OWF Initiative – Understand Industry Water Use and Impacts


“I used to think that my job didn’t have anything to do with the environment. Then I realized that my job, as well as everyone else’s job, impacts the environment in some way. And now advocating for sustainability has become my No. 1 responsibility.”

– Ray Anderson

“’Comply’ is not a vision.”

– Ray Anderson

The OWF is interested in utilizing data and software technologies to help industry understand its water use, transparently provide information to the public, and identify opportunities to increase efficiency and sustainability. Water is a component in every industry’s supply chain, whether as a raw ingredient (beverage and food, recreation), transportation, production (electricity), etc. Many industries also now have sustainability programs and nonprofit foundations that direct profits to addressing environmental issues. OWF can support these efforts as described below.


Understanding Water Issues and Impacts

The OWF prides itself on understanding water issues while also being a software technology developer.  We do not presume that implementing software will itself solve a water issue because we know from experience that stakeholder relationships, history, and understanding the context of water problems is often more important than technologies.  However, there is a strong interest in making decisions based on good science and data.  Consequently, when working with industries to understand water issues and impacts, we work with customers, stakeholders, and experts in the field in order to implement appropriate data analysis and visualization solutions.  Below are examples of questions that are of interest to OWF:

  • Can we develop open and understandable water footprint tracking capabilities to understand the impacts of water use from industry processes and properly handle variability due to time and geography?
  • Can we help industry understand impacts of water use on a region in order to better integrate industry in a region?
  • Can we help industry understand risks to it supply chain related to water and opportunities to collaborate with other organizations to implement multi-purpose projects and programs?

Demonstrating Transparency

As a nonprofit that focuses on open source software and open data as a platform for its work, the OWF understands the benefits and challenges of an open business model.  We feel that open data and transparency are important when dealing with fundamental rights and public resources.  We recognize that there are boundaries between public resources (such as water) and private rights to develop and use such resources (such as water rights).  We seek to help industries demonstrate that they are good stewards of public resources with sustainable practices, perhaps beyond the simple “comply with regulations” level.  OWF can provide the following services to industry to improve transparency:

  • Interface industry sustainability programs with government and nonprofit data and processes, so that everyone is communicating with the same data and terminology.
  • Provide technical capabilities that benefit efforts related to policy and public education.
  • Serve as a neutral organization that is not advocating for industry or other interests. OWF recognizes that different perspectives on water can be polarizing but we seek to implement technology solutions that improve access to data and increase transparency.  For example, one aspect of this might be to provide data and metrics in an open format that can be used by third parties to review an industry’s sustainability practices.

Encourage Innovation

The OWF is a technology-based organization located in the Innosphere start-up incubator.  We understand business, investment, and innovation.  We collaborate with other organizations to find ways to innovate and solve problems.  Our approach is to identify problems and then seek funding, collaborative partnerships, and technology solutions to solve those problems.  Below are examples of opportunities that we see for innovation:

  • OWF is a member of the nonprofit Colorado Water Innovation Cluster (CWIC), and the OWF CEO Louann DeCoursey is the acting Executive Director of CWIC. CWIC members include universities, government, industry, and social sector nonprofits with the shared goal of water innovation and economic development.  OWF can leverage its network to help industry innovate.
  • OWF understands the value of open platforms for industry. We believe that open data standards can serve as a platform for industry and spur open innovation.  We recognize that open source software that we develop can be used by industry but that industry also develops proprietary solutions.  This is OK and we can collaborate at appropriate levels.
  • Because water touches industry at many levels, OWF is interested in innovation in many sectors, including energy, agriculture, utilities, beverage industry, and others. We want to encourage innovation at every stage of the supply chain while supporting sustainability.  Ultimately, OWF wants to connect innovation at the local level, with impacts at the regional level, to demonstrate broad impact to society.

Leveraging Social Impact Investment

As a social enterprise, OWF is very interested in how social impact investing can improve the environment as well as providing a return on investment for industry.  Developing and implementing technologies to identify waste and encourage efficiency is an obvious opportunity.  However, because water systems are so complicated, there is potential to increase efficiency in one area and negatively impact another part of the system.  OWF is interested in leveraging social impact investing as follows:

  • Demonstrating successful implementation of social impact investing to encourage additional investment.
  • Investment in software tools and other technologies is transferable because software is not “consumed”. There is an opportunity to demonstrate that such investment is leveraged many times.  Consequently, targeted investment in OWF and the work we do can have a high rate of return.