The reality of the water crisis is hitting home for south african businesses and people alike
A drought in the Western Cape, which began in 2015, has resulted in our precious water running out and, despite watersaving measures, dam levels are predicted to decline to critically low levels. The City of Cape Town has reported that the infamous ‘Day Zero’, when municipal water supply will largely be shut off, is fast approaching and is expected to become a reality. This comes after a report by the Western Cape government that the city’s major water reservoirs are sitting at just 26% capacity. If this happens, Cape Town will be the first major city to run out of water.
The impact of water scarcity on businesses
“The real risk of water scarcity to a business has less to do with the cost of water reflected on the balance sheet and more to do with the cost of not having water. Water is embedded in literally everything that we produce and consume.” Source: Linden Smith – Energy Engineer at GCX Carbon & Energy
This statement aptly summarises the frightening reality that is looming over not only Cape Town, but the entire country. Some of the major services that are in jeopardy, which have a direct impact on basic human needs, are electricity production, sanitation, and clean drinking water. As human beings, our dependence on water is often underestimated, as we subconsciously believe it will always be available. The harsh reality is that is not the case, and many people have been warning us about a global water crisis over the last decade at least. This realisation also brings to the fore the fact that water scarcity has a direct financial impact on the economy, in trying to deal with and rectify the situation in a sustainable manner.
The large volume use of businesses means that businesses need to change their mindsets on the way they use water in every part of their operations. According to the article by Linden Smith, efficient and mindful use of water by businesses results in the following benefits:
- Cost savings – reduced municipal water consumption, which leads to direct savings.
- Reduced waste water – less bulk water treatment is required.
- Conservation of a life-giving natural resource.
- Enhanced reputation and competitive advantage.
Some of the quicker, and more common ways of saving water include:
- Use water-efficient taps and showerheads.
- Do not wash dishes or hands under running taps.
- Use sensor-activated taps where possible.
- Replace single-flush toilets with dual-flush toilets, and convert to waterless urinals.
- Encourage colleagues and customers to limit showers to only a few minutes.
- Fix leaking taps and pipes immediately and make sure that infrastructure is well and regularly maintained to avoid leaks.
Our responsibilty, as Servest, regarding water conservation
As leaders in the world of facilities management, we are a business that relies on the use of water as a key resource to deliver our core operations – a few of our services being Cleaning, Landscaping, Catering, Office Plants and Hygiene. It is vital that we reframe our thinking to take heed of the extreme state of the situation, specifically as a company with operations and colleagues in Cape Town.
World Water Day that took place on the 22 of March, themed ‘Why waste water?’, the event highlighted the severity of the global situation. The consciousness that is developing among people and businesses in South Africa, especially due to the Cape Town crisis, has resulted in a greater urgency for private companies to start acting. We have started to reflect seriously on our own day-to-day operations and actions, and are now in the process of aligning ourselves with the United Nations’ Global Sustainable Development Goals. One of the sustainable development goals pertinent to our Landscaping and Turf division is Goal 6: Ensure access to water and sanitation for all. There is a common misconception that the trade-off of water conservation is losing a lush green and colourful landscape to a dull, dry and dusty desert landscape. However, this is not the case, and Servest has committed to adopting innovative approaches, by using technological solutions to assist the process of decoupling our own as well as our clients’ operations from environmental impacts, without sacrificing human development and beautiful landscapes.
As a society, we have passed the stage of confronting our global challenges with a fragmented approach to problem solving. As industry leaders, we have seen the lack of proactive approaches and have therefore committed to adopting a holistic and integrated approach to our overall sustainability, which draws knowledge from multiple disciplines. Some approaches that we’ve committed to:
- The Servest (Pty) Ltd Policy and Strategy on Environmental Sustainability – ‘Environmental sustainability through innovation’
- The first phase of our strategy, to become operationally sustainable by 2020, has focused on the following core output:
- Resource consumption monitoring programs
- Becoming an ISO 14001 certified company
- Sustainable supplier sourcing plan
- Social responsibility plan
Innovative solutions specific to operational Landscaping and Turf:
- Installation of Astroturf as a substitute for conventional grass turf
- Installing and implementing digital technology and sensors to improve water management
- Substituting exotic lawns with indigenous lawns
- Substituting lawns with indigenous ground covers where heavy traffic isn’t an issue
- Substituting exotic ornamentals with local indigenous plant species; emphasis is placed
on sourcing indigenous plant species with a high aesthetic value associated with the regional vegetation type, to ensure that the species are adapted to the local climate
- Mulching of beds
- Spray to drip conversions (where applicable)
- Reduce and reuse storm water and irrigation run-off
As part of our Office Plants division, we initiated a change in our interior plants operation in July 2017, and have changed the types of plants that are now in the working environment. We took the initiative to start replacing all plants that require a high water intake with hardier, sustainable, water-wise plants. These plants require less than one litre every 6–8 weeks and, if the environment conditions are applicable, some plants only require water once every three months. Servest will also still be using water that we harvest from our cooling systems at our depot.
A pertinent question raised is: How important is the need for us to have office plants? The answer is that the need for plants in offices is greater than ever before. The lack of water is affecting the atmospheric conditions in the work environment of businesses. Plants remove harmful, volatile compounds (VOCs) such as formaldehyde and benzene from the air by as much as 70% in a 24-hour period. Plants convert these into oxygen and water too, for the plants’ own nutritional needs. Plants also remove carbon monoxide, which affects attention, concentration and the overall health of people, from indoor areas. Indoor plants also stabilise humidity by 30–60% and regulate temperature, creating a more comfortable and healthier environment. Besides eliminating harmful VOCs, plants still benefit our health and wellbeing in many ways. They can reduce coughs and throat dryness, headaches, dry skin and fatigue – most of these problems are exacerbated by dehydration and the lack of fluids.
It is our responsibility to encourage our colleagues and clients alike to change their mindset. Water conservation is an opportunity as well as a necessity for us all. We can only save water while we have water to save, so let’s not waste any more time or any more precious life-giving water.