Thursday, February 2, 2012

Protean Vision: Making the Food-Energy-Water Nexus a Reality

Yesterday USEPA announced that $9.8 million will be provided in grants to 38 states, territories and tribes to help protect the health of swimmers at America’s beaches. The agency also launched an improved website, BEACON 2.0 for beach advisories and closings, which will allow the public to easily access  current water quality and pollution testing information for more than 6,000 U.S. beaches.

This is good news indeed. Our beaches will get cleaner, the public more aware, and hopefully as a result we will all enjoy a better quality of life. There are many who will say that $10 million is not enough to clean all the beaches in 38 states, and that is probably true.

We at Proteus believe that this effort, while commendable, is a very little part of the whole solution. The question here is why do we have beach closures? Where is the pollution coming from? There are two kinds of sources - point sources and nonpoint sources. We have some laws that try to protect these sources and probably does a good enough job at it. But EPA here is working on an 'end of the pipe' solution for the whole issue, and hence is not always successful is solving the complex problem.

And a complex problem it is. The problem is a web or interrelated issues - food, water, and energy. We can only go so far by addressing the issues within the silos of food, water, and energy. It is time now to start looking at all the relationships and devising enterprising inter-related solutions. Food production involves a lot of water, preferably clean water. With the erratic weather patterns and reduced flows in the rivers and streams, it is becoming increasingly difficult to carve out sufficient irrigation water to grow food. Cleaning the water for consumption and also the wastewater for reintroduction into the rivers and streams are also becoming more and more expensive due to ever increasing energy prices. Energy production on the other hand requires a lot of water for cooling towers and process. Even if we want to invest in "green" biofuels, we still need water to develop them which is becoming scarce. The way the world works right now is that the three industries (agriculture, water, and energy) and their governing agencies and laws act in their silos. Each group sets goals, creates plans, and embarks on those plans without consulting the other groups. In governments around the world, there is no integration of policies!

Source: WEF 2011

As the world hits the seven billion mark, we enter a new era of resource restrictions. Scarcity of food, water, and energy will become more severe and conflicts will arise, there is no doubt about it. The silver lining in this is that we will become more resourceful (pun intended) to devise solutions for this resource strapped planet. At Proteus, we believe that we can achieve this by four ways, and equal strides are needed in each of these paths:

  • Businesses need to become resource efficient, preferably with a net-zero environmental footprint.
  • Governments will need to develop integrated policies that encompass food-water-energy nexus.
  • NGOs and other non-profits will need to start taking very active role in developing solutions, sometimes leading the thought process.
  • Citizens of the world will need to make consumption decisions with sustainability in mind.
Businesses need to become resource efficient, preferably with a net-zero environmental footprint. It makes business sense to focus on resource efficiency because as the resources get depleted, the competitive market will leave no choice for businesses. The risks of resource depletion and uncertainty will become so high that conservation and efficiency will dominate decisions to ensure economic success. Sustainability focus is no longer a public relations campaign, it's a matter of survival. We see some companies already embracing this mantra and through our incubation services, Proteus now helps young start-up companies to make the right start. We also counsel established companies and municipalities to review their current strategies and procedures and reorient to focus on the triple bottom line: people, planet, and profit.

Governments around the world will need to develop integrated policies that encompass food-water-energy nexus. Governments and it's agencies including municipalities need to focus on creating holistic policies that address the issues and challenges in all the three industry sectors. Care should be taken so that policies of one sector do not erode the policies of the other. Proteus has the foresight and talent to  help build that consensus and facilitate the creation of these integrated policies. Out specific talent lies int he fact that we are Open and Willing to new ideas, knowledge, and perspectives. We see the elephant for what it is and hence can direct the teams to move towards solutions that are fit-for-purpose.

NGOs and other non-profits will need to start taking very active role in developing solutions, sometimes leading the thought process. We see a great need for NGOs and other non-profits to work as involved stakeholders in developing solutions, both in developing and developed countries. We commend and support organizations like Water For People that focus on implementing projects only when the entire local community of entrepreneurs, civil society, and governments are involved and engaged. We believe that economic, social and environmentally sustainable projects can only happen when we can establish creative, collaborative solutions that allow people to build, take ownership, and maintain their own systems. This empowering of everyone transforms people’s lives by improving health and economic productivity. During our daily business here at Proteus, we engage with NGOs and non-profits by mutual education, discussion, and exchange of ideas.

Citizens of the world will need to make consumption decisions with sustainability in mind. This is indeed a tall order to ask every global citizen to understand the state of the planet and it's frailty and then make choices that will turn the tide from personal greed towards a sense of cohabitation. This is very difficult. But it is not impossible. At Proteus, we strive to lead by example and help spread the 'story' by education and collaboration. We also commend agencies that have started a mass movement to determine how we can produce and consume more sustainably.

PROTEUS Consulting is 15 months old. We have had a great journey and look forward to a fantastic year ahead. We appreciate the support of all our mentors and well-wishers, we could not have done it without you. Thank you!


  1. May I say I am impressed with the postings and integrity of Ms. Bhadra. My best wishes to you and your firms success.

  2. Thank you Brian. I appreciate the kind words of encouragement. Thank you.