Trying to make our world a better place isn’t only what I do for work, it’s a passion that sits at the heart of my everyday life. But whether sustainability or diversity, the corporate and consumer worlds aren’t totally distinct – I believe data is the thread that joins them together and the key enabler that informs the actions we must take to mitigate the impact of pressing global issues.
So, when I was asked to join the Data Brilliant team to host episodes focused on data for good, I jumped at the opportunity. And I couldn’t wait to start recording with my first guest, J. Carl Ganter.
Carl is the former vice chairman of the World Economic Forum’s Global Agenda Council on Water Security. Through this role, and his award-winning photojournalism, he is one of the most prominent global experts on the issue of water resourcing. In the commercial sphere, he has founded two companies – Circle of Blue and Vector Center – which use data-driven technologies to address this and other major issues, most of which have been accelerated by climate change. It felt so fitting as my first episode, since Qlik has supported Carl throughout his journey, and it's been inspirational to work alongside him.
With just a few weeks to go before world leaders come together in Egypt for COP27, we discussed one of the most pressing climate change issues: water.
Carl told me that climate change feels like a looming shadow, similar to the presence of a shark. Think of water as the teeth. Like the bite of a shark, climate change is felt through rising sea levels, less availability of fresh water and more intense droughts across America, India and China. We can take the teeth away from the shark by saving water, which will help us save energy too. If we all commit to making small changes, together we’ll have less of an impact on the environment and limit the power of climate change. It’s in this context that we can fully understand the importance of Carl’s journey and work.
A moment of realization
Water flows through everything: food, energy, climate, justice, people – and much more. Although conversations about the climate are constantly happening, many perhaps don't appreciate how close to home the issue of water scarcity and water pollution is.
After growing up in Michigan, Carl was astounded when asked to photograph one of the 10 worst places on the planet, and Lake Michigan was on the list. As a place where he’d spent many happy childhood hours, he couldn’t believe this designation. It was this experience that made Carl start to rethink access to safe, freshwater lakes worldwide.
Collaboration must lead the way
After this, Carl traveled to Asia to document infectious diseases, and soon saw a lack of access to safe drinking water and sanitation was the root cause. This led him to found Circle of Blue, an international network of journalists, scientists and other experts dedicated to creating a future of fresh, clean water in a changing climate – and we’ve worked together many times since to enable this.
One of the most memorable experiences for us has to be working on the KNOWWATER project with the Columbia University Water Center. By collaborating with sustainability experts around the world, we contributed to the collection of data from several government agencies in the United States. The result? A single source of information with a 360-degree view of water availability, use, and quality. This was such an innovative project and serves non-profit organizations on the frontline by giving them total oversight of the information they need to fulfil their mission.
Humanized data in context is the solution
If we want to get everyone, from individuals and big businesses to join the fight to protect our planet, we need to use data to tell stories that provide evidence and inspire action. As mentioned, data is the link between us all that makes this possible – it’s only a collective effort that will drive real change. But often, the problem lies in identifying the right information to inform action.
Carl and I spoke about the challenge of helping people understand which data to believe. He summed up this challenge perfectly, “first we have to show relevancy... we need to see ourselves in the picture.” It’s true, we need to understand exactly how water scarcity will affect us individually, as well as our personal and professional communities – and we need to be able to trust the information we see too.
Here’s where data literacy comes in. We must all be enabled to test data, understand where it comes from, and review it in context to make sure we’re using the right information to guide our thinking. Carl explained that once data has been captured and contextualized, it can drive the course of direction, like a compass. Like flying an airplane, when there are storms and winds ahead, the radar system can guide you through by sending signals and receiving information to calculate the right course.
So, if business and sustainability leaders want to create real change to help protect water – and the future of our planet – the talking needs to stop. As the compass we need to beat climate change, we have an increasing volume of information to guide our course. Now we’ve got to use it to take action.