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Every drop counts: how the cloud is helping to conserve the world’s freshwater supply

Knowing that 71 percent of the Earth’s surface is covered in water, it’s surreal to think that we’ll ever struggle to have enough – but this is sadly the case.

It’s easy to forget that almost everything we use on a daily basis – from food, clothes, transportation and housing – all require water to produce. The coffee you might be drinking as you read this required 55 gallons of water to reach your mug, while the shirt you’re wearing took another 700 gallons. Your car, however, surpassed them both, taking 39,090 gallons to build.

Only 2.5 percent of the Earth’s total water supply is made up of freshwater – namely, water originating from glaciers, ice caps, groundwater, lakes, rivers, ice and snow. This is the water we use in our daily lives, manufacturing, and industry, and we are in danger of running out.

The demand for water has skyrocketed thanks to growing populations, urbanisation and changing diets, along with higher demands from energy and industrialisation, and the effects are showing. A multi-year drought in India, for example, has already affected more than 300 million people.

The amount of water required for manufacturing is expected to rise 400% through 2050, and by 2030, demand for water will outpace supply by almost 40 percent. This lack of freshwater will put a considerable amount of stress on two-thirds of the world’s population.

A recently released World Water Development Report 2019 by the United Nations states that over two billion people live in countries experiencing high water stress, with recent estimates showing that 31 countries experience water stress between 25% (which is defined as the minimum threshold of water stress) and 70%. Another 22 countries are above 70% and are therefore under serious water stress.

Growing water stress indicates substantial use of water resources, with greater impacts on resource sustainability, and a rising potential for conflicts among users. Estimates also show that around four billion people, representing nearly two-thirds of the world population, experience severe water scarcity during at least one month of the year.

While these stats and predictions are sobering, there is some good news. There is hope. This can be fixed. In the words of Arjan Boogaards, Senior Vice President, Middle East & Africa region, for Ecolab Inc:

“All the water in the world is there, we just need to use it more efficiently.”

Ecolab, a leading global provider of water, hygiene and energy technology solutions, strives to help address the threat of this water shortage, as businesses begin to realise that better solutions are needed to minimise water consumption – not only to increase their efficiency and reduce costs, but to help reduce the environmental and social impact of water wastage too.

One facet of Ecolab’s role is to educate companies about smart manufacturing processes which can reduce costs as well as the environmental impact of production. This can include reusing relatively clean waste in cooling towers, or sending it on to a neighbouring manufacturing site for other uses, for example.

The company also has a partnership with Microsoft, and is making use of powerful tools including the Azure cloud platform, Power BI and Dynamics 365 to store huge amounts of data gathered from more than 30,000 sensors around the world, before analysis and actions can be taken in accordance with the results.

This data collected from thousands of facilities around the world feed into local monitoring equipment, before being transferred to a secure cloud storage platform built on Microsoft Azure and Azure IoT Suite, in real-time.

The usefulness of this data is demonstrated in Ecolab’s Water Risk Monetizer tool, created in collaboration with the analytical power of the Microsoft cloud and Trucost’s pricing models. Powered by Microsoft Azure, it’s the first free publicly available water risk analysis and financial modelling tool which can translate water scarcity risks into easily understandable financial terms, allowing businesses to factor current and future water risks into their decisions.

Businesses that make use of the tool can quickly and easily populate a simple questionnaire with their data, before being presented with a free water risk report. The tool can be used to predict trends and prevent future problems related to water availability and quality before they appear – reducing not only potential business risks, but environmental impact too.

Microsoft itself has worked with Nalco Water, an Ecolab company, to develop its own strategy to use recycled water and Nalco Water technology to save more than $140,000 in water costs per year, along with 58.3 million gallons of water, at its datacentre near San Antonio, Texas.

“Water is the lifeblood of manufacturing. Diminishing availability of water and declining water quality around the world is increasingly a constraint to growth for manufacturers,” says Emilio Tenuta, vice president of Corporate Sustainability, Ecolab.

“Because water is underpriced in most regions of the world, it’s often challenging for companies to make the business case for investment in water conservation and reuse projects. The Water Risk Monetizer provides a way for companies to incorporate water risks into their decision making to support smarter, more efficient manufacturing practices.”