The difficulty of finding clean drinking water in some parts of the world is well know. But there is less discussion about the challenge of bringing clean water from its source to where it's needed.
David Fischer, CEO of the industrial packaging manufacturer Greif Inc. in Delaware, Ohio, saw this challenge first-hand while visiting Haiti in the aftermath of the 2010 earthquake.
[Editor's note: The original version of this blog post misspelled Mr. Fischer's name.]
“I found myself watching women pour clean water into jerrycans that once held agricultural chemicals or into buckets that were long past their prime and were filthy,” Mr. Fischer said in a recent interview.
“No doubt that the nonprofits there were working on the important function of re-establishing clean water sources – a critical need. But watching how the clean water became dirty water quickly because of what it was carried in, well, this was my ‘aha’ moment.”
Inspired to take action, and drawing on his background in the packaging industry, Fischer returned home and challenged his team to find an alternative.
In two years’ time, Greif had designed, manufactured, and tested what has since become known as PackH2O, a specially designed water backpack with a removable liner that can be sanitized in the sun.
The pack is collapsible and made from industrial-grade, woven polypropylene. It can hold 5.3 gallons, or about 20 liters, yet it is seven times lighter than the jerrycans that are typically used to transport drinking water in many parts of the world.
“We designed the PackH2O so that we can keep clean water clean and make it easier to carry water,” Fischer says.
A roll-down closure reduces the risk of contamination, while a protected spout keeps the water inside clean for drinking. The packs also have no chemical coating and are designed to be ergonomically comfortable. They carry the weight of the water on the backs and hips of users, rather than on their heads, as in the case of jerrycans.
To date, more than 500,000 packs have reached areas where they are neeeded. Greif, a private firm, works closely with nonprofits that secure funding for the packs and work to distribute them in areas of need, Fischer says. Individuals can also donate the cost of a pack for someone in need for just $10.
The product makes an immediate difference in the lives of its users, Fischer says.
“I have had the opportunity to travel to a few of the places where the pack has been distributed and heard firsthand how it affects people’s lives,” he says. “I find it personally rewarding because it utilizes what we do best, packaging, and I feel honored to have had the opportunity to make this decision and see it through.”
For Fischer, the desire to give back came in part from a personal battle with an illness that began more than a decade ago. Today he has fully recovered.
“Because of the battle, I am in a rush – a rush to give back,” he says. “I look at issues from that experience, apply a business and engineering perspective, and ask two questions: Why should we tolerate what can be solved — and what can we do today?”
He continues: “These views can shape both a personal and corporate mission to take action that improves lives – while creating opportunities for better health and better economic opportunities for people in some of the world’s least-developed economies and create market opportunities for business.”
Despite the success of the PackH2O, Fischer’s mission is far from over. Close to 1 billion people still live far from the nearest source of clean water, and many are forced to carry water long distances. With a need that large, he says, more needs to be done.
Moving forward, he plans to work on creating opportunities for entrepreneurs in emerging markets to manufacture and sell the PackH2Os themselves, extending the distribution of the product while providing employment opportunities at the same time.
• For more information on Greif Inc. and the PackH2O, visit http://greif.com/outreach/packh20.