Small businesses in Cape Town - and across South Africa - should prepare themselves for expensive and limited water to become a way of life in the years to come, and restructure their operations for water efficiency to help conserve this resource, says Viresh Harduth, Vice President: New Customer Acquisition (Start-up & Small Business) at Sage Africa & Middle East.
“The long drought in the Western Cape is a wake-up call for all South Africans, who have become accustomed to readily available water. We live in a water-scarce country and other provinces have suffered droughts in recent years, too This is a national challenge that we all need to face,” he adds.
“As recent reports show, solutions such as desalinisation plants to turn seawater into drinkable water will be neither quick nor cheap to implement. Water efficiency should thus be every small business’s priority.
Harduth says that small businesses, in the past, paid little attention to water efficiency because water was a small component of their operating costs. This was the case even in industries that need large volumes of water to operate - for example, mining, agriculture, hospitality, hairdressers, laundrettes, car washes and manufacturing.
“Following the Eskom crisis of 10 years ago, small businesses faced power outages and needed to look at solutions such as generators and uninterruptible power supplies to manage the impact,” he adds. “Now, they’ll need to look at water efficiency and alternate water supplies to manage the shortage of water.”
Harduth notes that the super-charges and penalties small businesses could incur by using more water than they’re allowed under water restrictions, could do serious harm to their profitability. As hotels in Cape Town have discovered after hitting the headlines for allowing guests to make use of the bath, irresponsible water usage could also damage a business’s reputation.
“With the holiday season beginning, companies in the hospitality industry need to educate guests from other parts of the world about the seriousness of the water crisis and how they can help conserve water,” Harduth adds. “It’s also worth noting the drought charge the City wants to introduce for residential and business customers to make up for lower water revenues following water restrictions. Businesses should be ready for costs to rise in the years to come.”
It is time for small businesses to think of water sustainability as a long-term risk for their businesses.
In recent years, we have seen several US states as well as southern Portugal, parts of Spain and Italy, and large swathes of sub-Saharan Africa suffer severe droughts. "By 2030, water supplies will satisfy only 60% of global demand and less than 50% in many developing regions where water supply is already under stress," according to McKinsey research.
This highlights the importance of thinking about water when doing long-term strategic planning, says Harduth. For example, is your water-intensive manufacturing process going to be sustainable in the long-term? Are there long-term capital investments you can make to change your production process? If you’re in an agri-business, should you consider switching crops?
Harduth adds that small businesses can find opportunity to prosper through the drought while helping others to mitigate its effects. For example, waterless car washes are emerging as a business opportunity. And in California, landscaping businesses that replace water-greedy lawns with native plants flourished during a long drought in the US state.
In the shorter term, Harduth says there are many steps Small & Medium Businesses can take to contribute towards sustainable water use in South Africa, while improving the efficiency of their operations:
- Understand your water usage - define how much you need for catering and staff use, production, watering gardens and so on. Then look at ways to reduce usage.
- If you have an irrigation system, make sure it is properly maintained and configured. Switch it off completely if it’s in the rainy season.
- Consider using water-efficient bathroom fittings – for example, taps with an aerator or flow restrictor to use less water as well as water-efficient urinals. Do away with automatic flushing urinals.
- Educate employees about how they can avoid waste – for example, by not leaving taps running when they wash their hands or their lunch dishes.
- Put water saving tips near kitchen and bathroom taps to remind team members of the importance of saving water.
- Reduce the car washing at the office block.
- Encourage employees to tell you about leaking taps and toilets.
- Inspect toilet and tap fittings regularly and replace washers if you discover any leaks.
- Plant drought-tolerant, indigenous plants in your garden rather than thirstier alien plants.
- Many South African businesses waste water when washing floors, cars and walls. Rather use a bucket and a cloth, mop or a broom to clean.
“South Africa is one of the 30 driest countries in the world and we can no longer take our water supply for granted,” says Harduth. “We must all work together since sustainability of our resources is an issue of national importance. Government should also look at ways to incentivise water efficiency among businesses, even when we do not face immediate supply constraints.”