Michael Phelps

An Olympic-sized swimming pool holds around 660,000 gallons of water. As Global Ambassador with Colgate's water conservation initiative, Michael Phelps has helped to save 2,573,232 gallons of water every day over the past year and a half, per Colgate's Every Drop Counts site. That's enough to fill 3.9 Olympic-sized pools per day or 1,423.5 Olympic pools per year.

Colgate recruited Phelps last year to spread the word about new brushing habits for its Saving Water campaign (developed in partnership with The Nature Conservancy), which launched on Earth Day, 2017. The most-decorated Olympian delivers a clear message in the promo video: "We waste up to four gallons of water every time we brush while the water's running... Clean. Drinkable. Water."

According to Lori Michelin, VP of Sustainability and Environmental Health and Safety at Colgate-Palmolive, "90% of Colgate’s current water-use footprint comes from the consumer use of our products, so we’re asking everyone to help.” In a recent interview with Bloomberg, Phelps noted that the point is to "make sure we're using as little water as possible."

Water scarcity is one of the biggest risks to mankind, and safe drinking water is a Sustainable Development Goal (SDGs) of the United Nation (UN). According to CIO, insufficient water infrastructure, changing rainfall patterns and inefficient use of available resources can result in major water crises directly affecting the population and economy, as witnessed in Cape Town, South Africa this year. A failure to manage the planet's limited water resources will have huge social and economic costs.

Water scarcity is a key example of how thematic investing plays an important role in sustainable investing. In our recent survey of over 5,300 wealthy individuals— UBS Investor Watch: Return on values(PDF, 290 KB)—water was one of the most common environmental concerns, and also one of the most common investment targets. According to the survey, 70% of sustainable investors indicated that they are invested combating water scarcity, likely through some of the sectors and industries identified in our Longer-term investments report, Water scarcity – special focus on Cape Town(PDF, 387 KB): firms involved in water exploration, distribution, and treatment.

According to the UBS Chief Investment Office, the global water market is currently worth more than USD 600bn annually, and it faces significant growth as population growth, urbanization, higher living standards, industrialization in emerging markets, infrastructure deficiencies, and climate change constrict the water supply-and-demand situation.

As with many of our themes based on the UN SDGs, the result is an opportunity to invest in a high-growth industry while also helping to meet a humanitarian need.

Main contributor: Louise Bylicki