The 2017 Utah: Water is Your Business Forum, held on Thursday May 11, was a partnership between the Salt Lake Chamber and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation’s Corporate Citizenship Center. The forum brought together over 70 participants from the private and public sector to discuss the challenges and barriers they face when it comes to water optimization, conservation and circular water management. Attendees also discussed and identified ways these barriers and challenges could be addressed.

The event began with an overarching look at the business case for water by William Sarni, CEO of Water Foundry, LLC. Sarni helped participants acknowledge the business risks associated with water including physical, regulatory and reputational risk. He also touched on the importance of viewing corporate water stewardship and innovation as a “license to grow” strategy. “Water can fuel business growth, economic development and social wellbeing,” he said. “If you have water, you can drive your business growth not just locally, but globally.”

Next, Jennifer Gerholdt, Senior Director of Sustainability and Circular Economy Programs for the U.S. Chamber Foundation’s Corporate Citizenship Center led a thought-provoking panel with three business leaders: Michael Prendergast, Chairman of ClearPower North America, Steve Schnoor, Manager of Environment, Land and Water for Rio Tinto Kennecott, and Brad Wardle, Director of Marketing for Orbit Irrigation Products.

Gerholdt began the panel by defining the circular economy as an alternative to the linear take-make-waste economy. It is instead a restorative model focused on designing out waste and inefficiency from the system. She explained that applying circular approaches to water can help companies generate profit, reduce costs, and build greater efficiency through recycling, recovery and reuse.

Each of the panelists spoke about their company’s approach to water management and how they have tried to implement circular economy strategies into their products and/or processes. They also discussed the business value of the circular water economy, the impacts of new technology and innovation and the water management challenges and barriers they face.

Following the panel, attendees participated in small group roundtable discussions. The goal of the first discussion was to identify key challenges and barriers regarding adopting circular water management principles. Themes from the discussion include the low cost of water, pricing and rates, measurement and data, aging infrastructure, and public perception and education as challenges and barriers for businesses.

The second discussion focused on identifying practical steps and paths forward for overcoming the challenges and barriers discussed in the first roundtable. Groups had conversations regarding opportunities for improvement and how their organizations could contribute to solving these challenges. In the end, groups were to summarize the opportunities they identified in one word which produced some thoughtful results: Connectivity, Enlightenment, #InventivizeRiskCostMitigation, Collaboration, Education, Datacation (data & education), Partnerships, and Change.

The forum also highlighted businesses from across the state that are already leading the way in water efficiency and optimization through the Chamber’s Water Champions program. Water Champions are Utah businesses that recognize the crucial role water plays in the continued economic vitality of the state by focusing on water optimization, conservation and/or best water management practices. The program also provides resources and tools for small and medium sized businesses to become more water-wise.

The second initiative announced at the Forum is the Water Smart Innovation Challenge, which offers grants to winning innovators and entrepreneurs to develop innovative solutions that will improve Utah’s water future and help businesses and citizens optimize the way they use water. In total, the available grants will equal nearly $300,000 and will require a direct partnership with industry. The Water Smart Innovation Challenge is a partnership between the Salt Lake Chamber, Orbit Irrigation Products, Utah State University, Utah Science and Technology Research (USTAR), the Governor’s Office of Energy Development, and the Utah Division of Water Resources.

To close out the day, Mike Bernier, Director of Sustainability and Environmental Affairs for Swire Coca-Cola, USA gave a great keynote presentation about Swire’s best practices in water stewardship. He shared Swire Coca-Cola’s interest in protecting water resources in the communities and ecosystems in which they operate. Swire Coca-Cola has improved their water efficiency and limited their water footprint in local watersheds by setting water usage goals, collaborating with managers on achieving those goals and investing in water-efficient technologies at their bottling plants. Bernier spoke in detail about Swire Coca-Cola’s replenish program and the work the company has done in conjunction with Coca-Cola to implement conservation projects that restore the water supplies of natural water bodies like rivers, wetlands and aquifers.

Overall, this year’s Utah: Water is Your Business Forum was a collaborative and substantive event which allowed for both the private and public sector to come together and discuss creative and innovative approaches for solving Utah’s water challenges.

Thank you to the sponsors, partners, speakers, panelists and participants for a great event. We look forward to engaging with you in the future.

For more information, visit utahcorporateresponsibility.com/water.