Saving Water to Make Money

By David South, Development Challenges, South-South Solutions


The world’s water supplies are running low, and according to the World Health Organisation (WHO), four out of every 10 people are already affected. But despite the gloomy reality of this problem, entrepreneurs in the South are rising to the challenge to save water.

“The situation is getting worse due to population growth, urbanisation and increased domestic and industrial water use,” said WHO’s Director-General, Dr Margaret Chan. While the WHO has adopted the theme ‘Coping with Water Scarcity’ for this year, every year more than 1.6 million people die from lack of access to safe water and sanitation. Ninety percent of these deaths are children under the age of five.

The health consequences of water scarcity include diarrhoeal diseases such as cholera, typhoid fever, salmonellosis, other gastrointestinal viruses, and dysentery.

One unnecessary waste of water is car washing. The number of cars in developing countries is growing fast, with a 27 per cent increase in sales in China this year, and South America overtaking Asia as the world’s fastest-growing regional vehicle market (Global Auto Report). And all these cars will be washed, wasting this precious resource.

The large informal car washing market in Brazil has long been known for paying low wages and avoiding taxes. On top of this they also waste water. Lots and lots of water. In Brazil, 28.5 per cent of the population (41.8 million people) do not have access to public water or wastewater services. And 60 per cent do not have adequate sanitation (Brazilian Institute of Applied Economic Research).

Started in 1994, Drywash uses a locally available Brazilian organic carnauba wax to clean cars without using water. Drywash has also developed a line of cleaning products that cleans every part of a car without the need for water. They estimate they have saved 450 million litres of water in their first 10 years of operation. From the start, they set out to change the status quo and run a business that “thinks like a big corporation,” said its international partner, Tiago Aguiar.

To do this, Drywash’s management team focused on operating an efficient and professional business. When Brazil’s government passed strict laws against informal selling of products, Drywash was well positioned to benefit, with companies preferring to work with a legal business. Customers have also been attracted to Drywash because they know the service is consistent and to a high standard. Drywash made US $2.7 million in 2005.

Drywash prides itself on operating “on the books”, and paying taxes. They are also ambitious, and have expanded outside Brazil and into other services.

And they don’t just do private cars: they also clean private jets, with Drywash Air. They have also expanded into Mexico, Portugal and Australia, on top of 50 Brazilian franchises. They also want to enter the US market.

In China, Landwasher toilets is tackling the growing problem of providing flush toilets to the country’s 1.32 billion people. As its founder Wu Hao told the World Resources Institute (, “Assuming all of our country uses water-flushing toilets, not even the Changjiang and the Yellow Rive will be enough.”

Formed six years ago, it has patented a process using a special agent and sterilisation to dispose of human waste without using water, and very little electricity.

Hao graduated from Beijing University’s Physics Department and developed management experience working in manufacturing, securities investment and corporate management.

“On a personal level, I love the natural environment… I can’t endure the large scale waste and damage to the environment caused by the process of construction in China.”

Landwasher has seen its sales grow to 40 million Yuan (US $5.2 million), and has six sales offices covering 27 provinces.

Landwasher has just been awarded a contract to provide portable toilets to the 2008 Olympics in Beijing.


  • World Water Council: Established in 1996, the World Water Council promotes awareness and builds political commitment to trigger action on critical water issues.

  • Water Supply and Sanitation Collaborative Council: Works on sustainable sanitation, hygiene and water services to all people, with special attention to the underserved poor.

  • The Stratus Group is a Brazilian fund looking for sustainable SMEs in Brazil’s high-growth green sectors.

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