Bridging the gap between water and economics

Published September 20th, 2012

Cg head

Insight from Christopher Gasson, GWI publisher

I was in Washington on Tuesday for the Growing Blue meeting, which was surprisingly successful. The idea behind Growing Blue is to make the link between water and economics. It is the brainchild of Laurent Auguste, CEO of Veolia Water North America. It is now supported by a number of organisations and companies including Xylem, IBM, and the Nature Conservancy.

Auguste wanted to encourage decision-makers in the water sector and the public in general to make the link between water and economic growth. So far, most of the effort has gone into a website (www.growingblue.com), which has a stack of data and related tools, as well as a blog.

This week’s event in Washington aimed to answer the question: “Just how important is the nexus between water and the economy?” What was most inspiring about it was not so much that the event nailed the connection between water and the economy, but that the organisation is bringing together an interesting coalition of people who care about the environment with those who care about the economics of water.

Previously, the assumption has prevailed that environmentalism and economics were opposed to each other, for the simple reason that economics represents big business, and big business doesn’t care for the environment. What is changing is that big business is becoming more friendly towards the environment, and environmentalists are beginning to realise that unless they engage with the economics of environmental protection, their cause is lost. Growing Blue is engaging both of these groups to make the point to policy-makers at the municipal level that good water stewardship is good for business, and good for the environment, so why don’t they make a bigger commitment to improving the way their cities manage water issues? Alexandra Cousteau, the grand-daughter of the famous marine biologist and film-maker, attended the meeting, and voiced her support for the Growing Blue idea, as did representatives of the World Business Council for Sustainable Development and the UN Global Compact’s CEO Water Mandate.

It is an important new direction for the American water dialogue, which has historically revolved around the ever growing amount of money required to fix America’s water infrastructure, and the ever diminishing amount of federal money available for that purpose. The industry needs someone to make a fresh case for engaging with the water sector, and this coalition of environmentalists and businesses could be the group which makes mayors ask themselves why they have allowed their water management to slip so badly.

GWI is supporting Growing Blue, and will host a “Growing Blue” award at its American Water Summit in Chicago on 14 November. The idea is to honour the individual or organisation which has done the most to engage the public in understanding the economics and value of water. We want to see who is most successful at getting this message out, so we can learn what works best. I would appreciate any nominations by the beginning of next week (please send them to cg@globalwaterintel.com).

There were five fantastic presentations at the Washington event. They should be available to view at www.growingblue.com shortly.