Interview: Prof. Dr. Judith Walls, Universität St. Gallen
On the fringes of the Hansgrohe Water Symposium 2022 (topic: "Precious Water"), we spoke with Prof. Dr. Judith Walls from the University of St. Gallen, Switzerland. The sustainability management expert warned that we have already exceeded the planetary boundaries in biodiversity, climate and water, and that sustainability is the most urgent problem of our time, not least in the executive management levels.
Three Questions for Judith Walls
Professor Walls – What is the most important action that our politicians must take, to protect water?
Judith Walls: That's probably thorough regulation. We know that water is linked to climate change issues like droughts and flooding. These are complicated issues, but regulation will help to protect the climate and biodiversity. We need to protect 30 percent of land and 30 percent of oceans. In addition to that we also need to look at how water is being used and whether there is pollution in the water. This can also be regulated, possibly even through a pricing mechanism to make sure that users of water are also paying for water.
What does our economy have to do to protect the water environment?
J.W.: Companies play a really big role in protecting water and thinking about water use. That is because the majority of fresh water that's withdrawn, is actually used by industry and agriculture. We don't have a lot of fresh water in the world to begin with. Companies can think about how they can reduce their reliance on water, their impact through polluting it and maybe closing the loop of production. An average pair of jeans is using up approximately 10.000 litres of water. How can we do this with 5.000 or 300 litres? That's a big challenge for businesses.
What can our society do to protect the precious resource?
J.W.: All of us have a responsibility to protect water resources. We can do this both directly and indirectly. For example, directly through reducing the amount of shower time, watering our garden less often or more consciously. Indirectly we can also have an impact. Many of the products that we buy – like beef or nuts, shirts or cheese – have quite a high water footprint. 15.000 litres, for example, are used for each kilogram of beef. If we eat less beef and replace it with something else, our water footprint improves.