Five questions you should be asking yourself

Five questions you should be asking yourself as a water-savvy consumer when making purchasing decisions


In 2016, South Africa recorded its driest year ever. This led, unsurprisingly, to one of its most debilitating droughts. Although plentiful summer rains in much of the country have marked the end of the restrictions and uncertainty in a number of provinces, the local disaster that has been declared in Cape Town, the continuing crisis throughout much of the Northern and Western Cape and the fact that South Africa remains a water scarce nation should serve as an ongoing reminder that all South Africans need to work to preserve the precious resource.

We have been actively encouraged for the past year or two to save water – and were forced to find increasingly creative ways to do so with the introduction of restrictions. “While greater awareness and action such as using grey water and fitting a water friendly low-flow shower head are definitely steps in the right direction, saving water goes much deeper than a consumer’s direct usage,” says Lethepu Matshaba, Vice President: Homecare – Southern Africa at Unilever. “In fact, the water used to produce the food, goods and services that are consumed every day is comprised of a far greater percentage of daily water usage. 

It is therefore critical to identify the hidden ways that water is used in every day products and how we as consumers can make better purchasing decisions to reduce water consumption even further. There can be no better time than the present to look at the questions that we should all be asking as water-savvy consumers every time we pick up a product from the shelf:

1. How much water goes into the production of this good or service?

While working out exactly how much water goes into the production of each good is near to impossible, a relatively simple and effective indicator is the company or brand itself. Organisations, like Unilever, are increasingly aware of the role that they play as responsible citizens and strive to decrease their own footprint to drive sustainability as an integral part of their business. “Unilever, for instance, introduced its Sustainable Living Plan in 2010 and reducing environmental impact is a core pillar of the plan,” says Lethepu. “As such, all of its operations – from manufacturing to day-to-day running of the business – have been streamlined to halve the environmental footprint of the manufacturing and use of its products.” So a general rule of thumb that we can follow is selecting products or brands that we know align to our own environmental values.

2. How much water will this particular product use?

Much as Unilever has committed to halving the footprint of the manufacturing of its products, it has also ensured that its goods use up less water. Its brand Sunlight has, in this way, introduced SmartFoam to its Sunlight 2in1 washing powder in order to cut down on the amount of water used; customers who use the brand save up to half of their rinsing water. If we all consciously choose products that we know use up less water, it won’t take long to see that we are making an impact.

3. Why should I care?

We all generate water footprints. It is the total volume of water used in the making of products we consume as individuals and communities, or produce as businesses. So, in effect, every single item that we either place in our mouth, wear or use has used water to become the product that we want or need to buy. That in itself is reason enough to care. So is the fact that the drought that we experienced – and continue to experience - is not an isolated incident. We will have more droughts and water will become an increasingly scarce and sought after commodity. However, if we each play our part by being responsible citizens, then we can ensure more sustainable and fair use of this resource.

4. But I already do what I can to save water. What else can I possibly do?

If you already turn the tap off when you brush your teeth, fix leaks and reuse household water to water grass and plants, then you should definitely carry on doing that. It is starting with small steps like those that we can all begin to make a measurable difference, but it is also important to realise that more can be done – and these changes can be remarkably simple. Reducing indirect water consumption is as easy as cutting down on the amount of meat we eat, choosing to buy spandex or viscose clothing rather than cotton, or no longer drinking bottled water. Making small but concerted changes on a daily basis can significantly cut down on water consumption and if we all do it, we will soon see results. 

5. Am I doing enough?

While we can all undoubtedly do more – all it requires is some research on how we can play a bigger role in conserving water – any water-saving activities are a positive contribution.

“We believe in the collective power of South Africans to overcome problems that we face as a country, especially when we partner as individuals and business to find solutions that improve the sustainability of our scarce resources,” concludes Lethepu.

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Issue 46


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