Transforming the Future of Water

Josh Henretig, Senior Director of Sustainability Solutions & Partnerships for Microsoft

Water is one of the most important resources in the world. For most of us in developed nations, it’s easy to take for granted – we turn on the tap and clean water comes out. But this is far from a universal reality. 780 million people around the world lack access to this basic necessity. And by 2030, the demand for clean freshwater will outpace the available supply by almost 40 percent – leaving about half the world facing water shortages on a daily basis.

Thankfully, there is still time to chart a new course. And if we pair human ingenuity and commitment with new technologies – the cloud, IoT and machine learning – that will empower organizations to understand and address the water-related risks they face. This week, in the desert climes of Phoenix at this year’s GreenBiz conference, I had the opportunity to share these stories and opportunities with other companies. Here’s a bit more about what Microsoft is doing in this important space.

Addressing Industrial Consumption

Turning off the faucet while you brush and taking shorter showers helps. But making progress on industry’s water consumption has much greater potential to effect change. Industry is the second-largest freshwater consumer, and virtually everything you touch, wear, drive or eat takes a great deal of water to produce. The cheeseburger you had for lunch? That took 450 gallons of water. The shirt you wore today? That’s another 700 gallons of water. And the car you drove to get that burger required 39,000 gallons of water to produce.

Big data is increasingly playing a role in helping us manage water resources and enabling solutions that lead to better water stewardship. Businesses are shifting to cloud and IoT-based solutions for water metering, infrastructure monitoring and management of other water-related issues. That’s why we led a workshop session with Ecolab, a leading industrial water solutions provider, at Greenbiz this week entitled, “Getting to Unlimited Water.” We highlighted some of the work we are doing with companies like Ecolab to develop end-to-end water management solutions that help organizations improve water use and preserve natural resources. These cloud and advanced analytics tools will not only provide real-time sensing and control of water-intensive processes, but also will help companies further reduce water, energy and labor costs.

Driving Corporate Change

Technology is just part of the solution, though – it needs to be used and adopted widely to drive change. That’s why we also focused part of the workshop on how to build a business case for action on water. A compelling business case requires data to understand and explain the value of water, as well as their relative risks as water becomes more scarce. Armed with these insights, professionals can better inform decision making, develop locally relevant plans and drive investment in water saving measures. On World Water Day, March 22, Microsoft and Ecolab will be launching a new and improved Water Risk Monetizer Tool that will help provide precisely this kind of information to decision-makers. We’re excited about the promise of this tool, and look forward to sharing more soon.

As we work with others on water issues, Microsoft also recognizes the need and value of managing our own water use in a more holistic way. Within our own operations, we are focused on increasing our understanding of water-related risks and impacts to our business and to the communities we serve, improving our water efficiency across data centers, real estate and manufacturing locations, and leveraging our learnings to advance innovative solutions to water challenges.

In the coming months, I’ll share more details about the solutions, tools and commitments Microsoft is making to not only improving Microsoft’s water stewardship, but also to help accelerate the world’s understanding and management of critical water-related resources through technology.

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