According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), one in ten people lack access to safe water. The availability of fresh water is a key global issue and protecting and preserving this valuable resource is important for everyone.
Taking water samples for science
Fresh water is essential to all human life and an important driver of global socio-economic development. But with populations increasing and developing economies continuing to grow, the availability of fresh water is a growing challenge in some parts of the world.
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Shell has partnered with the environmental NGO (non-governmental organisation) Earthwatch to enable its employees to take part in a number of initiatives around the world as volunteers. One of these is FreshWater Watch, a programme that supports scientists, citizens and decision makers to work together to find solutions.
"We work closely with NGOs and industry associations, sharing knowledge and ideas that will improve the way we use water and prepare for the future,” says Alfio Mianzan, who heads water management at Shell. “FreshWater Watch is part of this – it helps to increase scientific knowledge and raises awareness of fresh water issues among employees.”
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Lisa Clegg, a compensation adviser for Shell in the Netherlands, enrolled in FreshWater Watch in March 2015. She came away with new insights that surprised her.
“We think of our planet as mostly water, but only 2.5% is fresh water,” says Lisa. “It works out that only around 0.007% of the world’s total water is available for human use. It’s absolutely vital we look after it.”
Lisa’s role in the initiative was as a “citizen scientist”, a member of the public who ventures out to local ponds, lakes and wetlands to collect data. The data they collect are shared with Earthwatch scientists who use them to help find solutions to fresh water issues.
The scale of the challenge
For Shell employees, taking part in the programme involves specialist training in how to take samples properly, followed by a day in the field to put their training into practice. Lisa’s training day in The Hague, Netherlands, was led by a team of Earthwatch scientists who began with a candid group discussion about global water usage. It opened her eyes to the scale of the challenge.
“When we really think about how much we depend on water, it’s astonishing,” says Lisa. “We use it to grow our food, we use it to generate energy – we even use it in our leisure activities.”
Lisa found the experience rewarding, not only for helping her understand the challenge, but also for enabling her to contribute to potential solutions. “What’s exciting about FreshWater Watch is that this scale of data collection has never been attempted before,” she adds.
The FreshWater Watch response
The programme is active on four continents and in over 30 cities around the world. Shell employees can participate in activities in London, and The Hague, and a new programme will soon launch in Bangalore, opening up volunteering opportunities to employees in India.
“Without citizen scientists, FreshWater Watch would not exist, nor would the solutions have any basis,” says Professor Steven Loiselle of Earthwatch, highlighting the importance of efforts made by Lisa and citizen scientists like her. “It’s their enthusiasm that’s kept this programme going.”
Not only has the programme enabled Lisa to enhance her personal and professional network, through interaction with others like her, but the experience has changed her outlook on the environment.
“It’s definitely made me more mindful about water not being a limitless resource – we need to be more connected with what we live with and how we interact with it.”
Water in the energy industry
At Shell, we are taking steps to manage our use of fresh water in a responsible and sustainable way.
We have developed tools to better understand our water footprint, an important step towards prioritising our improvement efforts.
We develop collaborative solutions to save, reuse and recycle water, often applying innovative technologies to do so. At our Technology Centre in India, we have established a global centre of expertise for water. This hub is home to our water research laboratories and enables us to share ideas, innovations and technologies on water issues across Shell
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