3 Apr 2017

Who's the real April Fool?

Via MV (NOT The Onion):
H&M, IKEA, Filippa K and 20 other Nordic brands saved more than 6.7 billion liters of water, or the daily water supply for 134 million people, in less than seven years. Under the guidance of the Sweden Textile Water Initiative (STWI), a programme driving global change towards sustainable textile and leather production, the factories have reduced water consumption and pollution while also improving their profits. Since joining the programme, participating factories have seen a return on investment of more than 240 percent over three years.
Let's, as they say, unpack this.
  1. They "saved" water by not using it as if they had some right to use it. This is not just false but stupid, as these companies sell products to consumers who probably have plenty of clothes. The disappearance of those companies (and a permanent reduction in consumption) would not go noticed. Additional water supplies would.
  2. Let's call it 1 billion liters per year and convert that amount into per year per person instead of per day (using their 50 liters/capita/day). Now we have "enough water" for 54,975 people for a year.
  3. Let's remember that people usually lack not water but access to clean drinking water. Thus, the entire press release is rubbish, as it's not as if 55,000 people suddenly got 50 liters per day delivered to their door. Water services take money and good management.
  4. Their 240 percent return on investment shows that this project is not about helping people get access to drinking water but saving money. I agree that's a good goal, but they tack it on the end.
Bottom line: H&M et al. saved money by using less water. People without drinking water are still without drinking water. Anyone who thinks otherwise must be joking.


Ed Bourque said...


Point #3 cannot be repeated often enough. It's a lack of access, not a lack of water. Water supply service is quite expensive, and access has a lot more to do with household wherewithal/affordability, utility economics, and how responsive government is.

Water is neither perfectly evenly distributed across the globe (if it were, we;d all be submerged in ocean!) nor is is handed out equally (and delivered to the door of) to every human being on the earth!

I wrote about this at WRI's City Fix blog http://thecityfix.com/blog/urban-water-governance-in-the-developing-world-accountability-and-affordability-are-keys-to-access-water-ed-bourque/

Ed Bourque said...

On an unrelated note, I've always wanted to ask what your thoughts are on trading water rights... and why it doesn't happen often enough (God knows the per unit value for drinking water in cities is a lot bigger than the per unit value in agriculture...)

I've always though that this paper had it right http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1029/2003WR002840/pdf

Risk averse farmers holding onto saved water because of insecurity of supply levels, and because transaction costs are bigger than any benefits from the market transactions

David Zetland said...

@Ed -- I agree that farmers are NOT going to trade water in the face of risk, which is why I structured all in auctions as an annual sale, i.e., so farmers can choose how much of their RIGHTS to lease out for each year as FLOWS.

Second, I think that markets are not ALLOWEd to happen b/c politicians use water allocation to award supporters. Loss of political control leaves them with fewer tools for control and power.

Ed Bourque said...

That makes perfect sense, David. I'd love to see those auctions happen. Inter-sectoral allocations (towards) bulk urban water could make more than a few utilities happy.

And, yes, politicians do like keeping their hand on the levers.

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