In the water sector, conversations about innovation often focus on technology and product development. At Xylem, we define innovation broadly. While advancing new technologies and solutions is at the heart of our innovation work, we believe it’s critical to develop new approaches to tackle water and climate challenges across multiple other fronts – from creating new business models and processes to make it easier for our stakeholders to solve water, to finding new opportunities to make our company and customer offerings more sustainable, to engaging the public around water.
Earlier this year, Fast Company named Xylem a 2022 Best Workplaces for Innovators Large Company Standout. In Part 3 of our Culture of Innovation series, we spotlight 4 ways we’re using innovation to inform and inspire the public – in particular, youth – to take on the cause of water.
1. Leveraging the power of sports
Football is the world’s most popular sport, with an estimated 5 billion fans around the globe. It’s a game associated with passion, emotion, excitement and dedication – the same qualities needed to take on a huge challenge like solving global water issues. In 2018, Xylem launched a groundbreaking partnership with City Football Group, parent of Premier League champions Manchester City, to harness this energy and drive public awareness and action around water and climate issues.
To date, we have reached more than 1 billion people through water awareness, education and volunteerism initiatives. For example, the partnership has mobilized a global network of young community football leaders to deliver life-saving water information, education and access to over 20,000 children in 8 countries through projects that combine football and WASH education with infrastructure upgrades, using Xylem technology and expertise. Another example: In 2021, Xylem and Man City joined forces with PUMA to launch the world’s first sports jersey dedicated to raising water awareness, using a special dye manufacturing process that reduces water consumption.
2. Inspiring youth to solve real-world water problems
With digital savvy, fresh thinking and a passion for sustainability, the next generation will play a pivotal role in solving the world’s water challenges. Xylem’s youth program, Xylem Ignite, is creating a global platform to motivate student leaders and empower them to drive real changes in the water industry. Focused around three key program pillars – Innovation, Education & Community Involvement – Xylem Ignite’s many activities range from student hackathons to solve water issues to its Incubator program, which provides mentorship and resources from Xylem to high school and college students.
Each spring, Xylem Ignite hosts the Xylem Global Student Innovation Challenge, with industry participants including Esri, GWI, Oceanix, Americares, Emmaboda Energi, Greater Western Water and Thames Water. Xylem is also the founding global sponsor of the preeminent Stockholm Junior Water Prize competition, launched in 1997, for high school students around the globe. To date tens of thousands of young innovators from over 40 countries and every continent have participated in the initiative.
3. Promoting water innovation on university campuses
Attracting new graduates is critical to ensuring that the water sector continues to modernize and identify new opportunities to become more sustainable. Xylem Innovation Labs collaborates with universities, among other stakeholders, to research and develop pioneering technologies and approaches – solving water while also encouraging emerging innovators to bring their talents to the water sector.
One example is Arizona State University (ASU), where we are collaborating on a number of research areas including alternative treatment technologies, resource recovery from water treatment processes, and methods to address contaminants of emerging concern.
4. Tapping into the power of storytelling
Research from cognitive psychologist Jerome Bruner shows that people are 22-times more likely to remember a fact when it has been wrapped in a story. That’s one reason Xylem creates innovative storytelling to engage the public about the human impact of water challenges. For example, Xylem teamed with City Football Group to produce “The End of Football,” a film that tells the emotional story of one girl’s life as a Manchester City fan in a world where water challenges threaten the very future of the world’s most popular sport. Directed by Roar Uthaug (“The Wave” and “Tomb Raider”), “The End of Football” reached nearly 500 million people.
Another example: Xylem’s animated film “Story of Hope” – spotlighting two Stockholm Junior Water Prize winners and their inventive approach to conserve water using a traditional Japanese technique called Ta-Ta-Ki, which was viewed 4.6 million times and nominated for an EMEA Brand Film Award.