Trekking in Patagonia is many hiker’s dream, and so it was for Viktoria Granström too. One of the great memories from when she trekked along the snow-capped peaks and icy blue rivers of the majestic Andes was the clean water. Many days during her month-long travel she filled her bottle straight from the rivers, just the way she does in the north of Sweden where she grew up.
“It is wonderful to be able to drink water straight from a stream, but it is a luxury to be able to do that. In some places even clean tap water is a luxury. When I travel I always try to drink tap water. The local guides know if the water is drinkable and if a lot of chlorine has been added, I fill a glass an let it stay for a while to let the chlorine evaporate,” says Viktoria.
Viktoria is an experienced trekker and has participated in many excursions in remote areas, sometimes in rough weather conditions with a lot of safety preparations. Like the hiking in Svalbard when they had to take turns outside the tent keeping a lookout for polar bears, long train rides like trans-Siberian railway through Gobi desert and the world’s highest altitude train ride from Shanghai to Lhasa.
While many of Viktoria’s outdoor adventures are on water in a solid state—frozen into ice —it is the liquid state on which she focuses most of her time leading the IKEA Water Initiative. IKEA strives to both conserve water and encourage good water stewardship and Viktoria together with her team evaluate the IKEA impact on water resources and water quality on a global level, from suppliers to customers use. The goal is to find possibilities to reduce the impact of IKEAs own and the suppliers’ operations and at the same time offer better products.
Raised awareness of the value of water is a key to improved water management in water-stressed areas where IKEA operates – to ensure that there is enough clean water for ecosystems, people and communities for the future.
For Viktoria it did not start with water scarcity. When she joined IKEA to work with wood furniture production eleven years ago she had several years of experience of both research and development in the smelting industry. She has a Master’s of Science in Chemical Engineering and Process Metallurgy and knows more than most of us about mining and extracting metals from ore. When she was leading the sustainability work at a smelter in south of Sweden she wrote an opinion editorial in the newspaper, which attracted the attention of IKEA.
“I had worked a lot with strict environmental permits, emissions to water, chemical legislation and carbon dioxide emissions reporting. IKEA contacted me after that article and wanted to connect my knowledge to the work with wood industries, and that is how I ended up in this project,” says Viktoria.
Now, in her project with how to become water positive throughout the IKEA supply chain, including own operations and customers use, legislation and human rights will be basic demands.
“We usually take the toughest regulations from each country and conform to them globally in order to be well prepared when the regulation goes global,” says Viktoria.
Water is something we all need and share, and we depend on the local water cycle and groundwater around the world. The heavy use of our valuable water in aquifers below the surface of the Earth worries Viktoria. Groundwater is the largest source of fresh water in the world and in many countries water needs for homes, industries and agriculture can only be met by using the water beneath the ground.
“Many of us in the western world are spoiled and we live our lives as if there will always be enough water. The fact is that we are using the groundwater on credit. It takes an average of 10 to 50 years for rainwater to filter its way down to become high-quality water in the aquifers, and if we use too much of our groundwater now, the water tables drop and there will not be enough left in the future,” says Viktoria.
As much as she is devoted to her work in making sure that freshwater is properly looked after through the IKEA value chain, she makes sure to treat water with respect in her daily life. Choosing tap water over bottled water is just one of her rules. She has also installed a water saving shower and water saving taps at home.
“A toothbrush cup sounds very old fashioned, but I have actually started using one. I fill a cup with water instead of letting the water run. I learned from my colleague in India that it is common to use a cup also to wash your hair to save water, says Viktoria.
Viktoria always has a carafe with water in the fridge, instead of letting the tap water run to get cold enough. When she takes a shower the light automatically turn of after six minutes, which means she has to be done by then.
“If it is a dry summer and you cannot collect rainwater for your plants, I recommend you fill the can while waiting for the shower water to get warm.”
It’s easy to take clean water for granted since it flows easily out of the tap for most of us but when we do not have it we suddenly realize the value of water, but Viktoria hopes even those of us not directly impacted by water shortage will start looking at it as a global issue and start saving water or rather not wasting more water for future generations in their day-to-day lives.
“If one billion customers reduce their water use by as little as 10 litres per day we are looking at a savings of 10,000 cubic metres per day and 3,650,000 cubic metres per year in the markets where we are represented,” says Viktoria.
Five facts about Viktoria
From: Robertsfors in northern Sweden
Favorite lazy activity: Watch National Geographic or documentaries
Reading right now: “Factfulness” by Hans Rosling
Next adventure: Alaska or Antarctica
Wish I did better: Sell and give away more of my belongings.