Campus - 23.03.2017 - 00:00 

Science Café St.Gallen: clean tap water as a human right

On 22 March 2017, the Science et Cité Foundation staged a public panel discussion in the Science Café in the St.Gallen Textile Museum. Experts from the Pädagogische Hochschule, the University of Applied Sciences and the University of St.Gallen discussed the topic of "Tap water as a human right" with their guests.

24 March 2017. The City of St.Gallen and its three institutions of tertiary education (University of St.Gallen, University of Applied Sciences and Pädagogische Hochschule) have been members of the Blue Community initiative since September 2016. Cities, municipalities, universities and other institutions which bear the Blue Community label recognise the human right to water. They pay attention to a sustainable use of water and espouse the cause for the supply and utilisation of water to remain in the public sector. Blue Communities encourage people in their environments to drink more tap water again. Prof. Dr. Sibylle Minder Hochreutener, Vice-Rector of the FHS St.Gallen, chaired the discussion with the public and the following panel guests:

  • Massimo Pedretti, in charge of energy projects in the Office of Environment and Energy, City of St.Gallen
  • Prof. Dr. Thomas Dyllick, Professor of Sustainability Management, University of St.Gallen.
  • Esther Giger Robinson, Co-Director of the International Office, Department of Economics, FHS St.Gallen
  • Stefanie Graf, Chief of Staff, Rector’s Board, responsible for the Blue University project, PHSG

Thomas Dyllick opened the discussion with facts and figures about the "Water Tower Switzerland" and the global water crisis, which he said was one of the greatest challenges of the century. "884 million people do not have any access to clean water; this is 13 per cent of the world’s population or one in six human beings. More than 2.6 billion people must do without sanitation facilities – that is one in three people worldwide," said the Delegate for Sustainability Management at the HSG about the elixir of life, water. Switzerland had sufficiently large water resources of the highest quality, added Thomas Dyllick, but this did not mean that this Alpine country was not affected by the global water problem. Only 18 per cent of the "water footprint" was generated within Switzerland.

Making water consumption in Switzerland sustainable

A remarkable proportion of 82 per cent was caused by imported goods and services, explained Thomas Dyllick."An inhabitant of Switzerland uses an average of 162 litres of water for drinking, cooking, cleaning and washing in the household. If we also take into account the 'virtual water' that is used to produced foodstuffs, beverages, clothing and other consumer goods, however, the water footprint amounts to a total of 4,200 litres per person per day in Switzerland."

The lion’s share of the Swiss water footprint (81 per cent) was caused by the production and consumption of agricultural products. Industrial goods accounted for 17 per cent, while the remaining two per cent was used in private households, continued Dyllick. "A big water footprint is nothing bad as such," said Dyllick. "A product for which a great deal of water is used but which comes from a region that has generous water resources or a healthy water management system does not cause any damage. Rather, we must find out in which places at what times of the year the water footprint is not sustainable."

Sewage treatment in St.Gallen

How St.Gallen deals with its water resources was described by Massimo Pedretti from the Office of Environment and Energy of the City of St.Gallen. The guests were interested in the sewage treatment options available to the city and in the question as to how, as a consumer, it could deal with this elixir of life more sustainably. The sewage plants used ozone radiation, for instance, to make medicines in waste water harmless to the further water cycle, explained Massimo Pedretti. In households, consumers could pay attention to the use of environment-friendly detergents, laundry nets for clothing and filters against microplastic pollution.

Extending the Blue Community into the wider world

The three representatives of the institutions of tertiary education explained what the education sector could do in favour of a more conscious management of and access to clean drinking water. Thomas Dyllick mentioned projects in which HSG students were taking specific action against water shortages in remote regions of emerging and developing countries, for instance with self-cleaning water filters powered by solar panels.

Esther Giger Robinson, Co-Director of the International Office, Department of Economics, FHS St.Gallen, spoke of a partner university in Southern Turkey which had taken over the Blue Community project one-to-one and implemented it on its campus. Also, guest students were sensitised to the preciousness of clean water in projects at the FHS St.Gallen and carried this idea back to their countries of origin. Stefanie Graf, Chief of Staff, Rector’s Board, responsible for the Blue University project PHSG, emphasised that it was not only teaching but also research which had to deal systematically with the issue of water shortage.

Children educate parents to use water sparingly

Sensitisation in schools also helped to interest children in this precious resource, and the children, in turn, also educated their parents, said Sibylle Minder Hochreutener, Vice-Rector of the FHS St. Gallen, from her own experience. Also, the City opened its doors to curious visitors: the sewage plant and the reservoir could be visited on a guided tour at any time, said Massimo Pedretti.

"If we start by paying deliberate attention to the consumption of meat (28 per cent), cereals (eleven per cent), sugar (ten per cent), milk (ten per cent), edible oils (nine per cent), as well as coffee and tea (eight per cent), but also cotton, we can certainly not go wrong – and we are doing something for our health into the bargain," said Thomas Dyllick to conclude the discussion. Enjoying tap water instead of drinking water out of plastic bottles, pulling out all the stops when it comes to cleaning waste water, and motivating everybody to deal with water in a more environmentally friendly fashion in everyday life: this idea is what the guests of the Science Café took home after a tasty aperitif with water, nibbles and wine in St.Gallen’s Textile Museum.

Photo: Photocase / TheGRischun-Rafael Peier

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