Using less water to save energy: Exploring the water-climate nexus

7 September 2021, blog post on 50L Home session at SIWI World Water Week 2021


Our Coalition’s participation in this year’s World Water Week explored the strong links between water security and climate change. Inspired by our ambition to achieve a daily 50 litres per person net zero living that feels like 500 litres, the session highlighted possibilities of net-zero living through appropriate water and energy conservation measures in our cities.  

Building on WBCSD’s recent publication ‘Net-zero buildings: Where do we stand?’, speakers highlighted the importance of developing innovations that simultaneously respond to both water stress in cities and energy efficiency. To help cities deliver on their climate objectives there is an urgent need to demonstrate how this future looks like through co-development of innovative ideas, pilots, learnings, and scaling up. Further, the speaker’s perspectives also contributed with practical considerations to make the net-zero living vision a reality for all. 

Anusha Shah, Senior Director for Resilient Cities at Arcadis, suggested: “We are in a climate and nature emergency; we will need a whole system change if we must avert the negative impacts of the emergency and equally use this as an opportunity to redesign our homes, cities as well improve quality of lives whilst improving biodiversity.” Anusha also emphasised there is an urgent need for unconventional cross-sectoral collaborations to solve global and local challengesinfluence behaviour change, and ensure the multiple co-benefits linked with water efficiency. 

The innovators’ voice 

According to Frantz Beznik, R&D Head of Sustainable Innovation at Procter & Gamble, it is key to address the energy consumption associated with water heating, which makes water the second largest source of operational greenhouse gases in buildings. The challenge and the opportunity here is to rethink and reinvent models to achieve the aspiration of 50 litre, zero carbon homes. To deliver such vision, the ultimate focus must be on exploring our water footprint along with its carbon footprint, and as well as the synergies and multiple benefits this approach can bring. Frantz’s drive, he explained, is to ‘make sustainable irresistible’ 

Tobias SvanbergInnovation Leader for Water at IKEA, highlighted the company’s commitment to become water positive by 2030. Their key focus is to enable as many people as possible to use water efficiently at home, emphasising sustainable living cannot be a luxury for few. He further illustrated: What if we start to reuse our shower water — use it to clean the floor, or flushing the toilet, or for watering the plants.’  To enable this ingenious approach, Tobias suggested there is also a need here to work together with authorities in updating regulations for water solutions within homes. 

The view from the practitioners

Bringing a perspective from the public sector and civil society, Caroline Raes, the Urban Resilience Director at Catholic Relief Services’ office in Freetown, Sierra Leone underlined the role of social and environmental factors. For example, 90% of water in Freetown comes from forest catchments which are suffering a sustained loss in recent years. The situation is worsened by population increase, agriculture expansion, and economic activities abstaining access to water. With only 3% of the population that has access to piped drinking water, Caroline suggested “innovation for us is harnessing nature”.

To align long term resilience challenges associated with water access, climate adaptation and local emissions, Freetown developed the Western Area Peninsula Water Fund which brings together public sector, private sector and civil society towards one common goal. Developing a business case that demonstrates the economic feasibility and long-term positive benefits  has been a key tool to engage stakeholders and support local leadership.

Summarising the Netherlands’ long term water management tradition, Bianca Nijhof, Executive Director at Netherlands Water Partnership, acknowledged “we don’t fight with water, we live with it.” Based on her experience coordinating multi-stakeholder platforms, Bianca proposed there is more and more the need to adopt long term spatial planning to limit the effects of future natural disasters.

She insisted on the need to integrate modelling tools, consistent evaluation, long term scenario planning  as necessary approaches to integrate water in every aspect of policy making. By doing so, she anticipated, integrating technology innovations and nature based solutions will prove sustainable investments for the future.

What’s next

Following this inspiring session, the 50L Home Coalition team will continue with its collaborative research exploring the nexus between water, energy, and climate. We will explore how cities can address their water stress whilst simultaneously reduce their greenhouse gas emissions. Our aim is to summarise our findings within an action oriented white paper by November 2021. Share with us your ideas!


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