Catering for the water-wise customer makes business sense

Water misuse in De Aar, Northern Cape
Water misuse in De Aar, Northern Cape (Photo credit: Chesney Bradshaw 2013

After a long time trying to persuade businesses to use less water, sitting on panels discussing water scarcity and consciously attempting to reduce my own water footprint, I came across an example of unbelievable water waste while on a stop-over visit to the water-stressed town of De Aar.

The afternoon was a scorcher – the temperature was up to 35°C. I stopped the car at a restaurant to get some coffee and splash my face with cold water to keep alert for the long drive still ahead towards Carnarvon.

As I opened the toilet door I immediately was confronted with an appalling sight – the hot water tap was on full blast. Someone had left it jetting out.

How could it happen that in a semi-desert town that has always been water-stressed (in fact, the town was named after the farm “De Aar”, the name means “the artery” a reference to its underground water supply) water could be wasted like this?

I screwed the tap tight and wondered what was happening here.

Was this just a careless act?

Could it be the result of low-information consumers, business people and town officials?

When you become aware of how water is consumed and how it is wasted, you start to realise how attitudes must change.

A few smart start-ups and small business owners have already begun to respond to customers who take water seriously. For example, a water-wise car wash is doing incredible business just up the road from where I live.

Some smarty pants might say here that you can also reduce the number of times you wash your car which will save water. Or just use a bucket at home and wash it like we used to do when there was water rationing in Cape Town. But these business owners who are running the eco-wash bay are professionals and have a system to ensure that as little as possible water is used to wash your car.

Water-wise opportunities wait for other industries such as local washing and dry cleaning businesses, water-wise gardens and reduced water systems for pool owners. Some pool owners, for example, have gone to the extreme and have brought in a new concept that turns your pool into a natural pond with lilies and other plants so that you have a small “wetland” in your garden. The entrepreneur carrying out these conversions in Cape Town has not yet proved her business model but if the price of water were to rise (not so politically advisable for such an essential natural resource) demand may increase.

The time will come when attitudes to water use will change. Awareness of water scarcity and misuse is low at present. But when more low-information consumers turn into medium- or high-information customers, opportunities for smart start-up business owners and existing small business owners will come available in a bigger way.

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