For Dow’s opponents, the company’s approach to sustainable water management fails to wash away its alleged sins. But are the criticisms justified?
The Dow Chemical Company, one of the largest chemical manufacturers in the world, wants you to know that it ‘gets’ concerns about sustainablewater management.
At the Rio+20 summit, the firm signed a communique calling for greater collaboration between private and public sectors to address water scarcity, and has sponsored a number of initiatives in recent years fromwater forums to fun runs and concerts to boost public awareness.
“Roughly 2.5% of the available fresh water on the planet is all we have to work with: for agricultural, human needs as well as industry,” said Snehal Desai, global business director of Dow’s water and process solutions arm. “This issue is not going to go away.”
Pointing to the planet’s rising population and rapid urbanisation as evidence of intensifying pressure on fresh water supplies, Desai said businesses are increasingly taking a second look at how the world manages this finite resource. “Finding alternative sources is clearly a critical issue”.
One solution is research and development, and Dow has been funnelling millions of dollars into desalination and water recycling technologies. Another, Desai said, is pursuing innovative collaborations. One partnership the company trumpets is taking place in the city of Terneuzen, in south-western Netherlands.
At first glance, it’s hard to imagine that Terneuzen has a water problem. The population of this seaport is just 55,000 – so small that it would hardly qualify for city status in many countries. The river Scheldt lies to the north, a canal to the west. Yet Terneuzen is so desperately short of fresh water that it has to import supplies from 120km away, from France.
Part of the problem is that Terneuzen sits at sea level and its groundwater aquifers are contaminated by salty waters from the North Sea. But local industry is also a major drain on the city’s water supplies. Dow’s facility, its largest outside the United States, needs 22m cubic metres of water a year to operate. To put that into context, the population of the entire local region of Zeeuws-Vlaanderen, 100,000, requires just four million cubic metres.
Continue reading at Guardian Sustainable Business.