THE WATER SAVING CHALLENGE
Water saving is a collective process to find suitable actions on a specific island, or in any other community. This process starts with (1) a challenge, a major, demanding task, and a fellowship to care for it. It continues with (2) raising funds, and (3) making research to get the facts right. With that in place, a (4) water-saving plan can be made, which is the central, middle step of the process. Then, (5) many hands need to be raised for the cause, there have to be some (6) quick fixes and (7) the changes have to take root.
SteP 1: The challenge
Which comes first – the right cause or the right people? The team or the task? Impossible to say, but maybe in this case it is first “who” and then “what”: get the right people on the bus, then figure out where to go.
You and your friends have this idea about saving water. Everybody knows the world is not the perfect place, everybody knows we use too much water, but is anyone going to do anything about it?
You have a sense of urgency for the issue of saving water. You need a challenging goal to get people off the couch, out of a bunker, ready to move – water saving should become important and urgent. You need a provocative yet attainable, defined objective. You have competence and friends around you and they are not just anybody. They want to make change happen and you want to start the process. Gradually, the team can grow.
From a previous project on the water situation on the Koster Islands in Sweden, from research on Malta, Greece, France and Sweden, and from our own, broad knowledge on small islands, we knew for certain most European islands could save much of the water they use. How much? We estimated any island could save 25 percent and made that our challenge.
Anyone can understand 25 percent is a lot. A lot of water, energy and money. Everyone reads the papers about the freshwater situation in the world which affects almost everyone today, right at their home. No one can turn down an offer to save 25 percent.
Our fellowship was an engaged politician: member of the European Parliament, a project manager, a professor with deep knowledge on freshwater, a researcher with a vast network of islanders and writing abilities, and a young student.
Eventually, the team grew as eight islands joined in, most of them represented by their mayors and water managers.
STEP 2: Raising funds
You need funding for research, meetings and dissemination, and perhaps for experts. Do not include infrastructural investments yet, as these need to be planned and prioritised during step 4 and implemented in step 6 and/or 7. First, you need funding to run the project through steps 3, 4 and 5.
A project on water saving can be funded by your municipality, enterprises or the region in which you live, it may be granted funds from the European Union – or a combination of all of the above. You should engage a university to get resources (= time and knowledge) from them.
You will need a simple work plan for yourself and your team, and an estimate of the costs. Later on, water saving efforts will presumably need some major infrastructural funding, but that is part of step 7.
STEP 3: FINDING THE FACTS
You need to examine the gut feeling you brought with you from step 1. You need to question yourself – and everybody else - who believe they know all about water. You need to research and verify you are on the right track. Water saving may be one of those cases in which imagination is baffled by facts.
You have to get out of the office. Don’t base your decisions on the advice of people who don’t have to deal with the results. Talk to those who own the problems and the possibilities - the islanders.
Water saving is not only a monologue delivered by some expert in a rostrum. It is not only a roundtable dialogue between some powerful people. It has to be expanded into a demologue (demos is Greek for people, logos is speech) where all the inhabitants of an island engage in thinking, planning, acting and checking.
The first part is field research, visiting places and meeting people.
In our WASAC project, we had eight islands to examine, understand and describe. We made a field study on each of the islands. Our project manager, accompanied by a young researcher, met with hotel owners, farmers and school kids, checked wells and springs, inspected mains and pipes, pumping stations, RO plants, reservoirs, took pictures, studied maps and plans and statistics, met with the engineers and local administrators. We contacted researchers and consultants, visited the water office, asked and asked over again. The research team was in constant contact with our professor. We wanted to know the truth about the island’s water assets, its use of water, and how it is produced and distributed. We wanted to describe the three layers of the islands. We needed to build relations with people responsible for water management in communities, and we needed to build trust.
STEP 4: MAKING A PLAN
When you believe you have seen everything, when you have the details that create the big picture, time has come to see if other people share the same picture. You need to set the scene for some serious creative thinking. You want people to have their own opinions, but not their own facts. You want people to be part of a challenge, not a threat. You will need all the trust you have built so far.
The most important part of the plan is the planning. The heart of the matter is not the facts, the budget, the timeline, the technologies – it is the dialogue.
Without people believing in your cause, you will be lost.
Without people backing you up, there will be little water saved.
Without people joining your crusade, your efforts will be wasted.
In WASAC we gathered the core team, the mayors and the water managers we met during the field trips for a two-day workshop on one of the islands. During the workshop, we used Edward de Bono's Six Thinking Hats, the Schnelle brothers Metaplan (commonly called "post-its"), and Kauro Ishikawa's Cause/Effect Chart (usually named the “fishbone diagram").
All the work done under our workshop was documented with post-its organised in fishbone structures on big boards or on the walls of our meeting rooms. This made it easy for everyone to take active part in the process, and to understand what others had said and proposed.
These fishbone charts are the starting point, the creative sketches on which we will later develop more precise water saving plans.
We were lucky enough to have an external observer, a Swedish professor who observed us as part of her research on how to stage and navigate collective learning. Link to her report.
STEP 5: RAISING HANDS
Now is the time to engage residents, visitors, managers, farmers, kids, teachers, officials and politicians. You need to talk, talk, talk.
Use many channels to communicate the importance of water saving: informal meetings, meetings with the kids at school, meetings at the pub, at the shop, at the post office. Social media, newspapers. Remember: Fighting wasting water is a good, undisputable cause.
Take the example of Samsø, a Danish island in the Kattegatt east of Jutland. Samsø is a municipality with 3,700 inhabitants and covers 114 km². Due to its central location, the island was an important meeting place during the Viking Age. In 1997, Samsø won a government competition to become a model for a renewable energy community and it is now producing 100 percent of its electricity from wind power and biomass.
Søren Hermansen, born on the island, was the guy who took on the competition. He had to convince his fellow islanders that their island could come to use 100-percent renewable energy. He knew the islanders were tight-knit and conservative, but he knew it could be an advantage: once he convinces enough potential first movers to act, the rest would follow. Hermansen showed up at every community or club meeting to give his pitch for going green. He pointed to the blustery island's untapped potential for wind power and the economic benefits of making Samsø energy-independent. And he sometimes brought free beer.
It worked. The islanders raised their hands in favour of Hermansen’s ideas. They exchanged their oil-burning furnaces for centralized plants that burned leftover straw or wood chips to produce heat and hot water. They bought shares in new wind turbines, which generated the capital to build 11 large land-based turbines, enough to meet the entire island's electricity needs. Not being satisfied, they supported the construction of 10 massive offshore turbines, which provide power that offsets the island's dependence on cars and ferries. Today, Samsø isn't just carbon-neutral - it actually produces 10 percent more clean electricity than it uses, with the extra power fed back into the grid at a profit.
Hermansen has become a green oracle, traveling from country to country telling the story of Samsø's success when he's not at home running the Energy Academy, a research centre for clean power. But he's the first to say that the real credit belongs to the islanders, and that Samsø's lesson is that environmental change can only come from the ground up. Hermansen remarks: "People say: ‘Think globally and act locally’, but I say you have to think locally and act locally, and the rest will take care of itself."
Use all the channels you can: meetings in the community, in schools, at workplaces, in the post office, on the ferryboat, in the harbour, on the bus. Use social media, local newspapers, radio and posters. Remember: fighting water waste is a good, undisputable cause. Remember to talk, talk, talk.
STEP 6: QUICK FIXES
You must walk the talk. Success is not just a big saving in the future, it is a small saving takening place right now. Every project needs to show some short-term wins, small or big. They are needed to emotionally reward your comrades in the project, and to keep the critics at bay. Without visible, timely, unambiguous and meaningful wins, you will run into problems.
There are obvious successes that may be achieved cheaply and easily, what we call “low-hanging fruit”. Even if they seem small compared with the challenge as a whole, they are evidence you are on the right track. Little drops of water make the mighty ocean.
Do not underestimate the power of quick fixes and be sure to communicate them.
STEP 7: TAKING ROOT
Probably, the people of your island know a lot about water saving. How it’s done, how it can be done. It’s up to you to learn from them and from others. Three decades ago, Nobel Prize winner Wangari Maathai suggested to rural women in her native Kenya that they plant trees for firewood and to stop soil erosion. She said:
- “Until you dig a hole, you plant a tree, you water it and make it survive, you haven't done a thing. You are just talking.”
Her trees took roots and her work grew into a nationwide movement to safeguard the environment, defend human rights and fight government injustice.
Sooner or later, your efforts to save water will run into the complex water regulations. Somewhere along the project, after the first easy wins, you will have to attack the sturdy defences and difficult politics of the old system. Eventually, you must choose to deal with these obstacles or you will never fulfil your challenge.
A very common source of inability to change is the formal arrangements often referred to as “The System”. It can be laws, layers of hierarchy, rules, regulations and procedures, tying our hands when we want to help make a vision reality. In the public sector, bureaucracy is often such an obstacle. The way we reward people at work may also be an important holdback.
One way to break through is to work visually with simple tools such as the hats, the post-its and the fishbone diagram.
Another barrier is in our minds. We have all seen this: “No”, says the water manager, “I have been running this water scheme for ten years now. I know what I am doing.” Yet there is lots and lots to be done. Excursions and examples in this book might help. An example is not the main thing influencing others. It might be the only thing.
You must see to it that changes take root. If your plan balances the three types of actions – changing people’s behavior, smart engineering and wise governance - in a consecutive process -chances are that change will stick.
Can you save water?
Of course you can.