WiN Panel 2022: Be Conscious of Your Water Footprint!

Water is a key element to the survival of life on earth, and a basic human right, only second to air. Despite our understanding and acceptance of this, our efforts to preserve and improve access to clean water, trails behind the level at which it is depleting. Water is not infinite in its reservoir, and its use by the privileged sector is leading to a steady decline in its availability.  Along with pollution, climate change and constant depletion of the Earth’s resources, potable water is actually not even accessible to a sizable portion of the population. 

The third edition of Shaw Contract‘s Womens Innovation Network (WiN) water panel discussion took place in March. Each year experts from different industries and disciplines discuss the importance of water stewardship from diverse and unique perspectives. Looking at water usage and conservation, and what society can do to help is the core focus of this discussion.


From left to right: Tatiana Antonelli Abella, Founder and Managing Director, Goumbook; Christopher Champlin, MEA Regional Vice President, Shaw Contract; Joe Battikh, PhD Candidate, Sustainability Management, Visiting Scholar – American University of Sharjah








Understanding The Human Impact on Water

Tatiana Antonelli Abella, Founder and Managing Director at Goumbook, a social enterprise focused on sustainability for over a decade now, is no stranger to this issue. She’s run several campaigns on conservation in the past, many of them with a focus on connecting companies with people and helping them make an impact. An important point that she stresses is how little we understand about the impact our decisions make on water utilisation and conservation.

“So many little things we do actually have a large impact on water,” Tatiana explains. “Those single-use plastic water bottles each use three litres of water to manufacture. Something even more shocking to a lot of people is that those palm trees you see around the country consume up to 300 litres of water in the summer! It’s important to educate the public and market about the different ways we can make a difference. When looking at trees, the Ghaf tree is a far better option. Not only is it the UAE’s national tree, but consumes significantly less water and is much better for the indigenous ecosystem.” 

Joe Battikh, PhD Candidate, Sustainability Management, Visiting Scholar – American University of Sharjah, takes the conversation further, projecting it on a large scale. His work involves research on climate change and security, and he shares with us the impact of water needs.

“The MENA region is the most impacted in the world by climate change,” says Joe. “With the current rise in temperature, most of this region will be inhabitable due to heat and water scarcity. The sea level is rising at a dangerous rate. UNICEF research uncovered that water scarcity is not only impacting agriculture and the economy, but children as well, 90 percent of the impacted number is in the MENA region. Scarcity of water has a huge impact on their health and development. All of these are a result of climate change, and it is a reality we might have to face sooner than we think. Water is not just used for drinking and agriculture, but for generating power as well. In this region, we use water to clean solar panels because they’re always covered in dust and lose their efficiency if we don’t clean them often.” 

So what steps can we take to improve this situation? For a start, we can take a look at our existing infrastructure.

“We have a lot of existing buildings that need to be retrofitted with simple but effective technologies that help reduce water usage and wastage,” says Tatiana. “The second is the construction industry – its operations are heavily water intensive. So we need to look at the way we build, our use of cement, and other water-intensive building aspects. But then a lot of it is also behaviour. You can have the best building in the world, but if we keep our air conditioning thermostat set at 16 degrees constantly, or keep faucets running for longer than necessary, we won’t make any progress. There are also stricter measures that we can take, like taxation. We don’t take water seriously, and it’s time we start changing that.” 

“Mismanagement is a big contributor to water wastage,” Joe adds. “We know that around 60 to 70 percent of water goes into agriculture. But around 30 to 40 percent of that food goes to waste, which means a lot of water that is used in farming has gone to waste. Technologies, policies, and effective management can go a long way towards solving these. Certain multinational companies have KPIs in place to ensure there’s something to work towards. So it is certainly possible.” 

“Eliminating waste in buildings is huge,” says Christhoper Champlin, MEA Regional Vice President at Shaw Contract. “I was recently introduced to a company that calculated about 40 percent waste in concrete used in every building here, which means that a LOT of water is wasted! Something we can immediately start doing is using digital technology to eliminate that waste. When you start putting the technical data in a digital format, then all of a sudden, that becomes succinct. If we can measure water usage through KPIs then we can start being more mindful about it. Digital technology is a great opportunity for us to start improving the way we do things.” 

Innovation, Technology, and Certifications

Fortunately, there are plenty of smart people working on some innovative and ground breaking technologies to help preserve water and improve the condition we’re currently in. For example, Tatiana talks about Nanoclay, an additive that’s sprayed on sand to improve it’s water and nutrient retention by about 50 percent – something that’s incredibly useful in a desert climate. Then there’s breathable sand – a special type of processed sand that’s given selective permeability. Through the process, manufacturers are able to select what elements can pass through and what has to be filtered. Just a little bit of the sand lasts a lifetime, and water consumption is reduced by up to 80 percent as a result.

“Another solution is water from air,” says Tatiana. “This technology has existed for a long time, but only recently evolved to become much more efficient. There is a challenge though – we still need energy to basically run it. However, significant progress has been made. We can solar power the process now and it could be off grid. Each panel can power five litres of water per day. So this is a solution that could become even more efficient and potentially used for irrigation.”

Christopher explains that water stewardship is part of the Cradle-to-Cradle manufacturing philosophy, and as a result Shaw has spent years looking at reducing water consumption and how water can recycled back in manufacturing processes. As well as considering the manufacturing of its products, in Shaw’s offices and facilities it has tried to eliminate the need for plastic drinking water bottles, as the company also looks to see where we, as individuals, can have an impact.”

Consumers are becoming more aware and responsible as well, slowly, but surely.

“A large manufacturer in Europe that has been making containers for a cosmetics brand for 40 years, was demanded transparency and information by their client on the processes involved in making these containers,” says Joe. “This was because customers had been asking for it, which means that consumers are becoming more conscious. So it’s all coming full circle.”

Tatiana further adds, “Labelling is important too. Take Unilever for example. Since the past two to three years now, they don’t work anymore with companies that aren’t EcoVadis certified. EcoVadis is a certification that looks into your social and environmental processes, the way you work, basically. They rate you from bronze, silver, and gold, and Unilever have consciously refrained from working with several companies that aren’t Ecovadis certified. These labels and certifications really support the work being done behind the scenes, your operation, and how you produce. In the past, smaller companies who have been practising this would feel like they’re not recognised. But the fact that more and more big brands are looking into their labels is very rewarding from an investment point of view.”

Another point that comes up in this talk, and in the several discussions we’ve had in the past, is how sustainability does not have to be expensive. In fact, the latest technologies and policies make it even more affordable, if not equally priced. According to Tatiana, this is where policy and regulation comes into the picture. Not only will it bring about clean standards, but will push people and organisations in the right direction. In the process, we’ll notice that sustainability doesn’t have to be costly at all. Even if your building isn’t LEED certified, there’s still a lot you can do that will make a significant difference.

And what about education in the early stages? We learn that this makes much more of an impact than we realise. Children are more aware then we give them credit. When taught the right way, they are the ones that come home and educate their family. Changes start from the grassroots level, and sustainability and water conservation is now being embedded in their curriculum. So they’re a lot more aware, however, the downside is that some children are starting to suffer from eco anxiety. This is where experts can come in and help them think through solutions, allowing them to become more positive about their future.

“It’s important to be an example for your kids,” says Joe.


“Do your part, whether it’s recycling or making sure the AC is always at a reasonable temperature. And it’s funny how the kids pick it up quickly. They even start nagging you because of that, but they take it as a habit. So it becomes a part of their routine and they are the ones who will take this agenda forward.”

— Joe Battikh, PhD Candidate, Sustainability Management, Visiting Scholar – American University of Sharjah


Shaw Contract’s Women’s Innovation Network or WiN, has been running successfully in the Middle East for over five years and brings together professionals from across the construction and design sectors. WiN was initially set up to support the development of women in leadership roles but has evolved to welcome all who have an interest in seeing a more diverse leadership across the industry. With the core WiN activity to date based in Dubai they have brought together stakeholders from across the built environment, and as part of the Cradle-to-Cradle approach, water stewardship is a key focus.

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