Yet while easy to say, the practice is still not a matter of course. Because our blue planet is not as blue as it seems, and recycling waste water is an ethical way of treating a resource that is scarcer than we realise. We went to Block 6 in Berlin's Kreuzberg district to find out more.
Did you know that fresh water accounts for less than 4% of the planet's water resources, and that most of this is unusable, buried deep below ground or packed away as ice? Contrary to appearances, fresh water is not a boundless resource that simply needs to be directed through our taps. Whether intended for domestic or industrial purposes, water must be collected, treated, distributed and decontaminated after use. It generates a considerable financial cost, and its price will continue to rise into the future.
Armed with these facts, a pilot project is under way in the Kreuzberg district of Berlin at the heart of a complex of buildings called "Block 6", as well as on some neighbouring sites. It is here that 30 years ago, a waste water treatment plant was created and has continued to be perfected over the years. The system functions effectively and supplies water that is clean and less expensive than mains water. It is making people think, which is precisely the objective.
A model to emulate
Block 6 contains around 180 flats housed in a quadrangle of properties positioned around a green space that combines areas for recreation and water treatment. Strong environmental concerns were part of the original concept for the block, which was built in 1987. One of these is the treatment of waste water known as "grey water" (water from baths, showers, sinks and washing machines, which is not heavily contaminated). This is why the block was constructed to include a dual network of pipes, enabling water to be collected according to its source and then reused in different ways.
They say practice makes perfect, and this also applies to water systems: over time, the facility has been significantly improved. The technology is now mature, and the results obtained are more than convincing. In short, “grey water” is directed into a series of tanks where it undergoes a gradual biological treatment process involving the addition of selected bacteria. At the end of its journey, the water is restored to a quality close to that of mains water, and can be reused without the slightest risk. Since current legislation does not allow treated water to be regarded as drinking water, it is only used to supply toilets and gardens. However, this is a legal restriction that has no relation to the water's inherent quality, and the law could be amended to allow reasonable use of this new resource.
Waste water or a raw material?
Over time, the experiment was widened to include so-called "black water" – the dirtiest water flowing from kitchens and toilets. This water, which is full of nutrients and different chemical compounds, is collected via a separate network of pipes and must be treated in a specific manner. Treating “black water” locally is advantageous for two reasons: Firstly, it allows pollutants to be captured "at source" and much more effectively than when they are diluted in the large quantities of water that make their way to more remote treatment plants. With this system, harmful compounds are prevented from being released into the oceans, where they can no longer be removed. Secondly, nutrients such as nitrogen and potassium present in waste water can be salvaged and reconverted into fertilisers which are no different to those sold on a commercial basis. Considering that more than one litre of oil is used for the industrial production of one kilogram of fertiliser, it is not difficult to see how beneficial it would be to envisage waste water as a new raw material. However, this is experimental research yet to evolve into a commercially available product. But it certainly works!
Source of energy
Reusing water collected nearby offers further benefits still, not least the robustness of the process: this is tightly controlled, and the risk of service interruptions is very low. Should problems arise, a temporary service interruption can be resolved by simply switching to the public mains supply. And since the price of reused water is lower than that of mains water, this becomes a supplement to locally-produced water and the cost to the final user can be reduced.
Another significant aspect of supplying water is the energy required. The urban water cycle uses a huge amount of electricity. For example, supplying water to Berlin and it 3.5 million inhabitants uses the same amount of electricity as the entire consumption of a town with 280,000 people. Recycling water in the same place allows energy to be saved. It is entirely possible to convert the residual heat from grey water (for the most part produced in bathrooms) to electricity, which is then in turn used to pre-heat the water directed to these same bathrooms. Proximity is the key to success since the greater the distance, the more heat is lost. And by maximising the energy recovered on site, the additional energy used to supply water can be minimised: a gain on two counts.
A technique of the future
This model works – the results are there to prove it. Since 2013, the site has also served to demonstrate the efficiency of local recycling techniques. Studies are under way here with a view to improving methods further still, and to take them in new directions. We have already touched on the production of liquid nutrients for agriculture, but we can add to this plant cultivation (hydroponics), fish farming (aquaponics) and the production of liquid fertiliser extracted from so-called "black water". Not to forget the original objective of the plant, which is to convert waste water into clean water that can be reintroduced into consumption channels. Drinking recycled water is certainly not yet on current menus, but the idea will gain ground because a time will quickly come when there will simply be no other alternative. Is this not already the case on space stations?
To find out more, go to: www.roofwaterfarm.com/en/block-6
Our bank's experts help advance energy transition via Solar Impulse Foundation
Two specialists from our bank are among the top experts in this international foundation, which collects profitable solutions for a faster transition to sustainable energy.
Sustainability has been an important pillar for our bank for many years. For example, we have been carbon neutral since 2017, accompany companies in their energy transition and support start-ups and organisations that work with renewable energy. The Solar Impulse Foundation therefore has been benefiting from the sponsorship of the BNP Paribas Group from its inception.
Reconciling ecology and economy
The Solar Impulse Foundation was founded by the Swiss psychiatrist and pioneer, Bertrand Piccard, who makes it his life’s mission to demonstrate the opportunities of sustainable development. In 1999, he was the first to make a non-stop balloon journey around the world and, in 2016, he completed that journey again with a solar-powered aircraft. Since then, Piccard has used his popularity to publicise solutions that can protect the environment profitably. The ultimate goal? Motivate decision-makers and companies to set more ambitious environmental targets and better energy policies in order to achieve carbon neutrality.
1,000 sustainable solutions
Four years ago, Solar Impulse Foundation announced that it was looking for 1,000 sustainable solutions worldwide to accelerate the energy transition. That unique portfolio of solutions should then become an essential part of all environmental decisions, debates and political negotiations. Specifically, these are solutions that companies already have or will introduce to the market and that are economically profitable and technologically feasible, but do not yet have the visibility they deserve.
The targeted 1,000 solutions were reached on 13 April 2021. But because innovation never stops, the Foundation continues to add solutions.
Expertise from our bank
To gather as many innovative solutions as possible, the Foundation receives help from many partners and an extensive pool of more than 300 experts from companies around the world. Since any company may present its product on the Foundation’s website, these experts must assess the registered solutions objectively and in detail in three areas: profitability, environmental impact and technical feasibility. For a few years now, BNP Paribas Fortis employees have also devoted themselves to this task.
One of them is Quentin Nerincx, Senior Advisor Cleantech at our Sustainable Business Competence Centre, who advises companies on becoming more sustainable. “I didn't hesitate to apply," says Quentin enthusiastically. “It’s an exciting project with a wonderful and ambitious goal. Every month, the Foundation sends me a file for analysis. Each solution is studied by two different experts and, if they both make a positive judgement, the solution is labelled by the Solar Impulse Foundation. This quality feature can help to accelerate the implementation of the proposed solution - for example, a new technology or a product.”
Gunter Brems, Sustainability Expert Housing & Sourcing Services, also lends his expertise: “It is an honour to be part of this prestigious project. I have assessed several files in 2020, which was an enriching experience not only to share knowledge but also to acquire new knowledge. It is great to see how innovative some companies are dealing with a changing world, just as our bank does, and how to look for sustainable alternatives together.”
Helping our corporate customers with their energy transition
“This project is also interesting for my job as a sustainability advisor at the bank, because I keep up to speed on new solutions that are being developed worldwide. This allows me to expand my expertise continuously and to contribute broadly to corporate clients looking for solutions for their energy transition", adds Quentin.
At the end of last year, Quentin was informed that he is one of the top 20 experts providing expertise to the Solar Impulse Foundation. Gunter even made it to the top 10. These rankings are mainly based on the number of solutions analysed and the quality of the reports. “We are delighted that our input is appreciated”, the two experts say.
The collection of more than 1,000 approved solutions can be found on the Solar Impulse Foundation website. This summer, the Foundation is also publishing a Solutions Guide that will enable governments, companies and individuals to find and implement concrete solutions on a large scale. With this tool, everyone can find solutions to problems in specific geographical, industrial or financial environments in just three clicks.
The Foundation will also provide various public authorities with a Cleanprint, a kind of report and plan for governments and companies to achieve their climate goals using the solutions collected, in accordance with the Paris Climate Agreement. The report will also indicate where public authorities can modernise their legal frameworks for the ambitious implementation of these solutions. The first Cleanprint will be presented by Bertrand Piccard at COP26 Climate Summit in Glasgow in November 2021.
Jean-Laurent Bonnafé, CEO of BNP Paribas: “There will be no future for society without a successful, long-term energy transition. This transformation can only be undertaken collectively and requires technical and technological service solutions. In taking up the challenge to select 1,000 solutions which encourage environmental protection while also being profitable, the Solar Impulse Foundation is helping us to reach this goal in a very practical way and in line with the aims of the Paris Agreement.”
Seeing that the solutions collected are actually followed up by government leaders and other decision-makers will be the crowning glory of our work", conclude Quentin and Gunter.
Contact our experts at the Sustainable Business Competence Centre
How can the blue economy make a difference?
What if the future of sustainable business is at the bottom of the ocean for once? Marine biodiversity contains resources that can meet the environmental challenges of many sectors. Perhaps yours, too. Find out more during an online event about the promising blue economy on 11 March 2021.
Blue is the new green
71% of our planet consists of water. Seas and oceans play a crucial role in our climate, and coastal areas can capture up to five times more CO2 than tropical forests. The blue economy wants to benefit from all these advantages to improve both the environment and our well-being,
With local being the keyword. And that's where the difference lies with the green economy, which also focuses on the environment and health, but not always in such a sustainable and smart way. Eating organically grown quinoa from Ecuador, for example, is healthy and eco-friendly, but transporting it here is expensive and creates high amounts of pollution.
What does the underwater world have to offer that can be reused, recycled or converted into new sustainable products? A lot, it turns out, as the unique properties of organisms such as algae, starfish, jellyfish or sea cucumbers can be transformed into sustainable products with high added value. This is a process that requires creativity and innovation, and is already with us today.
For your sector, too
The blue economy is expanding rapidly and could bring about a revolution in a wide range of sectors such as healthcare, food, the plastics industry, cosmetics, energy and even aerospace. It is fully capable of helping companies transform their traditional activities into a sustainable model. And in Belgium's ports, the country already has a huge advantage and excellent access to coastal and offshore areas.
Another scoop of microalgae?
Microalgae, for example, offer a lot of promise, as they can renew themselves and thrive both in the desert and in the ocean. They contain many healthy components, such as proteins, that can be used to develop food products.
When discussing the oceans, the plastic problem is never far away. Human beings are producing more and more plastic as the world's population grows, yet the problem with the existing plastic is that it's nigh on impossible to recycle as its components are hard to separate. By making a completely different type of plastic from biomass, its recycling is already considered at the design stage. A large amount of biomass remains unused in the oceans, and using smart, natural polymers could revolutionise plastic production, for example. These polymers are capable of self-renewal and can adapt to their environment.
Who will pay for it?
Great ideas, you think, but who will pay for them? The financial sector certainly wants to play a role in this revolution and is prepared to take risks and invest in new technologies, production systems and R&D.
This commitment was formalised in various ways during the climate week in New York at the end of September 2020. BNP Paribas signed the Principles for Responsible Banking (PRB) and joined the UNEP FI's Collective Commitment to Climate Action, a partnership between the United Nations Environment Programme and the financial sector. In terms of the maritime sector, the Bank committed to working with customers to preserve and sustain the oceans. Read more about this commitment here (only available in French).
Would you like to find out whether the blue economy could make a difference to your sector?
Sign up here for a free online event on this subject on 11 March 2021 (in English only), organised by BNP Paribas Fortis Transport, Logistics and Ports Chair.
What is the future for mobility post-coronavirus?
The health and economic crisis has affected all aspects of every sector. Among them, mobility, for both private individuals and for companies.
Mobility is evolving every day. And it has been driven further as a result of the coronavirus crisis. Many people have been locked down and working from home has been widespread in many parts of the world.
The coronavirus crisis has changed concerns about transport
We are no longer moving around in the same way. And concerns are no longer the same. According to a BCG Consulting report, social distancing and vehicle cleanliness are the most important aspects for 41% and 39% of respondents, respectively, when choosing a mode of transport. There is also pre- and post-Covid mobility, with respondents being more likely to choose walking, their own bicycle or scooter, or their car than before the crisis.
Sustainable and alternative mobility in the years to come
Mobility has not necessarily waited for the coronavirus crisis in order to evolve. And, according to the same report, the share of more environmentally-friendly vehicles will continue to increase. By 2035, more than 35% of new vehicles will be electric cars, becoming the predominant form of motorised transport worldwide. Autonomous cars will also become more common, with 10% of vehicles being level 4 vehicles (able to travel without a driver, for example), and 65% level 2 or higher.
Customised mobility for employees, right now
The future of mobility is also relevant now, especially for businesses and the self-employed. The need for alternative modes of transport does not only concern private individuals, but also employees. There is no longer a single mode of transport for all situations, but a range of means depending on the need at a given moment. Electric cars, hybrid vehicles, electric bicycles, a public transport season ticket, car sharing, leasing, etc. These modes can take different forms and be combined in a mobility card, for example. There are benefits for the employees and managers of a company but also for the company itself through cost reduction, optimisation and fleet management.
Find out more about our tailor-made mobility solutions
The road to alternative mobility
Nowadays, responsible fleet management is built around sustainability. We're here to help you identify and realise your Corporate Social Responsibility ambitions.
Together we can cut your company's carbon footprint, improve employee mobility, and make sure these steps become a central pillar of your company's added value. In short, our aim is to have an alternative mobility policy.
We can help you make the switch to alternative mobility and new technologies to reduce your carbon footprint. Our SMaRT approach ensures your fleet has the best energy mix to match your strategy and driver profiles.
Alternative mobility needs new technologies to go hand in hand with new infrastructure. That's why we offer not only electric cars, but also the right charging solutions, too. As part of our integrated service provision we can determine how many charging points you need, install them, and manage how they are used both at the workplace and at the driver's home.
Modern mobility management is about more than just cars or vans. You need a 360-degree approach. We'll work with you to determine your mobility strategy and needs. Greener cars are just one of the options available. We have a number of mobility management solutions (such as the Mobility Card) and alternative mobility solutions (such as bicycle leasing) to inspire your organisation to offer a more flexible range.
Focus on employees
When you put your employees at the heart of your organisation, you're in a better position to find skilled employees, satisfy them, and retain them. Go a step further than just an alternative mobility solution: focus on their safety and let them play an active role in achieving your sustainability goals. Trust us to improve their safety and integrate new technologies.