SUSTAINABILITY REPORTS NOT WISHY-WASHY ENOUGH

SUSTAINABILITY REPORTS NOT WISHY-WASHY ENOUGH

The increasing trend of leading organisations to publish Sustainability Reports, often in conjunction with their Annual Reports, is an encouraging one. However, something is clearly missing, as we shall see below.

Sustainability reports typically focus on efforts to limit the firm’s carbon footprint which implies a heavy emphasis on power reduction strategies. But what of strategies aimed at water consumption? To the householder, electricity and water go hand in hand. So why should the situation be any different when we arrive at work? Simply drive around South African office parks and you will find solar powered solutions mounted almost as trophies by eco-friendly companies, sensor driven solutions that switch the lights off when rooms are empty and virtual hosting solutions that eliminate the need for physical data centres that are as power hungry as a North African dictator.

Unfortunately, when most of the authors of Sustainability Reports were traipsing round their gleaming corporate headquarters recording everything that needed to be included in the written expression of their commitment to the environment, they missed a few things. On their way outdoors, they probably grabbed a cupful of distilled water from the electrified cooler when purifying water at the tap is the most water wise solution, they might have walked past a massive artificial water feature that evaporates thousands of litres of fresh water weekly, and so on. Practically all corporate firms these days do the basics when it comes to water. They do not water their landscaped greenery during the day and many have replaced sprinkler systems with drip irrigation. However, that appears to be the limit of the entry into corporate Sustainability Reports of our planet’s most precious resource.

Besides actually conserving water, what other water-related measures can organisations implement to protect the environment? A clue to this answer comes from possibly one of the very first environmental issues most of us become aware of. I am talking, of course, about the hole in the ozone layer. In the 1980s, it was if the world began placing green issues on the international agenda for the first time. Perhaps it was the horror of the Exxon Valdez disaster in Alaska’s Prince William Sound that precipitated our concern for the environment. However, almost overnight we were saving the whales, rooting for Greenpeace and switching CFC-laden aerosol deodorants for roll-on versions.

But it was the hole in the ozone layer that got the most media eyeballs. Many of us thought the earthly game was up when we were confronted with images from twenty years prior that clearly showed the layer of ozone gas that protects us from ultraviolet radiation had become depleted. In an encouraging display of early corporate citizenship, the world’s commercial organisations developed alternatives to the ozone-eating CFCs that were mostly found in aerosols and refrigerators. And that appeared to be the end of our concern with ozone although mention of this gas crops up now and again in relation to global warming.

Today few South Africans are aware that ozone is not only a natural gas that protects us from potentially harmful sunlight, it is also a natural gas that protects us from potentially harmful water.

Ozone uses the natural power of oxygen to improve the quality of drinking water dramatically without generating any unpleasant or harmful by-products. Already, there are five municipalities around South Africa that are using ozone systems to complement existing conventional water purification techniques that rely on chlorine. For example, Midvaal Municipality, famous for being hotly-contested in the recent polls, it also well-known in engineering circles for using ozone to purify 125 mega litres of SABS-approved drinking water every day since 1985.

Aside from ozone purification being used to disinfect, improve taste, control odour, and remove colour in drinking water supplied to tens of thousands of South Africans nationwide, what are the potential corporate applications which is presumably the entire point of this article?

Because ozone acts like a broad-spectrum antibiotic for water, any organisation that maintains a large body of water, whether for drinking or otherwise, could benefit from implementing ozone purification technology. Instead of dumping vast quantities of manmade chlorine that gives off an unpleasant burning smell into water, organisations could radically reduce the amount of chlorine used by purifying water with ozone.

For instance, UShaka Marine World uses ozone to disinfect its water, as do most aquariums worldwide, while the process is well established in leading global municipalities like London, Paris and Los Angeles. There are a myriad of other corporate applications that could make for interesting reading in Sustainability Reports if only organisations would devote equal concern to both power and water-related environmental issues.

In conclusion, it is worth mentioning that ozone treatment plants are also used to treat sewage in areas where there is no water-borne sewage and where septic tanks and French drains were previously the only solution. These plants are an ideal way for an SME, a medium-sized hotel, a cluster of small houses or a large game farm to deal with waste without polluting scarce water resources or putting further strain on conventional purification resources.