Needed: "An Inconvenient Truth" for Water

Watch out Al Gore! I heard a fascinating presentation from the Chairman of Nestlé, Peter Brabeck-Letmathe, on the global water crisis.

Not since seeing Gore present an early version of the presentation that became An Inconvenient Truth have I seen an environmental issue presented in such a compelling and urgent manner.

For context, this was a small session for the Young Global Leaders at the World Economic Forum’s Tianjin meeting. I first saw Al Gore present an early version of An Inconvenient Truth at a similar-style gathering in Davos. There were only 30 of us at the Al Gore meeting (so he did not use a cherry picker), several participants shifted their lives and companies towards addressing climate change. A similar feeling came out of this meeting, with several of us attending saying that something must be done.

We need “An Inconvenient Truth” about water.

Peter’s style was highly convincing from a statistical and data perspective (for a CEO audience), but we need to find a way that some of his data can be presented in a compelling manner to show people how it affects their lives. His presentation needs some more storytelling to it so that non-numbers people like me can relate.

Here’s some aspects of his presentation that I found most interesting, much of which comes from a study Peter worked with McKinsey to produce.

Based on current trends, water usage will be 40 percent above the current available water supplies by 2030.

Worse than this global figure, however, is the plight faced by many regions in the developing world. Roughly one-third of the world’s population is concentrated in countries where the water deficit will be larger than 50 percent.

Industrialization is a key drivers of the shortage, with withdrawals coming from:

1- Agriculture: 71 percent of global water withdrawals now, dropping to 65 percent by 2030.
2- Industry: 16 percent now, rising to 22 percent by 2030

But what about improvements in water usage? Unfortunately there is not much improvement going on. Efficiency of water usage takes place at an annual rate of roughly 1 percent per year for both agriculture and industry.

Already the supply/demand gap is prompting some communities to unsustainably tap aquifers, rivers and wetlands.

What can be done? Make An Inconvenient Truth for Water!

Anyone interested?

Leave a Reply


  1. jb

    i’m allergic to water

  2. I’m allergic to Nestle. The phrase “searching for a cause” springs to mind.

    You want to make a better world – stop buying Nestle products.

    By the way…full transparency…is there an Ogilvy/Nestle link?

  3. Steve: In the interests of transparency, I always disclose. Take a look at my “about” page. I wrote this out of my own interest in the topic and do not know of any link between Ogilvy and Nestle on this issue or any other. I don’t even know if Nestle is an Ogilvy client.

    You may not like the messenger, but the message is important!

  4. I believe you although there appears to have been work done with Nestle in the past – including them being referred to as “founding PR clients in Vietnam”.

    And I did check your transparency statement – just wondered if it had been accidentally overlooked as there are links between your employer and Nestle. Although I have no idea if they are ongoing.

    As regards not liking the messenger but the message being important. I think this is a case of a lack of credibility of the messenger. I don’t doubt the water situation.

    But being told by the world’s largest supplier of bottled water about it makes me, at best, go and look for a better source.

    This is a company long disliked for many reasons. Not least for its developing world marketing where it taught mothers that it was better to feed babies with milk formula mixed, frequently, with unclean water – than to breastfeed.

    As for the rest…two minutes of Googling came up with the following…but in general I am hard pressed to think of a company less deserving of column inches as it searches for some positive PR.

    You know how this works….in order for them to continue to take large amounts of water they have to position themselves as being responsible. This is trying to position themselves as being part of the cure whereas they are a very very large part of the problem.

  5. Thomas.

    There are already several decent movies on the topic, but my suggestion would be that you read Jonathan Watts new book “When a Billion Chinese Jump” to understand the full size of this. Nestle, while they have a great externally facing CSR program are in fact part of the problem through their agricultural practices and policies. The issue is very complex, and while a lot of discussions surround contamination, little attention is focused on the role of Big Food, corn, and the pressures their systems place on the water systems..

    You are right to say that it is a huge problem, and I am glad to see the topic discussed, but this message will remain buried as long as the biggest water users are the ones highlighting the problems.

  6. @ChinaCSR: Yes, I am sure there are great films on water. Sadly for me, however, I have not heard of them. This is not just my own ignorance, but comes back to my basic point: We need “An Inconvenient Truth” about water. We need films (or other forms of storytelling) that penetrate on a global scale.

    @Steve, @ChinaCSR: The issue is too important and large for any one person or one company to “own”. In addition, since it is so complex, we need a strong, credible and independent communicator to make the issue understood.

    On a totally unrelated side note: I am surprised that Steve’s Boing Boing link works here in Beijing! I thought Boing Boing was blocked in China.

  7. Nice detective work! I don’t know. From the wording of Amanda’s bio, sounds like they could be.

  8. A couple movies that I would recommend would be: Lessons of Loess Plateau (feel good about how China returned 10sq km from desert), Blue Gold, or Food Inc. All of them hit on water issue from different angles. Each important.

    With regard to being bigger than one person/ one company, you are correct, but it doesn’t take much more. And with regard to having a film (medium) that would catalyze awareness like the “inconvenient truth”, that would be great as well… but only if it moves organizations to change.


  9. To be fair, your pledge for transparency in cases of when you write about your own customers, doesn’t count for much if you don’t actually know who your customers are.

  10. Steve: I will do my best. Ogilvy has 172 offices worldwide, so it is a little tough to know the exact client list at any given moment. I have and will continue to disclose any client I am working with directly and any others I have knowledge of. If that doesn’t work for you, I will refund your subscription in full at any time. 😉

  11. Apologies, just astounded that you wouldn’t know if Nestle (of all people) were a client. We’re not just talking about worldwide but Asia Pacific, your area.

    You say on your bio when referring to transparency that you adhere to ethical journalism but surely that’s all about checking.

    Okay will shut up now.

    Just confused that’s all.

  12. Glad to read something non-social-media on your blog, haha.
    And social media can do a lot to save the environment too. That was all I researched while in UN.
    And I know Ogilvy has OgilvyEarth, a small initiate but has full-time people doing that – not in HK. I believe there should be more and more inter-sector collaborations for solving the earth crisis.

  13. Steve: Whatever you do, don’t “shut up”!! I welcome all voices on this blog, particularly critical ones. As a result of our conversation I am going to amend my disclosure statement on the about page to reflect the reality of the situation. Some people – such as me before I began working at Ogilvy – may not see how an agency is structured. I work within one narrow sub-specialty of a global company with 172 offices and tens of thousands of clients. I will always disclose when I am mentioning a client I work with directly and clients whom I am aware of, but there may be times when I inadvertantly mention a company or person who has or had a business relationship with Ogilvy. I don’t have the resources to do a global check of clients. This is certainly not a perfect solution or process, I admit, but I will be open about this imperfection!

  14. Thanks, Yolanda! Yes, I can talk about topics other than Social Media!

    The water issue is crucial. Well worth deviating from Social Media to highlight the issue.

  15. Thanks, Yolanda! Yes, I can talk about topics other than Social Media!

    The water issue is crucial. Well worth deviating from Social Media to highlight the issue.

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