Made in Marseille: Deputy Mayor Martine Vassal on the Forum Footprint

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Deputy Mayor Martine Vassal (photo courtesy of Martine Vassal)

As Lindsey discussed in her earlier post, there are a number of online calculators which you can use to calculate your water footprint. A water footprint is the amount of water needed to produce the goods and services you use, and it is important to be aware of this number because it helps us reduce our water use.  But, what is the water footprint of an entire conference about water?  This was one of the questions I was able to ask Marseille’s Deputy Mayor, Martine Vassal, when I sat down with her to discuss her role in planning the forum as a board member of the International Forum Committe. We also discussed the ideas that went in to making sure the week’s events would leave as small a footprint as possible.

It is difficult to accurately calculate the water footprint for an event the scale of the Forum, which is estimated to draw 25,000 participants. Ms. Vassal said she and her team are still in the process of calculating it (and it was not clear when that calculation would be available), but there are three main areas that were certain to be addressed:

Water: There is not a single disposable plastic water bottle provided by the Forum.  This is achieved by the “Made in Marseille” campaign—serving Marseille’s own water to attendees.  Each participant is given their own carafe which they can use to refill at water fountains or volunteers who carry containers of water on their backs, ready to dispense Marseille’s water to thirsty forum-goers.  Panelists are also given Marseille’s water in glass bottles during sessions.  Using Marseille’s water instead of bottled water is not only more environmentally friendly, it is more economical.

The water campaign is also important for the education of the residents of Marseille, according to Ms. Vassal.  Their water comes from the mountains, but that source and the quality of water it supplies could be challenged by climate change.  Ms. Vassal wants fellow residents to understand, appreciate, and celebrate their water through being proud to supply it to guests from all over the world this week.

L'eau Pure de Marseille


Transportation: Once participants enter the forum venue, Parc Chanot, each day, there is no need to leave, as almost the entirety of the forum’s events are contained within the site.  This was done for convenience, says Ms. Vassal, and also to reduce the amount of transportation needed.  For the activities taking place outside of Parc Chanot, public transportation is available.  It is important to cut down on transportation needs: according to a study from University of Texas-Austin, every gallon of gasoline requires on average 12.9 gallons of water to produce.

Paper: Ms. Vassal wanted participants to be able to attend the conference with simply their mobile device.  This was made possible between the  World Water Forum mobile app and website. The app allows users to access the Forum’s up-to-date program, and the website provides session documents downloads, which helps to cut down on paper handouts.  While the use of paper is by no means eliminated, there seems to have been a concerted effort to greatly reduce its presence, although it still remains up for debate as to whether or not digital communication is greener than paper.

While the forum organizers may have lessened the amount of paper needed in theory, attendees are still bombarded with flyers and informational brochures from attending organizations and groups.  Just taking a walk through the Exhibition Hall will leave you with a stack of pamphlets– perhaps all worthwhile– but not helping to reduce the forum’s water footprint.

Have you noticed any other green efforts at the Forum?  Please write your observations in the comments below.  You can read more about the forum’s environmental responsiblity here.

One thought on “Made in Marseille: Deputy Mayor Martine Vassal on the Forum Footprint

  1. Martha, I really appreciated your insight on these aspects of the conference, from an attendee point of view!

    I am happy that the Forum decided to eliminate plastic bottles entirely, and that they’ve encouraged the use of public transportation as the best way to travel! However, I must say that it’s almost a slap in the face to be confronted with so many needless paper flyers at every turn! Hopefully we will see improved technologies for advertising at the 7th Forum (scheduled for S. Korea in 2015) which will further reduce the event’s water footprint.

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