate Responsibility and Chief Sustainability Officer for the Campbell Soup Company Dave Stangis said Campbell’s has been working to reduce water use since 2008.  He said awareness and development of water stewardship goes hand in hand with the desire to use “real food.” He said both are a win with customers.

Stangis said Campbell’s has also developed a human right policy involving water. He said, “We use water. We need to take care of it. “

Featured Image: Harley Davidson Museum, Milwaukee, WI, Photo by Mary Ellen Geist

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