The interrelated triple bottom line
When we consider the word ‘sustainability’ our minds are usually drawn towards innovative, new, green-orientated products and systems such as renewable energy. However, sustainability is more than any product or group of products. No, sustainability is a way of thinking and a culture of doing things in a manner that is mindful of the environment, the economy and society (i.e. the three pillars of sustainability) all at the same time. Solutions which benefit one or two of these pillars at a time may appear sustainable at first, but more often than not, and sooner rather than later, the neglected pillar will have a negative impact greater than the initial positive impact of the solution itself.
In the case of sustainable water solutions, the focus is often drawn to either environment-society beneficiaries at the expense of economics (i.e. expensive, but green and productive solutions), or economic-society beneficiaries at the expense of the environment (i.e. cheap, productive solutions which impact the environment negatively).
An example of this skewed solution implementation the installation of rural water supply boreholes where borehole pump equipment is bought in bulk (economically) and installed to supply villagers with domestic water (society). However, in some cases the borehole yields are lower than the pump abstraction rate which results in the borehole drying up (environmental impact), the pump burning out (economic impact) and the villagers going without water (societal impact). So, the neglect of one of the sustainable pillars results in an impact on all three!
One of the most important and effective tools we have when designing and implementing sustainable water solutions, at any scale, is a sound Water Management System. A well planned, written and implemented water management system defines and describes both the current water system at the Site and the envisaged/target water system, with the objectives for sustainability stated clearly. The goal of the Water Management System should be to bridge the gap between the current water balance (i.e. water inputs, uses, etc.) and the sustainability objectives (e.g. reduction of water consumption through grey water reclamation).
Users should be aware of both the current status and the objectives, to allow them to develop their own approach to achieving the objectives with an added sense of ownership. By allowing this ownership of the solution at an individual level, a sustainable water solution is far more likely to not only succeed in its initial objectives, but also improve organically over time through the initiative of the induvial users.
In conclusion, when considering a sustainable water solution, whether it’s for your home, business, or construction site, it is important to remember all three of the pillars of sustainability and make sure each benefits from the solution. The best way to achieve this is through an effective Water Management System where users are informed in terms of the existing and envisaged water systems and provided with a framework to develop their own, individual approaches to achieving these objectives and maintaining the system for future generations.
About the Author
MATTHEW DAMHUIS – PROJECT HYDROGEOLOGIST
Matthew is a hydrogeologist with experience in the South African and African environments. He has worked in a number of African countries, including Mali, Zambia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Botswana and Mozambique.
For the past 7 years Matthew has been completing groundwater numerical models for environmental applications, as well as more complex applications such as bankable feasibility studies.