Leading organisations that have embraced innovation to protect and enhance water supplies have been recognised for their pioneering work.
Corporations including Apple, Nike and Facebook, along with utilities such as South East Water, Australia, have been named as recipients of the inaugural Lighthouse Awards, launched in December 2020 by the Brave Blue World Foundation, a non-profit dedicated to scientific and educational storytelling. The winning Lighthouse organisations, named so because they are shining a light for others to follow, have developed new ways of utilising technology, finance or partnerships to reduce their impact in water stressed regions or build resilience of their local water systems.
Their groundbreaking achievements were discovered by the Brave Blue World Foundation during the research phase of its powerful documentary, Brave Blue World, which aims to drive positive change in water.
Brave Blue World Foundation founder Paul O’Callaghan said: “Every industry has a vanguard; the pioneers we will all come to follow. In water, the work of these Lighthouses is beyond critical if we are to ensure there is enough freshwater for future generations.
“When exploring the world for fascinating water stories during the making of Brave Blue World, we met several companies that were blazing a trail of innovation, as they strived to become sustainable and circular in their operations.
“Wanting to celebrate and amplify their achievements is what led us to launch the Lighthouse Awards. In doing so, we hope to inspire others to take bold steps towards creating a sustainable water future and raise greater awareness of the fascinating work happening in the global water community.”
The winners’ selection process, carried out by adjudicators from technology market intelligence company BlueTech Research, was based on a number of criteria and split into project themes. These included blue-green infrastructure, water reuse, smart water, water catchment enhancement, regeneration, innovation in policy, innovation in communications and innovation in partnerships.
The recipients of the Lighthouse Awards 2020 are:
Nike - Through partnership and engagement, sportswear multinational Nike has encouraged its suppliers to explore ways of reducing water used in their manufacturing processes. This has enabled knitted textile supplier, Vertical Knits, to introduce innovative water recycling and manufacturing process improvements at its site in Yucatan, Mexico, reducing freshwater use by 85% per kilogram of fabric. It has also achieved a 50% reduction in energy savings. The project will significantly reduce Nike’s overall water footprint, as well as the ease the impact on supplies at a local level.
Salesforce - Salesforce, the global leader in CRM (customer relationship management), collaborated with the City of San Francisco and Boston Properties to implement a blackwater system in Salesforce Tower San Francisco, the company's worldwide headquarters, making it one of the first partnerships in the United States between a city government, a building owner and a tenant to support blackwater reuse in a commercial high-rise building. In Salesforce Tower, wastewater will be collected and treated onsite and works in tandem with the building’s rain catchment system. Once treated, the recycled water will recirculate through a separate pipe system to serve non-drinkable uses in the building for all tenants, like drip irrigation, toilet flushing and cooling towers. The system will be the largest onsite water recycling system in a commercial high-rise building in the United States, saving more than seven million gallons (approximately 26,500 m3) of fresh water a year. If these techniques become standard in urban areas, the impact on water resources will be significant, particularly in water-scarce and growing areas such as Miami and Las Vegas.
Facebook - Prompted by relentless drought in the region, the Menlo Park, California headquarters of social media giant Facebook developed an onsite blackwater recycling system. The Menlo Park system recycles approximately 17 million gallons (approximately 64,000m3) of water annually between two buildings, setting the standard for commercial building recycling across the region. This is the first and largest district-scale blackwater recycling system in a commercial building in California.
Apple - When examining how best to meet the water needs for its data centre in Prineville, Oregon, technology leader Apple realised that one of the drivers of water stress in the basin was seasonal availability. Both the City and Apple faced a challenge in meeting their peak summer water needs, when the largely agricultural region also faces high demand. Apple partnered with the City of Prineville to explore the feasibility of an aquifer storage and recovery project, which would withdraw small amounts of groundwater evenly thoughout the year and store it for use during the summer peak, or even across years in the case of drought. Apple funded the US$8.7M project, which will store 180 million gallons (approximately 681,375m3) annually for the City, and which, through the Deschutes Basin groundwater mitigation program, also returns an equal amount of water to the Crooked River to maintain instream flows. This approach demonstrates the value of taking time to understand the specific context of each basin, and devise solutions through partnership with other stakeholders that can address the drivers of water stress and the needs of all users.
Heineken - Heineken Spain launched a project with landscape restoration expert Commonland and the Andalusian government, to restore four degraded lagoons in the wetlands of Doñana, near Seville, by improving soil structure, water filtration and replanting trees. The brewing company’s aim was to compensate and return 420,000m3 of water each year to Doñana. Research reveals the project balanced more than one million m3 of water per year, doubling the initial target and creating a successful template for restoration globally.
San Francisco Public Utilities Commission - The San Francisco Public Utilities Commission’s pioneering approach to water reuse is working on both a state and national level in the United States, helping to establish guidance and policy frameworks. Its achievements include leading San Francisco to becoming first city in the US to mandate newly built buildings, of over 250,000 ft² (approximately 23,225m²), to install onsite water reclamation systems.
South East Water, Australia - South East Water, Australia Aquarevo is a unique collaboration between Australian utility South East Water and developer Villawood Properties. They have created a residential development, south east of Melbourne, where homes feature an unprecedented range of water-saving features, such as a system that captures rainwater for use in baths and showers, as well as in-home water reuse technologies to ensure efficiency standards and monitoring. The development is on track to become Australia’s most water efficient urban housing development.
The Glenmorangie Distillery - The Glenmorangie whiskey distillery, in the far north of Scotland, overlooks the protected Dornoch Firth. In a unique research and action partnership, Glenmorangie has collaborated with the Marine Conservation Society and Heriot-Watt University, Edinburgh, on a project to preserve the current diversity of marine life and reintroduce the rare European flat oyster. The project led to the return of 20,000 oysters and Glenmorangie is now helping conservationists restore oyster populations in at least 15 European countries.
Intel - Intel has invested in multiple watershed projects through collaboration with The Nature Conservancy to fund a portfolio of projects that solve local water challenges. Their goal for 2030 is to achieve net positive water use by conserving 60 billion gallons (227 million m3) of water and funding external water restoration projects. In Bangalore, India Intel partnered with Clean International who is working with a local NGO. Bangalore was famous for its lakes which have been degraded by pollution. Together, they are rebuilding the natural infrastructure of the lake, that was there at one point to promote groundwater recharge. At Lake Nanjapura, they are excavating sediment, taking the sediment that they recover and building a walking path around the lake, planting trees to shade the water to create a natural storage bowl for water, thus making sure that no drop of water is wasted in this dry region and every drop of rainwater is stored for future use.
Xylem and Manchester City Football Club - Water technology provider Xylem and Manchester City Football Club launched a partnership to “challenge water complacency among one billion people globally by engaging football fans and the general population”. Over the past two years, the partnership has exceeded all expectations by a gaining total reach of more than 770 million engagements across all platforms, including through an awareness-raising film and a unique Football & WASH (water, sanitation and hygiene) Education Framework. This partnership is educating the general public on water and encouraging water awareness and stewardship globally.
More details on the Lighthouse Awards 2020 are available at https://www.braveblue.world/lighthouseawards
I’ve been a fan of this water innovation networking group for many a year and the virtual version still provides an opportunity to catch up with old friends, make some new ones, and find out about the very latest technologies.
On this occasion I also had the excuse to escape the world of science and engineering and explore beliefs and thought systems that emerged centuries ago. I was very interested to hear from Zay Abdallah at Arup that Yemaya is not only of West African heritage, but was taken to Cuba and the Caribbean via the slave trade as early as the sixteenth century and now exists in religions throughout the West African diaspora.
Yemaya is the deity or orisha of the Ogun, the largest river in the territory of ancient Yoruba. In the New World, Yemaya is the orisha of the upper ocean and one account posits that for Africans with Ifa beliefs crossing the high seas during brutal forced transportations, Yemaya evolved and the ocean became her symbol.
Olukun is another orisha and he resides in the dark depths of the ocean, beneath Yemaya. And while Yemaya represents all life on earth and is associated with fertility and creation, Olukun is respected for his ominous power, because he knows no bounds.
Properly united and respected, these two orisha offer love, protection and unlimited energy. However, there is great danger in separating the characteristics of Yemaya-Olukun and the orishas will rise up in anger and drown humans or manifest in the form of a devastating tidal wave.
How well this spiritual allegory relates to the hard realities of work in water and the environment. Water looks after us if we treat her with respect and harm is wreaked if she is poorly managed.
It also speaks directly to the challenges we face in the coming years with climate change and water scarcity - hundreds of years after the Yemaya myths emerged and countless scientific learnings later. All of this got me thinking more about water stories, how we tell them and how they travel.
We in the water industry have some brilliant and important stories to tell and here at WiseOnWater we have the wonderful job of helping people do just that. As I’ve already written, I had the privilege of working with Paul O’Callaghan’s team at BlueTech Research on promotion of the Brave Blue World documentary.
The filming took place across five continents and the movie is now available in 29 languages to Netflix’s global audience of nearly 200 million. Transformations in travel and communications meant it went from an idea to full global reach in a flash when compared with the slowly evolving journey of Yemaya.
It is important to note, though, the eternal lesson of both stories – to treasure and respect our shared watery environment.
Of course we’ll keep on writing and sharing the water stories our clients bring to us - in the form of the latest thought leadership, innovations and projects. I also encourage everyone to reflect on their own work – which tales do you have that might last over centuries and reach across continents?
And what’s your own water origin story – how did you get interested in this field and find yourself sitting here today? Do post your thoughts – we’d love to hear.
Large parts of the UK water and wastewater supplier community have seen a fall in business turnover during the Covid-19 pandemic, according to findings of a British Water impact survey, published on Wednesday 25 November.
While the decrease had been slight for 41% of supply chain respondents, for nearly 30% it had been significant, with a third of businesses furloughing “many” employees. Looking ahead, 32% of companies expected turnover to decrease over the next six to 12 months, although 35% expected it to stay the same.
British Water undertook the survey in October 2020 to assess the impact Covid-19 had had on individual companies to date, and their future expectations and concerns. As lead representative body for the UK water industry supply chain, it reached out to members and non-members to establish a complete picture of how companies across all levels had been affected.
Other insights included:
The event, which took place on 12 November 2020 and was hosted by Isle chairman Piers Clark, featured technologies from Europe and North America which facilitate recovery of cellulose from toilet paper, phosphorous removal and energy storage. They were used to demonstrate how resource reuse brings combined environmental, regulatory and financial benefits.
Technology 1: Cellulose recovery
Coos Wessels, technical director of CirTec, explained how the Netherlands is quite literally paving the way in creating infrastructure from recycled toilet paper. The recycled toilet paper pellets have already been used successfully as road-building material in the province of Friesland, to reinforce a dyke and pave the parking lot of a children’s petting zoo.
Dealing with sludge is expensive for water companies and those costs could be reduced by initiatives like the Cellvation project, which extracts cellulose from wastewater. The recovered cellulose fibres are sterilised, dried and made into pelleted products known as Recell – which can be used in industries such as construction, pulp and paper, coatings and sustainable chemicals.
Technology 2: Phosphorous removal
“If you ask a water manager or regulator about phosphorous, they will describe it as pollution and as a result spend a significant amount of money every year preventing its discharge into water,” said Matt Kuzma, the vice president Ostara, a nutrient recovery solutions company based in Vancouver, Canada.
The company has created a sustainable closed-loop solution for phosphorus management using Pearl, a process technology which recovers valuable nutrients from wastewater, transforming them into high-performing, slow-release fertilisers that increase yields and reduce pollution runoff.
Technology 3: Biogas enrichment
Based in the US and Germany, Electrochaea has a solution for one of the most pressing challenges facing energy systems - the integration of fluctuating renewables into the electricity grid. The company’s proprietary BioCat power-to-gas energy storage concept converts renewable electrical energy into chemical energy, in form of methane. By converting water into hydrogen and oxygen through electrolysis they can enrich raw biogas.
The company’s managing director Dr Doris Hafenbradl said, “What’s unique is our biocatalyst is a patented strain which is optimised to generate a lot more methane and do it more efficiently.”
In addition, the oxygen generated during the first electrolysis step can be used to enhance the secondary wastewater treatment stage and the bio-methanation process is exothermic, meaning that it generates heat – which can be used to heat the sludge before digestion.
What goes around
Water management is fundamentally a circular business. Every drop is endlessly used and reused, and this circularity is already evident in the sector in initiatives such a recycling wastewater for reuse and capturing biosolids for agriculture.
During the webinar, Rich Walwyn, head of asset intelligence and innovation at Severn Trent, made an impassioned call to other utilities to collaborate on further circular economy opportunities.
“We believe it is an essential ingredient in meeting the supply and demand challenges that we’re going to face over the next 20 to 30 years and maximising value for our customers through the recovery of some of the by-products of our processes,” he told attendees. “Forming effective collaborative partnerships is key to maximising the opportunities that a transition to a circular economy brings.
“We’re really keen to explore opportunities to work with like-minded organisations on identifying cross-sector solutions and accelerating our plans,” he said.
With the UK water sector launching a world-first Net Zero Routemap in November, there is clearly a drive for utilities to play a key role in protecting and enhancing the environment. The newly published Routemap sets out a broad range of opportunities, initiatives and projects that will help the sector cut millions of tonnes of carbon emissions by 2030 – many of which focus on resource reuse, including: