Water efficiency in industry ensures the continuation of business

According to the Water Poverty Index, developed at the beginning of this millennium, Finland has the world’s highest welfare rate associated with water. In addition to Finland being one of the most water-rich nations in the world; the coverage of water supply and sewerage systems; the use of water in households, industry and agriculture; environmental affairs; and the socio-economic factors related to water supply belong among the best in the world.

The water consumption reflects our industrial structure. Our most important sectors are the water-intensive wood-processing industry and the mining industry, and, therefore, industry is the largest consumer of water (Grön 2010). When communities annually use approximately 460 million m3 of water, in the industry the water consumption is almost 20 times higher: 8,300 million m3 a year. However, the Finnish industrial sector has reduced its water consumption in an exemplary fashion by means of water recycling solutions and by optimising the draining of waste and process waters into the environment. When calculated per product, the pulp and paper industry has reduced its water consumption to one fifth of what it used to be in the 70s. Today, the water consumption of the Finnish brewery industry per product litre is significantly smaller than that of global brewery companies that widely advertise their operations as sustainable.

One key obstacle to water recycling is its relatively low price compared to the prices of comparable recycled materials. However, in water-intensive industries the large volumes of water alone constitute a major cost item. For example, in the Finnish wood-processing industry the cost of water accounts for an estimated 5 % of the overall costs, or is of about the same level as the chemicals and personnel costs.

The recycling of water generates cost benefits and, at the same time, the reduced need to extract water increases options on where to place the plants and offers opportunities for increasing production. In addition to water recycling, the industrial sector is developing solutions for recovery and productisation of substances contained in the water. They can be used for creating new value chains and business models for the future circular economy societies.

Climate change has raised the availability of water as a key risk for the world economy. It has multiple impacts: at the same time as dry areas become even drier, floods and heavy rains become more common. In addition to causing damage to buildings and products, the flooding sewer systems and dams may cause unintentional environmental emissions.

Finland has the best water supply and sewerage systems in the world. Being number one in the world, it would be easy to spring to the world not only as provider of technological solutions, but also as provider of project competence and other competencies that can be associated with water expertise.

Let us pilot the digital solutions, energy efficiency and all aspects of the blue economy in Finland and introduce them to the world markets together, to the regions where access to clean water is already a clear business risk to industrial production!

VTT publishes a policy brief on ensuring the availability of clean water and the opportunities for developing business out of water supply systems


Mona Arnold

Principal Scientist

rajaus nelio2
Anna-Mari Heikkilä
Senior Scientist

Reference: The Water Poverty Index: An International Comparison, Keele Economics Research Papers. http://econwpa.repec.org/eps/dev/papers/0211/0211003.pdf

Grön 2010, Water as natural resource and enabler of global business http://www.helsinki.fi/henvi/yvv/esitykset/gron.pdf

Quick tests for water quality making their way to holiday bags

Hakola Liisa

The summer holiday is a good time to think about water quality. Here in Finland we’re in pretty good shape: drinking water comes straight from the tap, and we swim in sea water checked all summer for quality. Finns can trust the authorities to carry out the quality inspections required by law and to maintain the high quality of water for drinking and other uses.

Travellers should nevertheless keep in mind that things are not quite so rosy elsewhere, particularly outside the Nordic countries. Although you can rely on all developed countries having good-quality tap water, the normal bacterial strains are different enough to make bottled water a worthwhile alternative. Bottled water is already essential equipment when holidaying in developing countries.

The appearance of blue-green algae in waters used for swimming is a worldwide phenomenon, and you should be aware that authorities in all countries are not necessarily as active as those in Finland when it comes to monitoring. And those holidaying in Finland must surely be interested in the algae situation at their summer cottages or other lakeside venues before dipping their toes. Not to mention peace of mind over allowing children and pets into the water.

My hope is that a water quality quick test will form part of the basic equipment of every holidaymaker or traveller, alongside the regulation anti-venom kit, insect repellent and sun-tan lotion. This kind of simple test would allow anyone to find out in minutes whether water is clean enough for drinking, swimming or other uses. Blue-green algae toxins and certain bacteria causing gastric illness can be seriously debilitating, and even fatal. A few euros and a two-minute wait for the results seems a small price to pay. In other words, cheap insurance against a potentially anxious situation.

Blue-green algae bloom is also easy to spot with the naked eye, and normally a sign that you should stay out of the water. Not all blue-green algae appearing in lakes are toxic – roughly speaking this is about half. The quick test will show whether the water is safe enough for swimming, even where bloom is visible. If it turns out the water is safe, there will be no need to explain to your children – who on a hot day are naturally hankering for a swim – why they can’t go. On the other hand, if the test shows the water is unsafe, a ban on swimming will be difficult to argue against!

Many summer cottages have a well nearby intended mainly for drinking water. Here the water quality is always worth checking. And what could be easier than a simple quick test designed with the consumer in mind? The same test could also be used to check drinking water in the more exotic holiday destinations.

VTT has developed quick tests in recent years for the purpose of analysing water quality. The focus has been mainly on detection of blue-green algae toxins and phenolic compounds. A commercialisation project for a blue-green algae test was begun in 2014 in cooperation with the University of Turku, and funded by Tekes – the Finnish Funding Agency for Technology and Innovation. The project is set to run until the end of 2015. After that I hope to see the first consumer-friendly blue-green algae tests on the shop shelves within one or two years!


Liisa Hakola

Senior Scientist