Founded in 2009 in Mexico City, Isla Urbana is a project dedicated to supplying water to communities through unique rain capture technology. They are dedicated to promoting sustainable water management practices in both rural and urban communities. Isla Urbana develops efficient rainwater capture systems for both community aid projects and sustainable marketplaces. They have grown rapidly, even installing up to 50 systems in just 1 day.
Mexico faces a water crisis. Large areas of the country, including the Valley of Mexico, face critical shortages of potable water, which are predicted to worsen substantially by 2030. However, there is stark inequality when it comes to water access. The reality now is that while some people in Mexico City have access to 300L of water per day, the great majority have less than 50L per person and the more privileged few have access to more than 700L.
Isla Urbana recognizes the need to develop a model for water use that is in a healthy relationship with its natural cycles and supply. Water scarcity solutions must equitably supply the population without also destroying the ecosystems that we depend on. Rainwater is one of the largest and most accessible water resources that can be harvested for this purpose. Using community partnerships and training, families are better equipped to use their water systems independently.
Isla Urbana offers systems tailored to meet the needs of their environments, ranging from individual households to public schools. Their systems harvest rainwater and purify it for human consumption, remaining safe for months after the end of the rainy season. These systems are highly scalable, and Isla Urbana hopes to see their technology applied to many larger applications: ultimately providing a needed source of water for entire cities.
Isla Urbana’s goal is to try to make an impact in a very unsustainable and unjust system. This polarity of consumption is part of what the company is addressing – to find funds for people who don’t have the resources but need the systems and to supply systems to those who have the means. Isla Urbana is also actively working on developing a Rain Schools Program, which make use of rainwater harvesting systems in schools to create networks of parents, teachers and students who are educated and equipped to manage water supply.
Isla Urbana starts the process with community meetings to share information and build a custom plan which meets any technical requirements. Once established, Isla Urbana manages the training of community partners in parallel to the rainwater harvest system installation, a process that only takes a few hours. Using community partnerships and training, families are better equipped to use their water systems independently.
Since 2009, Isla Urbana’s small team of 6 has grown to 60, installing over 20,000 rainwater harvesting systems throughout Mexico.
They have also successfully established environmental educational and outreach programs that have changed national and state policies related to rainwater.
They have seen the impact of their programs in Mexican communities, where slowly but surely, individuals as well as cities are becoming receptive to new, sustainable forms of water management.
The greatest initial challenge was the fight against other’s prejudices of rainwater and their misconceived thoughts of it being polluted and not drinkable. However, the benefit of Isla Urbana’s technology is the fact that after harvesting the rainwater, they can purify it to make it safe for all household uses.
And although this new technology can change the reality of water scarcity, Isla Urbana has required a strong communication strategy to convey a clear message and while convincing community members to install the system. Investing in communication and design has been vital in order to translate technology into something that is intuitive, low-cost, and functional.
Scaling was a huge challenge as well; the company had to learn very quickly how to implement systems at large scale capacities and while monitoring the process.
Funding is another big challenge for companies like Isla Urbana. Therefore, they constantly try to diversify their sources of income in reaching wider markets.
The COVID-19 pandemic spurred Isla Urbana into action: they diversified funding sources and expanded into states outside of Mexico City. Hoping to continue this expansion, Isla Urbana aims to reach other Latin American countries like Panama, Chile and Brazil where they see a huge potential for growth. Simultaneously, the company plans to continue developing rainwater harvesting systems in Mexico: looking into new applications like greywater filters, surface water collection and integrated water management projects.
Although they plan to continue using hands-on, specialized projects in local communities, Isla Urbana hopes to be part of a broader coalition working towards sustainable water systems. Plans include connecting with other local collaborators and enterprises while growing their network to help fund and expand the scale of rainwater harvesting.