On 20 September 2023, a distinguished gathering took place, marking a significant stride in sustainability discussions. Hosted by Coca-Cola Europacific Partners (CCEP) Ventures and Co:cubed, we were joined by Bradley Jones (Senior Investment Manager, Earth Capital), Tony Kypreos (Venture Partner, Accelerate2030.net), Christiaan de Koning (Founding Director, Founders & Funders), Karyn Georges (MD, Isle Utilities) and Pina Fritz, (Head of Climate, Deep Science Ventures). The roundtable cast a spotlight on water scarcity—a crisis confronting 3.5 billion people globally. As the challenges mount, a pivotal question emerges: How can corporations play a key role in combating water scarcity?
With 3.5 billion people grappling with water scarcity, the scale of the challenge is undeniable. The anticipated doubling of water technology investments to $55.2 billion by 2030 raises both hope and questions. Which technologies hold the promise of transformative impact?
When addressing water scarcity, the evolution and integration of solutions like water purification, desalination, and atmospheric water generation (AWG) play a key role. However, as Tony Kypreos emphasised: “we need to work with nature. Nature-based solutions, like those that enable the replenishment of aquifers in a more efficient and fast way are critical.” Pina Fritz built on this stressing the significance of both regional demand (i.e urban or rural) and environmental conditions in determining the right portfolio of solutions.
AI, IoT and sensing technologies are also proving critical in helping to better predict water usage and optimise the distribution of water. AI and sensing technologies are playing a key role in groundwater exploration, while generative AI models are powering solutions to better detect leaks. Interestingly, of the +$55 billion of investment going into solving water scarcity by 2030, over $6.3 billion of investment will be deployed into AI-based water technologies. However, the key question remains, how can this investment be most effectively deployed, and what role can corporations play in solving the challenge?
The potential for collaboration among corporates is undeniable. As CCEP’s Senior Manager and water expert, Dr Francesca O’Hanlon, points out, “there’s no point being a well-behaved fish in a dirty pond.” While individual efforts can make waves, it’s the combined strength of diverse stakeholders that can move oceans. Strategic partnerships, especially with nimble startups and tech vanguards, hold the key to crafting enduring solutions. Through our discussions, we identified three key enablers in harnessing the power of partnerships:
The ‘Sandbox’ Approach: Fostering an Ecosystem of Innovation
In the pursuit of excellence and innovation, large organisations often encounter the age-old dilemma: how to trial pioneering solutions without risking existing operations. This challenge has found an answer in the ‘sandbox’ approach—a dedicated environment promoting experimentation and learning. This is not just about one company, but about creating a shared space where businesses can trial, adapt, and perfect breakthrough solutions together. As highlighted by Christiaan de Koning, a lack of coordinated efforts within industries often leads to duplicated trials of new technologies. He emphasises the need for collaboration amongst corporates with aligned ambitions to safeguard global water security, drawing parallels with Pharma industry’s more recent approach to drug discovery and development trials. Tony Kypreos added that “there’s nothing wrong with doing a pilot, but it’s generally not worth one company assuming the full risk. Corporates need to share the risk in deploying these technologies at the First-of-a-Kind (FOAK) stage.” It is with this collaborative spirit that we endeavour to foster innovation and deliver impact to the challenge of water security.
Collaboration Beyond Boundaries
The multifaceted nature of water scarcity demands a multi-stakeholder approach. By pooling resources, insights and expertise from diverse sectors, we believe that impactful solutions can be forged. Whether it’s a tech startup’s agility, a research institution’s depth of knowledge, or an NGO’s grassroots insights—each player brings unique value to the table.
Bradley Jones and Christiaan de Koning emphasise that for such collaboration to flourish, the sandbox must exist as a standalone entity, detached from its corporate sponsors – yet in close proximity. This independence will allow it to operate in an environment centred around innovation, agility, and system-wide impact. It’s this freedom that will allow the sandbox to truly thrive and engender transformative solutions to mitigate water scarcity.
Engaging with Tomorrow’s Visionaries
There’s an exciting wave of innovations emerging from startups and disruptors in the water space. From AI-driven water usage predictions to groundbreaking desalination methods, the future looks promising. Engaging with these visionaries not only brings fresh perspectives but strengthens the resolve and capabilities of established entities. As Denise McQuiad, Global Scouting Director at Co:cubed highlighted: “when it comes to sustainability, startups are pioneering solutions to virtually every challenge that corporations face in delivering their net-zero ambitions, there’s a tremendous opportunity to close the gap between corporates and startups in solving the issue of water scarcity.”
While the challenge of water scarcity is daunting, it is also a clarion call for collective action. Through meaningful collaborations, innovative experimentation, and a shared commitment to sustainability, we are confident that solutions will emerge. By harnessing the combined strengths of diverse stakeholders, we aim to ensure that clean water isn’t a privilege but a right, accessible to all.