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SIWW 2016: Setting the Sustainability Scene


“We have to thinking about sustainable solutions,” Lee Kuan Yew School for Public Policy Professor Asit Biswas said as he introduced panelists at the first session at the Industrial Water Solutions Forum at Singapore International Water Week.

While the use of water is declining for the agricultural sector on a percentage basis, demand for water for industry is increasing rapidly, and water has become a business constraint, Biswas noted. For example, a mining company that invested $600 million USD in Alaska had to walk away because of a lack of water, and another miner in Peru similarly had to give up on its investment of several billion dollars due to water issues.

Panelist David Kiu, vice president at Unilever, said his company’s approach to sustainability, and to water in particular, involves looking at more than just its own facilities. While the firm has successfully reduced water usage in manufacturing  its own products, it also looks holistically at how much water consumers use when they use Unilever’s products.

“We have made less progress in that part,” he said, for "a few reasons. Eighty-five percent of the water we consider is when consumers use our products -- showering, washing, cleaning the floor. Consumer behavior change is very difficult. What has been most effective is product design.”

Instead of asking people to shower less, for example, Unilever developed a device that reduces water usage in showers by 25 percent. The company has similarly reduced water usage for fabric conditioner by one-third.

“The solution is about consumer behavior, product innovation and design that does not require consumers to make a sacrifice,” Liu said.

Kiu said that Unilever has had the most success in its supply chain with its own manufacturing footprint, reducing water usage by 37 percent, electricity more than 50 percent, and waste more than 90 percent. It has an extended supply chain of more than 120,000 suppliers, and while managing that complexity is not easy, it is working with suppliers to help them improve.

“We have to engage, help them to improve their sustainability footprint,” he said.

Heineken Director of Corporate Relations Zita Schellekens said her firm has been able to reduce the amount of water used to brew a liter of beer from 5.3 liters to 3.7, even though its 165 breweries range from some built as far back as 1923, when water was not on the top of the agenda, to some built last year.

Heineken currently has wastewater treatment plants at 91 percent of its operations, and is aiming for 100 percent. The company is also working to protect water resources in water-scarce areas, and trying to get communities involved in improving wastewater management.

The first person to explore sites for new factories is the “water person,” Schellekens said, since “when we invest we expect to be there 80 years.”

In terms of supply chain management practices, Schellekens said Heineken’s goal is to source more ingredients -- barley, hops, water, and yeast -- locally and sustainably. In some locations, for example, it has used substitutes such as maize, rice, or sorghum to produce local beers.

Heineken is also working with NGOs to make local farmers’ practices more sustainable. “We have a team on sustainable sourcing who work with bigger suppliers. For smaller farmers, we work together with NGOs,” she said.

Looking at sustainability from a regulator’s perspective, US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Deputy Assistant Administrator Joel Beauvais said the EPA is focused on two principle areas. The first is its regulatory role, designing and implementing regulations that are smarter and that consider how regulations interact across sectors.

One example is the electric power sector, where the EPA designed regulations that deliver on its principle goal of reducing toxic discharge and fostering water reuse. “One upshot is it will reduce 57 billion gallons annually. Regulations can work in harmony with one another,” he said.

The second is a broad suite of activities and partnership work, including science-based analysis, acting as a clearinghouse for technology innovation, and financing water infrastructure nationally, he said.

Singapore International Water Week (SIWW) is a biennial event that gathers stakeholders from the global water industry to share best practices, showcase the latest technologies and tap business opportunities. This year's SIWW ran from July 10-14th.