One of the great challenges that society faces is meeting the needs of a growing global population within the sustainable limits of the planet's natural resources and ecosystems. Helping to build a green economy – where economic, environmental and social well-being are equally valued – is part of the answer. But does water innovation fit into a green economy? And can UV treatment contribute?
Conviction politics or practical solution?
A green economy is a highly aspirational objective. According to the United Nations Environment Programme, it “results in improved human well-being and social equity, while significantly reducing environmental risks and ecological scarcities”. It promotes the concept of the “triple bottom line”: sustaining and advancing economic, environmental and social well-being.
However, a green economy also has great potential practical benefits. While continuing to seek growth in income and employment, a green economy uses public and private investments to reduce carbon emissions and pollution, enhance energy and resource efficiency, and prevent the loss of biodiversity and ecosystem services.1
The concept has gained credibility in recent years, as economists and governments have begun to recognise the serious shortcomings in the current economic growth model of nations. This model focuses solely on increasing GDP (Gross Domestic Product), and consequently undervalues the services provided by nature, such as water filtration, pollination or coastal protection. This not only threatens economic development which relies on these services, but has obvious implications for the world’s biodiversity and for people whose livelihoods and security depend strongly on nature. Arguably, that’s all of us.
In spite of these arguments, it’s generally recognised that people will only adopt green economic policies if they believe it is in their interests.2 This challenges us to demonstrate that sustainability, rather than being simply a cost or a hindrance, is an important driver for innovation, with all the economic benefits that this can bring.
Increasing innovation in Europe
In recent years, the EU has established a number of European Innovation Partnerships (EIPs), which aim to address major challenges by bringing innovative products to market and supporting Action Groups in tackling specific issues.
The EIP initiative is underpinned by the Horizon 2020 funding programme, which considers bids for projects that tackle the societal challenges identified by the EU. Eco-UV is funded by a grant from the Horizon 2020 programme.
The EIP that addresses water challenges, known as EIP Water, includes amongst its priorities the following areas:3
- Water reuse and recycling
- Water and waste water treatment (including the recovery of resources)
- The water-energy nexus (the inextricable link between water supplies and energy generation and usage)
These areas in particular could benefit from innovations to water treatment processes, with UV treatment being a prime candidate.
UV treatment is used in many food and beverage production plants
How can UV treatment help?
Let's consider one example. Reusing waste water for irrigating crops would have a lower environmental impact than, say, desalinating seawater, but strict minimum cleanliness standards and adverse perceptions work against it.4 Some of these obstacles require political will and leadership to address, but the arguments in favour of reuse would be strengthened by treatment technologies that are effective and efficient. UV treatment, with its ability to break down chemicals and inactivate bacteria and viruses without introducing new chemicals into the system, is an attractive option, and the improved environmental footprint that is promised by Eco-UV can only help.
Eco-UV partner IVL (the Swedish Environmental Research Institute) is a member of the Industrial Water Reuse and Recycling Action Group of EIP Water, and is well placed to help communicate the results of the project as part of the solution to encouraging water reuse.
Water is the ultimate environmentally-friendly resource but it is unevenly spread across the earth, leading to tensions between communities and countries. Colossal amounts of energy are consumed in its collection, treatment and supply. However, it is absolutely essential not only to sustain life, but also to underpin society and industry. It's difficult to think of a better example of the potential for the green economy to reap enormous benefits for the planet as a whole, but this relies on projects like Eco-UV to provide the innovative solutions for supplying water that are critical for real success.
Securing water supplies - the greatest challenge for the green economy?
- http://web.unep.org/greeneconomy/what-inclusive-green-economy; accessed 21st September 2016.
- http://www.wri.org/blog/2011/04/qa-what-green-economy-0; accessed 21st September 2016.
- http://www.eip-water.eu/about; accessed 21st September 2016.
- L A Sanz and B M Gawlik, Water Reuse in Europe: Relevant guidelines, needs for and barriers to innovation, EC Joint Research Centre, 2014.