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The Global Water Crisis: A conversation with Maude Barlow at SRI in the Rockies.

SAN ANTONIO, TX:  How fitting that my last post before arriving at SRI in the Rockies was about Bloomberg adding water data as part of its ESG offering; when the conference opened on the importance of  water, protecting the water commons, and what it means for the socially responsible investor.  After the official conference welcome this morning in San Antonio, Steve Scheuth, SRI conference host, producer and President of First Affirmative Financial Network, handed the stage over to Maude Barlow, the National Chairperson of the Council of Canadians, who offered some sobering facts about the Global Water Crisis while inspiring hope in our ability as socially responsible investors to meet the global water challenges.

Maude Barlow warned, we are not looking at an upcoming drought situation when it comes to global water supplies.  In fact the situation is much worse; what we are facing is the fact that we are running out of clean water.  The numbers are staggering:

  • By 2030 demand for water will outgrow supply by 40%.
  • A recent U.S. geological study found 36 states already facing a water crisis.
  • 80% of the world’s rivers are in distress affecting nearly 5 billion people.

What does this mean for socially responsible investors?  That there is a growing business opportunity in who makes the decisions regarding the future of water and as an SRI investor you can get involved in the discussion.

How?

  • Role of the Private Sector:  Businesses use water – as a shareholder question the use and sources of water for production as well as waste.
  • Invest in appropriate technologies:  Desalination should be a technology of last resort.  It takes huge amounts of energy to desalinate ocean water and the leftovers from the process are contaminating to the marine environment.
  • Invest in water infrastructure!
  • Get over the notion that bottled water is cleaner than tap water; it’s not!

The take home message from Ms.Barlow for me was: get involved!  The water issue is everyone’s business and we cannot leave the problem to the next generation to fix.  She ended the discussion lightly quoting an older friend commenting on the younger generations’ propensity to quickly pick up and put down social issues.  I paraphrase, ‘you can’t just pick up fighting for justice and put it down from day to day.  Fighting justice is like taking a bath.  You don’t have to do it everyday, but if you don’t, you’ll stink.’

As socially responsible investors, as global citizens, we have to meet this global clean water challenge and recognize (as the United Nations recently did) that access to clean water and sanitation is a human right.  Maude Barlow did an amazing job setting the tone for this year’s SRI in the Rockies Conference.

Image Credit:  Jim Salvas via Flickr under CC license.

Written by Emily DeMasi

Emily McKinin DeMasi is a 2011 MBA/ MA Public Policy candidate and Peace Corps Fellow at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh, PA. Her thesis work concerns Corporate Social Responsibility in the United States. She also works as a Research Fellow at Bridgeway Capital, a Community Development Financial Institution (CDFI) in downtown Pittsburgh. Emily has worked as an Associate in a Private Equity Placement Firm in NY and as a Water and Sanitation Volunteer in Ivory Coast, West Africa. She hopes to combine her business background with her passion for development and inspire others in the fields of Sustainability and CSR.

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