When it comes to Sustainable Development Goals, we often limit Water to SDG 6. Yet, water plays a key role in many more of them! Let’s explore it:
with 🎙️ Kevin Sofen – Director of Innovation at W. S. Darley & Co., Host of the Smart Firefighting podcast, and Co-Host of the SDG Talks Podcast.
💧 The SDG Talks podcast highlights Change Makers and their work towards the UN SDGs with a sound passion for highlighting people and organizations that will transform the world into a better place for everyone.
This episode is part of my Series on the Water Crisis in America
SDGs beyond SDG 6
When the United Nations defined their Agenda 2030 and split it down into 17 sustainable development goals, they parked “everything water” into number 6.
But isn’t water crucial to attaining a bunch of further goals?
Isn’t the lack of water a clear inhibitor to running any kind of business, hence the main obstacle to SDG 1, which is supposed to end poverty?
How can you achieve Zero Hunger, aka SDG 2, if you don’t have water for agriculture?
How do you fulfill SDG 3 and its Good Health Target if you don’t have safe water to eliminate the yearly 700’000 cases of child death by diarrhea?
Can you pretend your city is sustainable according to SDG 11 if it doesn’t prevent floods?
Will any consumption or production be sustainable – SDG 12 – if it doesn’t consider its water impacts?
And finally, when we say that if climate change is a shark, water is its teeth through floods and droughts, SDG 13 and its Climate Action clearly sounds like a Water Topic.
So… Limiting Water to SDG 6 is restrictive ⬇️
What we covered:
💧 How Kevin first got involved with Water when he aimed to rethink H2O, and how his focus evolved into the SDG Talks
🔵 How water’s value is multi-faceted and how you need a holistic and almost ethnographic approach to really evaluate its impact
🖇️ How Water is deeply interconnected with many – if not all – of the SDGs
🚰 How we often lack information about Water Quality and how to take on that challenge – with examples from Flint or Jacksonville
🌱 How it’s time to not only fight climate change, but also start thinking about climate change adaptation technologies
🤝 How everyone should take ownership of their Water Quality and how they may be coached to do so
🏌️ Water as a vector of inclusion, Golfing next to Lake Michigan, Coach K, Elkhart Lake, Kevin’s Why… and much more!
🔥 … and of course, we concluded with the 𝙧𝙖𝙥𝙞𝙙 𝙛𝙞𝙧𝙚 𝙦𝙪𝙚𝙨𝙩𝙞𝙤𝙣𝙨 🔥
➡️ Send your warm regards to Kevin on LinkedIn. Or follow him on Twitter.
➡️ Check the SDG Talk’s website
➡️ Enrich your curiosity’s inner fire with the Smart Firefighting podcast’s website
➡️ A big THANK YOU to Sciens Water for enabling this episode!
is on Linkedin ➡️
Teaser: The Human Connection to Water – and How it Fills into most of the SDGs
Full Video: My conversation on SDGs (and more) with Kevin Sofen
Table of contents
- SDGs beyond SDG 6
- What we covered:
- Teaser: The Human Connection to Water – and How it Fills into most of the SDGs
- Full Video: My conversation on SDGs (and more) with Kevin Sofen
- Full Transcript:
- From Rethinking H2O to the SDG Talks
- Water has a value beyond its traditional economic applications
- Water is deeply intertwined with most of the SDGs
- Water in the new realm of Climate Change Adaptation
- Water Quality: The next frontier in Sustainable Water Management?
- How to take ownership of your water quality
- What’s Kevin’s Drive beyond the SDG Talks and all his incredible activities and involvement?
- Rapid Fire Questions
- Other Episodes:
These are computer-generated, so expect some typos 🙂
Get Season 2's Summary!
Antoine Walter: Hi Kevin, welcome to the show.
Kevin Sofen: Thank you for having me here. It’s great to be here.
Antoine Walter: Well, actually, I have a fellow podcaster on that microphone that’s quite impressive for me.
Kevin Sofen: Podcasters supporting fellow podcasters. Gotta love it.
From Rethinking H2O to the SDG Talks
Antoine Walter: Let me start with a simple question. We are at an event called Rethinking Water. What’s to rethink in water?
Kevin Sofen: I started a podcast in 2017 or so, called Rethinking H2O, and I got the idea of rethinking water from a water engineer named Jack Barker. He was always thinking about water in different ways about how to take pumps or different components and be able to just move water and treat water more effectively.
And so it always got me thinking about water. So interconnected. And there’s so many ways that we can move water more effectively, how we can interact with water more effectively. And one like guiding North Stars is, I dunno if you’ve ever heard the author name Wallace j Nichols, but he wrote this book called Blue Mind, the study about why humans are happier, healthier, more productive when they’re on in, near and around.
I kind of look at water for more of kind of the human connection. Mm-hmm. and the kind of even spiritual livelihood, connection. Rethinking the way that we wake up and interact with water to have the way that we test water, the way that we use water for water as therapy and experiencing kayaking or fishing.
I guess it’d be being mindful. Of like how you wake up and interact and use water and the thousand which ways that we, we all happen to do.
Water has a value beyond its traditional economic applications
Antoine Walter: It’s quite funny you mentioned that aspect of water because it’s a topic I’ve covered on that microphone with Michael Stanley Gallisdorfer, and we were exploring some case studies about for instance the Cheonggyecheon in Seoul where they reopened a water stream and it increased the overall health of People.
But that’s the hard to quantify aspect of water. There are studies will show that you have $4, which you get out of $1 of investment in water when you do so others say five to one.
Others say it’s impossible to quantify. So when you’re climbing, let’s say the water Everest, and you’re going through that side, isn’t it somehow the north face?
What is the real value of Water from Lake Michigan?
Kevin Sofen: Just to your point of it’s hard to to quantify. I remember just the conversation. People wanting to open more golf courses in Arizona and tap into Lake Michigan water because water sitting Lake Michigan was just an untapped economic good, but actually there is a huge economic good of just a healthy functioning water.
One, thinking about not only what it provides to healthy fisheries and an ecosystem that’s alive that people want to then spend tourism dollars at to go kayaking on to do all the things that a healthy watershed does, and it’s like, how do you even price that? It’s priceless, but it is tough when you’re looking at investor dollars and the way stuff is funded these days via grants, or different private equity type in investment dollars.
What is the price of a a functioning watershed for all the different purposes? We have to think. How can we design systems and livelihoods to where humans aren’t only just taking water, but finding ways to, It’s kind of the indigenous mindset of necessarily taking more than you give thinking, like smart farming.
Like don’t take all the crop and allow the soil to properly regenerate in different ways. And I’m not a farmer by any means, but I know that’s ingrained in just not taking more than you give.
Water is deeply intertwined with most of the SDGs
Antoine Walter: You mentioned. Rethinking H2O. Your other podcast is the SDG talks, right? Yeah. And you have an interesting way to look at the intersection of water with the SDGs.
You go beyond just the usual suspect of SDG 6. And if I’m right, you even say SDG 6 is probably not the right bucket to look for water.
Kevin Sofen: I’m glad that it’s one of the buckets for sure. and I love the SDGs, and if you need, you look at them. It’s all these beautiful colors that kind of try and put together and paint a picture of all.
The direct connection between Water and SDG 1, SDG 2, SDG 3 & SDG 4
Significant problems, not problems, just challenges that we face. And we talked yesterday in the panel about one, the connection of no poverty and water. Two zero hunger and water, three, quality health and water. And then four quality education. And under all of those is access to safe water or with no poverty of thinking about the floods.
And that’s been going on in India, Pakistan, and thinking about building water resiliency. Being able to more quickly respond to a shock and get back to economic activities for people that are living on one to five to $10 a day. Water being a direct link to SDG 1 to then talking about SDG 2 of, we have 7.5 billion people now to struggle to feed them.
What happens in 2050 when there’s 9 billion people and. How are we going to feed the world with the amount of water resources that we have? Three was,I’m not a scientist by any means, but know the negative impact of drinking water, that has a lot of heavy minerals in it over a period of time at a young age, and what does that mean for your heart health as you develop?
Access to Water can be a vector of gender equality
And then four, with quality education of thinking about how can you go to school and if you’re. A young girl going through menstruation, going through your period. What happens when you’re at school if you don’t have access to sanitation, you stay home for a couple days a week and then you drop outta school.
So there’s just that interconnection that I think it’s important for everyone just to be aware of, to bring it up in conversation, to be mindful of it. I thought it was a really fun, lively conversation yesterday, and I think good health in the interapt of water, I think generated some of the best, lively, active, good civil discourse amongst people in.
Water in the new realm of Climate Change Adaptation
Antoine Walter: You mentioned how it’s important to bring it into the conversation. Isn’t it a bit tricky sometimes because when you go to climate change, there’s a big keyword, which is zero carbon, and that is the target everybody goes after in water. People have been striving to find something for as digs six, which.
Has been proposed to be closed a gap or water for all, and now you’re saying maybe we should look at water in many further places. How do you bring that message across?
Kevin Sofen: Yeah. I work very closely with John Robinson from Mazarine Ventures on this, but the concept of climate adaption, where it’s not necessarily saying we lost the war on carbon, we still need to focus on decarbonization.
We still need to focus on energy ef. But we also should think about the next one to 30 years short, medium term solutions about shoring up different growth infrastructure to be able to better let water seep through doing different things that shore up shorelines to prevent erosion. What are all these different adaption technologies that we can do from a flood monitoring and.
How to put central investment plans to their best use
And drop monitoring and better response. It’s not a world of, or it should be a world of Ann, we need to do both. And I just heard about some $50 billion in the bipartisan act and then some other 250 billion with this something with inflation reduction act and something else. And I was just hearing these numbers and they’re mind boggling.
How are we going to efficiently. And equitably deploy these funds. And no doubt, big infrastructure is important. But as I’ve seen being in the weeds for the past six years doing grassroots water projects in Flint, Michigan, Navajo Nation, Tanzania, you really gotta get on the ground and understand the local context.
Yesterday in the conversation we brought up ethnography. I’m really thinking about. Mm-hmm. , what are the local nuances? Not all watersheds, share the same economic regions and how those don’t always match up and how that impacts rural and urban water negotiations. Just like all these different nuances that make it the challenging.
Just things that we need to, to be aware of and talk about.
Water Quality: The next frontier in Sustainable Water Management?
Antoine Walter: You mentioned the work you’re doing with John Robinson. Which was a cool guest on that microphone a while ago. If I’m right, you also do work on water quality with him, so what is that’s all about?
Kevin Sofen: Well, they work very closely with a company called SimpleLab.
Johnny Pujol, really brilliant CEO, has kind of made water quality testing very easy and accessible. Anyone can order a water quality test ship to their home with a return label on it. You fill it up, you ship it off, it goes to a vet, their party lab, and then you get a water quality report that tells you whether it’s good or bad.
Kind of give you like a grade in school.
Antoine Walter: Is that like similar to what 120Water does?
Kevin Sofen: I know they, they are similar and I know they kind of have different niches and nuances and I know there’s a place for both of ’em, but I know Megan as well is just like a rockstar and doing amazing things with water.
Bullet-proofing new approaches in places like Flint and Jacksonville
But the idea of giving us actionable insights about our water quality and what’s in our water. And now I’ve worked at, actually on a project in Flint, Michigan, uh, with the charity called the National Clean Water Collective. We. Our creating a heat map where we did a hundred samples throughout the city, where we’re then gonna use that data to talk about what are some of the, the water quality implications, what are some of the water quality challenges throughout Flint?
And we just got some of results back and seeing high tri halomethylenes, some high hydrochloroforms trace out to lesion air, some, you know, average aspects of lead. And this is just the. And now we wanna take this data and put it into a format that allows us just to have a conversation. I know it’s a fine line that we’re walking in, that the last thing we wanna do is demonize anyone.
But we want to put third party facts on the table to talk about now that we know the water quality metrics, not just letting copper, what should we do about this? And even inside there, they talked about the water quality, uh, contaminant problems that we have yesterday talking about blue black chemistry and what we’ve put in our water.
Coaching people to get their relationship with water to the next level
And often the people impacted by water are not the. Put PFASs in the water or put heavy metals from a lead battery plant. So all that considered, John and I have then talked about there’s a challenge with understanding water quality and there’s a lack of a voice for water quality. So we’ve been working on this identity called Coach the Oter.
Coaches like Tough Love and I think like Coach K or John Wooden Pat Summet, some of these hard stern coaches that love you but also can be tough on you and not just let you kind of like pass by. The idea is that coach has these five principles. First one being know where your water comes. And whether it’s a well water or it’s a, um, city water second tes your water.
And that’s something that we’ve been working on in terms of being able to get that baseline. And we just did this in Flint and now trying to use Coach as a messenger to have conversations and learn and engage about water quality and different aspects of water quality.
How to take ownership of your water quality
Antoine Walter: Let me make sure I understand that one, which means that you intend the people out there, everybody to know where the water comes from.
Actively tested so that they take ownership of the water quality.
Kevin Sofen: Absolutely, and I mean, you can sit and trust the water utility, which the water utilities do. Make sure that the water that leaves the plant is good. But there are challenges with the water pipes and water distributions and things that we’ve seen in Jackson and Flint that have caused room to, to lack of trust.
Having the, the ability to test and know your own water quality is something that is made very easy. Now with these kind of decentralized water tests.
Test your water and know where it’s coming from
Antoine Walter: Do you have an example of a rollout? Something which would be more in our day-to-day lives?
Kevin Sofen: Yeah, so I mean both they talked about in Flint, but same in, in a city like Jackson, of being able to do a water quality test rollout and being able to aggregate that data and create an a kind of a centralized platform that allows you to see and have conversations about what the problems are and what we can do from long term, replacing all the pipes to what we can explore short term, medium term, to doing point of entry filtration that removes tri methane or that removes chloroform or that removes some of the.
And then ideally just use that water quality data to drive cost effective, short, medium, and long term solutions.
A multi-parameter / multi-dimensional approach
Antoine Walter: And why testing and not analyzing, having something in line or a sensor?
Kevin Sofen: I think all those are important. I know, again, not being a water true engineer scientist, I know that taking that water quality sample and doing it on site, you don’t get the full parameters and metrics that you would get from a true lab that has the testing equipment and the infrastructure.
And so I think it’s always good to get a. Once a day, once a week, once a month, however often you need from a third party lab. But then in addition to that, yeah, there’s some of the inline stuff that I know gives good insights, can give you kind of like a regret light on, especially for like hardness and things like that.
But both should be used in different capacities.
Antoine Walter: If you have some time on your trip back to Chicago, right? Yeah. Listen to my interview with Meena Sankaran from KETOS. They market an analyzer, which is looking exactly at those drinking water quality parameters, but also going to heavy metals and a bit more in depth on the long term.
It might be a solution for exactly what you’re, you’re trying to address here.
Kevin Sofen: Yeah. I would love nothing more to, to learn more about that and see how it fits into. Greater program of allowing people to understand water quality and being able to take action to do something about it.
What’s Kevin’s Drive beyond the SDG Talks and all his incredible activities and involvement?
Antoine Walter: I have a last question for you, which is, what should drive, because we covered your podcasting activity, we covered what you’re doing with Mazarine, and that’s still not your main job, if I’m right?
Correct. So how do you fit everything within a day?
Kevin Sofen: I actually brought one of these stickers. I brought ’em for really one for John who happens not to be too far, but one for you. I’m a, I’m on the board of directors for Keep Elkhart Blue, and this is a lake that I’ve spent my entire life on and it’s a place I cherish.
Protecting the Elkhart Lake
Third deepest lake in Wisconsin, Glacial Lake, extremely clean. And this is my North Star of doing everything possible to continue to maintain and protect that ecosystem and that watershed. And I love learning, facilitating, and fundraising and creating impact around water and really have this tie to Blue Mind.
One I wanna give you one of these stickers. Feel free to, to do as you Wish with the Keep el car Blue.
Antoine Walter: For the Muggle and French and me. Where is that?
Kevin Sofen: It is in the middle of America in about an hour north of Milwaukee called Elkhart Lake. So there’s also a, a race track there called Road America. Very fun, beautiful, amazing lake.
Rethinking the Firefighting World
That’s what I, I work on and you know, my day job working with. W Starling company who’s actively involved with water and disaster response. I work a lot with virtual reality training, uh, different robots for public safety. I have a second podcast called smart firefighting dot com.
Antoine Walter: So you, you stopped the Rethinking H2O one?
Kevin Sofen: I converted Rethinking H2O into SDG talks.
Okay. And so that’s sort of my all things sustainability, social impact. Then on the other side, smart firefighting.com is all about bringing together firefighters to the end users, to entrepreneurs, established companies, and then institutional players. To talk about bringing technology into public safety.
Antoine Walter: Amazing. To round up these interviews, I have a short list of rapid-fire questions. Shorter than usual because, Yeah, it’s a short format here.
Get Season 1's Summary!
Rapid Fire Questions
Antoine Walter: My first would be, what’s the most exciting project you’ve been working on and why?
Creating a Water Quality heat map
Kevin Sofen: Kind of alluded to it earlier, but the idea of right now and and Flint in Jackson, of being able to create a heat map with water quality tests that are distributed around the city to be able to get insights about what’s in the water and then figure out how we can deploy short, medium, and long-term solutions.
Additional packaged water, like water in the box to point of entry water systems to fixing different plumbing and piping within the building to point of use to ongoing water testing, to ongoing water education. It’s not expensive to do that, and we can do the home for that model for three, $4,000 per home and turn it into a very effective short, medium term solution until the long term billion dollar so, Eventually kick in.
Watch for Decentralization!
Antoine Walter: What’s the trend to watch out for in the water sector?
Kevin Sofen: Decentralization, decentralized pumps, decentralized treatment, decentralized power generation. It gives resiliency, as you see Puerto Rico getting crushed again and not having that decentralized nature. And then being able to not have it be so big, you’re so, you know, worried about, there’s cost, upkeep and maintenance and there are a lot of us, efficient, small scale, uh, ro, small scale power generation, small scale everything.
The end of emails?
Antoine Walter: What is the thing you’re doing in your job today that you will definitely not be doing in 10 years?
Kevin Sofen: I definitely know with kind of being an entrepreneur, entrepreneur, you always gotta be in the dirt and get your hands dirty. I don’t particularly love doing, uh, aspects of service and like fixing a pump or fixing a, a VR system that I’d rather have someone do.
I guess it would be great to not have to email. I would love to just like eliminate email for my life and just only do WhatsApp direct messaging and, and audio. Yeah, I feel like email is the pseudo band of my existence and I can’t wait. Get away from email.
Antoine Walter: Well, Kevin, it’s been a pleasure. I can tell you’ve done that before.
Kevin Sofen: Well, it’s really been a pleasure. Thank you very much.