Water Shortage Will Bring Green Jobs, Sustainability

The communication pipeline between sustainable innovations and implementation is broken, speakers said Monday at Sustainable Silicon Valley's West Summit 2010.

Hundreds of sustainability workers in both private and public sectors gathered in the Frances C. Arrillaga Alumni Center at Stanford to discuss the changing role of sustainability in Silicon Valley.

Panel speaker Laura Unobskey Shenkar explained the pipeline problem. "We don't need any more great research or any more great innovation. There are plenty of great resources out there. The trick is getting to market them."

Shenkar is the founder of The Artemis Project, a consultant of 21st century water management, and her panel, "Innovation in Technology in Management of Water and Energy," focused on the critical need for improved efforts of water conservation in the Bay Area.

"Water scarcity will hit us over the next 18 months," said Shenkar.

With more than 300 water-treatment facilities in California alone, 19 percent of our electricity goes to moving water, said Jeffrey Byron, commissioner at the California Energy Commission.

"We need to make investments in infrastructure in a much better way than we're doing," he said. "We need to use every electron and every drop of water as efficiently as we can."

According to Byron, the mandate of the state is energy efficiency, implemented through building and appliance standards. "We sell this on the basis that consumers are saving money," he said. But more attention needs to be given to water conservation, the speakers asserted.

Dr. Peter Williams, chief technology officer of Big Green Innovations, agreed that the issue is not technology. "Water has known to be undervalued for about 300 years," he said. "The issue is the appropriate social evaluation of the commodities concerned."

With the issue of a water shortage creeping to the forefront of government concern, the speakers called this the ideal time to create jobs. "It is an obvious green jobs opportunity," said Shenkar. "The interplay between policy and people and technologies—that is the way that green jobs are created. It's going to be an obvious economic driver."

These are difficult times, but there are things cities and counties can do, said Byron. Each year, the energy commission saves California consumers about $1 billion in energy savings by developing building and applicance standards. "Some cities come in and say they're going to exceed those standards," said Byron. "It's about convincing your city that there are jobs associated with this."

Williams, who was born in England, explained the big-picture policy problem. "There are 53,000 water utilities in U.S," he said. "There are 20 in the UK. If you want to manage the health of a 500-mile river, it makes very little sense to chop it into 30 entities. The means of having those entities collaborate becomes absolutely essential."

But the problem lies in the private sector, as well, Shenkar postulated. "Water scarcity is becoming such a problem that we won't be able to wait until we can figure out these big-picture things."

Businesses will soon choose to buy the utilities on site, to make sure that they have enough water and it is clean, said Shenkar, who said she believes businesses can have the most immediate direct effect on water conservation. "Actively managing water resources on site is really where the promise is."

Some businesses like Worrell Water Technologies have already implemented this type of on-site water recycling, which they call The NextGen Living Machine: Advanced Ecological Water Treatment. Worrell is implementing the machine, which specially filters greywater and blackwater to be used again for non-potable use, in the new Public Utilities Commission building in San Francisco.

Not all attendees agreed that the need for sustainable innovation has ended, however. Stanford Civil & Environmental Engineering Professor Craig Criddle commented that "biotechnology is exploding in terms of how we manage water. If there's ever a time for increased investment and research, it's now. There's opportunity for jobs, and research is going to drive that."??

See the original post on Los Altos Patch. By Maggie Beidelman . December 8, 2010.