Water trend spotting for 2010

By Daniel Collins 12/01/2010

World marketing communications brand, JMT, released a ‘100 Things to Watch in 2010’ list at the end of last year. Not hydrological trends but cultural, and geared towards affluent and Western nations. Water made an appearance in seven of them, explicitly or implicitly:

Water Footprint Tracking

2009 wasn’t a bad year for this, but 2010 will probably be even better. Tony Allen, the mind behind the ‘virtual water’ concept has a book out this year on that very topic – I assume and hope his audience is the general public. I wonder if ‘virtual water’ will become a catch phrase in North America or Europe. I think NZ will cotton on too, but ever so reluctantly. The Royal Society of NZ released a backgrounder last year, to which I contributed but it was really the work of Brent Clothier. It didn’t seem to make a hit in government; the Ministry for the Environment isn’t thinking about it – tsk tsk. And yet last year the Listener cited Clothier as the #4 name in environmental moving-and-shaking – one of the few scientists to get recognition.

Recycling Gray Water

This has also started getting momentum, at least in the US. The water shortages in California will no doubt help. I see last year’s arrival of Chance of Rain as another indicator that urban garden water use is making people think; CA has quite a few water blogs now, probably the best represented US state. Colorado’s easing of restrictions of rain barrels is another indicator of more laissez faire residential hydrology. WorldChanging also notes a trend in urban water use, ostensibly in the context of adapting to climate change.

The Waterless Washing Machine

Now this is a new one for me. I would have thought it a European innovation, but no. The nearly waterless washing machine uses nylon beads to clean fabric. Interesting. While it’ll hit the markets this year, I expect the price tag to be prohibitively high for much uptake. Besides, dual-flush toilets are still a novelty in the US compared with NZ, so I don’t really think they’re in tune with house-hold water-use efficiency quite yet. Put a (higher) price tag on water, and that’ll change.

Return of the Water Fountain

Another interesting one, and rather ironic given the suite of water-saving trends in the list. I imagine the reason stems from a need for more public art and a drive to get back to ‘nature’. What would be really nice is if the fountains were rain water- or gray water-driven.

Greening the Palate

Now this wasn’t meant to be about water, at least not 100%, but water does play a big role in what we eat (see water footprinting above). I expect more people to buy products according to a suite of environmental indicators. The challenge, as I see it, is to develop indicators that are both tangible for the consumer and meaningful for the environment. A gripe I have with virtual water is that it is not as meaningful for environmental sustainability as it ought to be. A further challenge is to develop them fast, before consumers lock themselves into a sub-optimal system.

Green Retrofits

Again, not 100% about water. Energy and materials are probably the main focus, but water-use efficiency and storage will be a factor in affluent, semi-arid regions. Rain barrels, gray water reuse, dual flush toilets. Western Europe is ahead of the US on this one, but the US is catching up.

Dry Shampoo

I see a market for this – waterless shampoo. And not just for business travellers – for anyone who is strict about keeping up appearances. It’s not so much about water conservation though. And the ironic thing is, if we didn’t use traditional shampoos religiously, we probably wouldn’t need shampoo as much, though we would need water.