Water & Long-Term Value A Brief Report of the San Francisco Conference by Marc Strauch

LaRae Long Community Development Solutions, Earth Systems Science, Sustainability Research Group, Advisors' Forum

Water & Long-Term Value

A Brief Report of the San Francisco Conference

For: Hazel Henderson, Ethical Markets

From: Marc Strauch, Living Economy Advisors

Date: 2017.11.01

Version: v1.0



This document is a brief report on the conference ‘Water and Long-Term Value’ produced by Skytop Strategies and held at the Fort Mason Center, San Francisco, California on October 24th and 25th 2017.

A complete agenda and speaker and panelist roster can be viewed at https://skytopstrategies.com/water-and-long-term-value-2017-ca/

I attended this conference representing Hazel Henderson and Ethical Markets, a co-sponsor of the event, under the auspices of Living Economy Advisors. My attendee badge noted me as representing Ethical Markets.

This report is divided into four sections: (1) Synopsis, (2) Panels and Panelists, (3) Conference Structure, and (4) Editorial Comments.


The conference was an amalgam of thought leading professionals from a variety of sectors, including: (1) corporate executives who represent water as a resource commodity for industrial and related consumer products, (2) consultants involved in various aspects of water, principally for business use, (3) policy analysts, scientists and others who represent water in the public interest in the form of non-governmental organizations and, (4) scientists and program managers in governmental or inter-governmental agencies that focus directly or indirectly on water as a resource for various aspects of public use.

The overall tone of the conference was clearly water as a [scarce] commodity input to industrial applications, whether directly as an ingredient in foods or beverages, or indirectly as part of various industrial processes including agriculture, materials processing, heating, and cooling.

While there were representatives of environmental or related NGO and public advocacy groups, the panel presentations and discussions were not oriented toward water from an environmental point-of-view. Nor was there any real conversation regarding water quality from a public perspective, whether as potable water for consumption via municipal water systems or for recreational purposes.

There was no panel or presentation that directly addressed water-related public policy initiatives. Nor was there any conversation with regard to initiatives by the current executive branch of the US federal government to effectively dismantle the water and related regulatory standards promulgated by the US Environmental Protection Agency.

Neither was there any conversation or presentation related to the de facto deregulation and/or deconstruction of water quality standards along with an increasing trend toward the privatization of public water resources whether direct or implicit, as for example, on the wide range of federally managed public lands.

Virtually all of the conference focused on water resource issues within the United States. There were a few exceptions, specifically when a panelist representing a multi-national corporation (such as Nestles, Coca Cola, Levi Strauss or Intel, each of whom were conference sponsors) reflected on their corporate water usage in and from other countries as part of their international supply chain for the sourcing of raw materials or the manufacturing of products that were consumed in-country or for export to the United States and other countries.

The entirety of the conference focused on the approximately three percent (3%) of fresh water available for all human, livestock husbandry and wild animal uses worldwide and not the remaining ninety-seven percent (97%) of saline water on planet earth.

The overt focus on fresh water and the obvious exclusion of saline water is due, I believe, to two fundamental reasons: (1) perceived and actual cost prohibitions to considering desalinized water as viable alternatives or supplements to existing fresh water sources for conventional industrial and food and beverage production, and (2) inadequate scientific and technical knowledge and/or understanding of the potential for saline water and halophytic plants as food products for human consumption. Equally, there were no presentations on oceans or estuarine water bodies, either from a business or a scientific point of view.

It should be noted that there was no conversation about the increased salinization of terrestrial soil resources utilized for agriculture as a result of inadequate or poor environmental stewardship. Nor was there recognition of the relationship between water and soils for all forms of domesticated agriculture or watershed management.

There was some limited conversation with regard to meteorology and climate change and its direct and indirect impact on fresh water availability and agriculture but overall the directly related wide ranging issues of climate change were not discussed during any of the panels.

The role of federal, state and municipal governments, the legal issues surrounding water rights, especially the differences east and west of the Mississippi River, and the balancing of water usage between business, agricultural and human consumption was remarked on in several panels but for real intent was not substantively addressed.

The focus of the conference was very clear from its agenda of panels: water as commodity resource for use in business either as an ingredient in a food or beverage and/or as part of an industrial or manufacturing supply chain input. Though NGOs and their water initiatives were presented, the overall emphasis was on water as a business resource.

Corporate interests through their representatives on panels presented themselves as good corporate citizens (as would be expected). NGO representatives spoke authoritatively within the rather limited confines of the panel topics. And, virtually all attendees addressed questions to panelists within the context of their panels, panelists and agenda topics and did not venture outside of the boundaries set by the agenda.

To these ends, the conference achieved its goals admirably.

Panels and Panelists

All of the panelists and panel facilitators were professional, knowledgeable and eager to share their insights and perspectives. In context of the conference, its overall orientation, the panel topics and the structure and form of the conference, each were exemplary in presentation and knowledge and perspective.

Conference Structure

The overall structure of the conference used panels that focused on a specific water-related question, facilitated by a well-qualified moderator with panelists who were expert in their respective fields due to their professional activities.

While there was opportunity for question and answer and the break periods afforded reasonable opportunity for networking and collegiality, especially between what might have at one point been considered “adversaries”, for example NGOs and public policy experts contrast with corporate interests, there seemed to be clear focus and collaboration in navigating and solving the complex scientific, business and public policy issues related to water as a commodity input, albeit scarce, for business and industrial use.

The two break-out sessions were interactive and enabled conference participants an opportunity to interact in a collegial environment while addressing some of the issues presented by the panelists. I participated in the break-out session – Dual Value in Water: High Stakes for Companies and Their Investors – hosted by Sarah Evans, Founder and CEO of Well Aware (NGO) and Well Beyond (for-profit).

Editorial Comments

The conference succeeded in meeting the goals as expressed in the agenda. The topics presented and panelists each focused on specific, albeit narrow, areas of water resource use.

This focus on fresh water for industrial and/or business uses formed the foundation for the conference. The overall tone of scarcity and how to manage fresh water as a limited and scarce resource with a rapidly expanding global population and the resulting increased pressures on potable water for human and animal consumption, agriculture, livestock production and industrial and consumer applications, framed the conference agenda and ensuing panel conversations very narrowly.

Personally, I would’ve liked to have seen the conference address the larger issues of fresh and saline water from more of an environmental resource, quality and availability perspective that included an examination of the current political atmosphere in the United States and its impact on public and private uses of water as well as water quality and water privatization.

Further, to not address the issue of climate change and its direct impact on all aspects of water usage, both industrial, business and public, seems to not address the proverbial biggest elephant in the room.

Especially important was that the entire social equation of water and the equitable distribution thereof was not at all addressed.

Most important is the underlying supposition that water is a resource that can be commandeered by humans with financial means to suit the wants and needs of certain groups of humans at the overt direct and indirect expense of other humans and all at the expense of the planet and all sentient life.

I recognize that these issues were out of scope of the conference but it seems to me that to not address them lends further credence to the entire issue of denying that all of life on planet earth occupies the same spinning blue orb and that we must form bonds of cooperation rather than competition for the one native resource that makes the earth unique amongst all planets in our solar system, that which is the giver and sustainer of all life on the planet.

To do otherwise, suggests an unconscious and implicit denial that humans and all life are directly connected to and intimately dependent upon the earth for all of our sustenance and that the idea that humans and our economy are separate and distinct from all of nature is a very dangerous precedent that continues to dominant all aspects of modern thought and action, both individual, corporate and nation state.


© 2017 Marc Strauch. All rights reserved.

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