Water wisdom – often overlooked aspect of industrial circular economy

Teemu Turunen


Teemu Turunen
Phil. Lic. (Env. Science)

The adequacy of clean water has been identified as one of the key risks in our society, along with climate change and the decline of biodiversity. Therefore, it is important for us to consider water wisdom as a significant part of our journey towards a more sustainable future within the context of the circular economy.

Water is a molecule with fascinating properties. Its anomalous density behavior as a function of temperature and a relatively high specific heat capacity gives it a vital role in natural ecosystems.
At the same time, it is a crucial commodity in our society, whose value and possibilities have only begun to be emphasized in recent years.

Global challenge of adequate clean water

Only 2.5% of the world’s water is freshwater, and a significant portion of that is bound in solid ice or glaciers. Approximately less than one percent of the world’s water resources are available for use. Of this fraction, around 70% is consumed in agriculture, 20% in industry, and 10% in households.

The limited availability of water, which often does not follow national borders, leads to crises. One example of this is the dispute between Ethiopia and Egypt, stemming from the GERD dam project. Ethiopia aims to boost its economy by investing in hydropower, which Egypt downstream perceives as a threat.

Significant areas suffer from at least high water stress, meaning a regional situation where water usage exceeds supply. It is estimated that two billion people live in areas experiencing water stress.

Rising value of water is reflected in increasing regulation

Recently, there has been an understanding that those who control the value of water also control its usage. Fortunately, at the EU level, there has been awareness on this issue.

In 2012, the European Commission approved a plan to safeguard Europe’s water resources. This is a long-term strategy with the goal of ensuring sufficient availability of high-quality water for all legitimate uses. The aim is to improve the implementation of the EU’s current water policy, integrate water policy goals into other policy areas, and address the shortcomings of existing frameworks. Subsequently, the plan has materialized through directive work, covering various aspects of water management.

In Finland, one of the most significant cases where water-related directives have been interpreted and applied in legal proceedings involved Finnpulp Oy’s planned bioproduct mill in Kuopio. The facility did not receive an environmental permit as it was deemed to jeopardize the ecological state of Lake Kallavesi, contrary to the EU Water Framework Directive (2000/60/EY). It is expected that there will be an increasingly comprehensive and holistic regulation related to water use in the future.

Water wisdom as part of the circular economy

Recently, there has been talk of a water-wise circular economy, defined in a report produced by the Finnish Environment Institute as follows:

Water-wise circular economy is an economic system where water is introduced into the techno-system within the limits of water resources’ renewal and is used sparingly, avoiding waste. During use, valuable and useful substances dissolved in it are recovered and reused, and the energy or capacity to trap heat contained in them is utilized. To achieve the goal of clean material cycles, harmful substances dissolved in water are captured and removed from the cycle.

In a water-efficient circular economy, pressures on water, water resources, and water ecosystems are mitigated in various ways. Recycling and reuse of water are promoted, and pressures on water and land-water ecosystems are mitigated by primarily using already acquired natural resources and rainwater satisfying the water needs of the bioeconomy.

As we can see from the definition, it addresses a very comprehensive framework, including both technical aspects and processes occurring in natural ecosystems.

Finland as a pioneer in water-wise circular economy?

To optimally utilize Finland’s abundant water resources in the transition towards a water-wise circular economy, various measures and technologies are needed. The Prime Minister’s Office has already investigated ways to promote the emergence and adoption of water-wise bio and circular economy solutions in Finland. The solutions are categorized into actions and technologies such as:

  1. Improving water efficiency and productivity
  2. Reducing water waste
  3. Recovering substances and energy from wastewater
  4. Increasing the production and use of recycled water.

The report states that Finland’s operational and regulatory environment does not currently adequately support the emergence of innovations and business in water-wise circular economy. This is particularly true in cases where the goal is a pioneering role or significant growth in so-called clean technology exports related to water.

Actions are needed across all sectors of society

The Prime Minister’s Office suggests concrete measures such as:

  • Launching a voluntary water efficiency program alongside existing energy and material efficiency programs
  • Strengthening domestic market demand with innovative public procurement
  • Introducing innovative financing models for the blue bioeconomy and nature conservation
  • Implementing recycling-promoting taxes.

Of particular interest is the role of Finnish industry, which has a long tradition of energy efficiency work, including water efficiency. Emphasizing the importance of industry in continuous development could further enhance its role.

Towards industrial water wisdom – This is how you get started with development work

Would you like to optimize your company’s water usage? Our leading expert Teemu Turunen’s blog post thoroughly examines industrial water wisdom, offering practical tips and insights. It provokes thoughts on the significance of water in industry and serves as a springboard for those interested in sustainable development and optimizing industrial operations.

You’ll receive practical examples of how water usage can be improved both economically and ecologically. If you’re eager to learn more about the topic, this post provides a comprehensive and inspiring package of information.

Towards Industrial Water Wisdom

The industrial sector increasingly requires critical scrutiny of water usage. There is also a growing demand for innovation and startup spirit: at its best, industrial water wisdom is advanced by revamping production methods, enabling the utilization of dissolved particles in water and the energy carried by water. It is crucial to consider water across the entire value chain.

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