Igniting the potential for industrial change

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With industrial water featuring as a forum theme at the IWA World Water Congress & Exhibition, Erika Yarrow-Soden talks to Søren Hvilshøj about the impact industry can make to improve sustainability across the supply chain.


Agriculture accounts for the vast majority of global water consumption, representing 70% of demand. However, industry accounts for nearly 20% of global freshwater use, with industry in advanced economies requiring 45% of all water demand. The relationship between the food and beverage industry and agriculture has huge potential to improve water quality and quantity, with large manufacturers having the influence to drive improvements in water stewardship across the supply chain.

This underlines the value of dialogue between industry and the water sector, to secure improvement in water stewardship and, ultimately, help address the sustainable development goal of providing clean water for all. It is for this reason that this year’s IWA World Water Congress & Exhibition is hosting a dedicated forum for water in industries.

Søren Hvilshøj is global division director, water resources, at Ramboll Water. He explains: “Large industries often don’t see themselves as part of the water community. So, for Copenhagen, I wanted to get the industrial water users involved. When you see the water consumption of industry, it’s a major share in the water resource. If you want to solve water challenges, you need to get industry involved and get them to set water higher on their agenda.

“I am a member of the Danish Academy of Technical Science (ATV). It’s a mix of industry leaders and professors. I’m in the Sustainability Task Force. They have access to industry at high level and have contact with major thought leaders in the industry. We thought we could work together and combine efforts from the ATV and the Sustainability Task Force to encourage more sustainable use of water in industry.

“If you want to attract a group, then they need to feel like a group when they join. I’ve been talking a lot to the Danish host committee about how we can help with this.

“When you come to industries, they are interested in sustainability issues and stakeholder engagement. The same person will deal with the carbon dioxide footprint, the water footprint and stakeholder engagement. So, for them, it is more about corporate social responsibility. We want to challenge the industries and thought leaders, and have a great dialogue.”

The forum will therefore focus on water stewardship as a theme, with the aim of incentivising sustainability and demonstrating the tools for achieving this.

Industrial impacts and the need for change

“There are two big impacts, one is water use and the other is discharge,” says Hvilshoj. “Pharmaceuticals, for example, can cause a serious problem for the environment, public health and water resources. This is something that we need to take seriously.

“In industrial parts of the world, we have a lot of regulation that governs this, but we also see production in other parts of the world – Africa and elsewhere – that don’t have this. There is a water stewardship responsibility and water should be treated to the same quality, whether you are in Denmark or Ghana.

“I have worked around the world and seen, especially with local industries, examples that are horrifying – textile companies that are discharging wastewater without adequate treatment. I’ve visited water scarce areas of the world where you see food production pump out enormous amounts of water for irrigation and, close by, there are wells in small villages that are totally dried up, meaning people have to travel large distances to get water.

“Industries have a responsibility to take the challenges we see in water seriously. There are very few countries that have enough water. Even in Denmark, where we have enough water, there are still pressures on water quality from pesticides. We need to care about water in terms of the source and in how we treat water. It is not just agriculture; the food and beverage industries take a lot of water.”

This is reflected in the forum plans. “We have invited companies like Arla, a dairy company owned by farmers, and Nestle´  and Carlsberg to the event. If you can convince a company like Nestle´ to go into the supply chain and ensure that the whole water cycle is handled in the right way, you have the potential for dramatic improvements.”

Supply chain opportunities

“I’ve worked with shrimp farmers in Vietnam when a producer wanted us to address water stewardship. We had to train the farmers not to use excess amounts of food to feed the shrimps as this was ending up in the delta. We talked to the farmers about the economic benefits of spending money on measurement tools to make sure that excess food isn’t polluting water downstream. We also worked to control the use of pesticides – enough so the food is good to eat, but not so much as to have excess pesticides polluting water further downstream. These farmers wouldn’t have done this themselves, but if you go in as a stewardship company, you can help them to make these changes.

“We have a lot of tools to resolve water problems. It may cost money to install a water treatment plant, but in whatever scenario a factory is operating water can be treated, recycled and reused. We need to collect rainwater and use it as a secondary source of water whenever that is possible.

“Big companies if they take sustainability seriously can change activities throughout the supply chain by offering incentives and support. If they tell their supply chain that it will be audited, then change will happen.” •


Forum for Industrial Water Users

The Forum for Industrial Water Users, taking place during the IWA World Water Congress & Exhibition, was formed to exchange ideas and approaches for industries to mitigate and overcome water-related challenges in a sustainable manner. Core topics will be:

●      Perspectives on water stewardship

●      Incentivising sustainability: From SDGs to regulation

●      Sustainable tools and applications, including water efficiency and water reuse

Søren Hvilshøj would like to acknowledge the support of: ATV (Danish Academy of Technical Science, www.atv.dk); DI Water (Confederation of Danish Industry – Water branch, www.di.dk); Cheryl Davis, IWA Best Practices on Workforce Sustainability Specialist Group; Eric Rosenblum, CEO at Envirospectives; and Søren Nøhr Bak, Niras, in helping to deliver the Forum’s objectives.

See: https://worldwatercongress.org/forums/#Industrial-Water-Users-Forum