Executive Chairman & Group CEO of Dake Group, an Advocate of Innovation & Sustainability – Focused on Food Security and Water Conservation.
We live in an era defined by technology. And one of the effects of this is that we are increasingly distant from nature. Our consumerism has often turned a blind eye to environmental consequences. So, would our civilization find more efficient ways to use natural resources if they were traded and supplied through a network of entrepreneurs? I believe the short answer is, yes.
This may seem like an overly commercialized mindset, but the truth is that an entrepreneurship-driven approach results in setting the “true” value of a commodity. And this approach is often the best way to ensure quality and dependable delivery. So, how well does this perspective fit our water systems, which are essential to our survival, and how does it benefit businesses?
Acknowledging Water As A Precious And Limited Resource
Our urban water and electricity supply depends on an energy-intensive grid. Although both these resources generate a bill for the end-user, we see a vast difference in their management and generation. And this is where customer-focused commercialization can transform the current scenario.
Let’s look at our current sources of water. The availability of water is a factor of the geography, climate and other characteristics of a region. These factors have been relatively stable over centuries, but we have entered an era in which climate is changing rapidly. Overcoming these climatic and geographical factors will require regenerative measures over an extended period.
MORE FOR YOU
So what are our options? In the Middle East, we see a dependence on desalination. The problem with that solution is its dependence on fossil fuels and inevitable land degradation. In other words, it only amounts to kicking the can further down the road while making the eventual challenge greater. Sticking to the same region, the other promising technology that has been deployed to create water is cloud seeding. In particular, the UAE has seen a significant rise in annual rainfall using this method; however, much of this rainfall has simply gone down the drain, literally. I believe the answer to turning this equation on its head is decentralized rainwater harvesting driven by a network of entrepreneurs who collect, store and trade the water they capture.
The Importance Of ‘Decentralized’ And ‘Entrepreneur-Driven’
As any IT network administrator will tell you, distributed network architecture makes a system more robust and resilient to the failure of a particular component. Decentralized rainwater harvesting can bring that same flexibility and resilience to urban water supply, in addition to being a more energy-efficient model.
In fact, this was not an entirely alien line of thinking for cities, historically. More than 4,000 years ago, residents of the Negev Desert harvested rainfall in cisterns. The largest reservoir in Madaba, Jordan, held 11 million gallons of harvested rainwater. The Indus Valley Civilization had some of the most extensive rainwater catchment infrastructures. So, not only can it be done, but decentralized rainwater harvesting has served huge human populations long before we had access to our current technology.
Now to the second question I get. Why entrepreneur-driven? The first and foremost concern that springs to mind is the huge infrastructure spends that implementing rainwater harvesting would require, at the scale that modern cities demand. It’s only fair to query whether building huge city-scale reservoirs is even possible, given that even the more modest-sized contemporary cities sprawl over dozens of times the area that ancient urban settlements used. Also, we now build much higher buildings, adding even more people.
By taking an entrepreneur-driven route to develop a lot of smaller, decentralized reservoirs, the number of stakeholders who can achieve quick ROI increases exponentially, and with a nearly immediate effect. In addition, multiple business models become viable. Existing building owners can implement rainwater harvesting capabilities to sell and trade potable water as a commodity. While others, who specialize in developing such infrastructure at existing sites, can approach building owners and communities to offer their services for a mutual benefit.
Around the world, in virtually every real estate market, large developers have created entire residential communities and/or retail and entertainment precincts. Such companies usually enjoy a well-established rapport and understanding with local administrations. These commercial entities stand to make multi-faceted gains by implementing decentralized rainwater harvesting capabilities. They can leverage government subsidies, which are part of sustainability initiatives. At the same time, they can attract more buyers because of the meteoric rise of the eco-conscious demographic.
In effect, companies stand to gain brand value, market share and the ability to trade in an increasingly scarce and valuable commodity, all while having access to their own independent and localized source of water.
How Companies Can Take Steps Toward This Sustainable Process
For an entrepreneur and business leader, this decentralized approach to rainwater harvesting consists of low-hanging fruit. A relatively small investment, with minimal disruption to existing operations, can result in transformative value addition that pays for itself, either because of an additional revenue stream or savings in operating costs.
My company uses “breathable sand” technology to transform fine desert sand — a virtually valueless commodity — into products that retain water while allowing the free flow of air. For other companies, tiles and curbstones manufactured using this technique can ensure that every last drop of precious precipitation is harvested. Reservoirs built using this same material can also store water and keep it fresh without using chemicals or electricity. This allows underground storage of water, beneath any public or private area, eliminating the need for land especially allocated for reservoirs.
With cloud-seeding techniques evolving constantly, humans can now maximize rainfall within a region. In fact, for nations such as the UAE, this approach could be a lifesaver. Used in conjunction with the sort of low-energy and sustainable rainwater harvesting and storage made possible by businesses, cloud seeding could replace energy-intensive desalination. For the growing global population to thrive, without straining the finite resources on our planet, decentralized harvesting could reconnect modern humans to rainwater, a precious and sustainable resource.