02/26/2013 04:53 pm ET Updated Apr 28, 2013

One Company's Opportunity to Serve

With 70 percent of the earth covered by water -- a staggering 1.26 billion trillion gallons of it -- the need for each of us to drink a little more than two liters a day wouldn't seem all that hard to fulfill.

But the reality is not so simple.

Ninety-six percent of the Earth's water is salt water, and much of the rest is tied up in polar ice and permafrost, and non-potable ground water. Less than 1 percent is actually available for people, animals, agriculture, manufacturing, sanitation and hygiene.

It gets even more problematic. Close to one billion people live far from sources of clean, fresh water -- primarily in Africa, Asia and the Caribbean. Many of them are forced to carry water for daily drinking and cooking a punishing distance from the source to their homes. Five gallons -- about 19 liters -- weighs more than 40 pounds, a backbreaking burden for the water bearers, most of whom are women.

The goal of governments and most humanitarian efforts focusing on water is to bring clean, running water to every underserved village and outpost -- a noble endeavor -- but at a cost of untold billions of dollars and a timeframe that stretches decades into the future.

The fact is that people need the water right now, and they need it every day. They can't wait.

Learning about this tragic problem several years ago while watching people struggle to carry water in Haiti, we decided we had to help. Much of the solution already existed in an industrial packing materials factory in Columbus, Ohio.

Our goal was to create a low-cost, easier-to-carry, ergonomic way for people to get those needed gallons of water from the nearest supply to their homes.

The result, after a little tinkering, was PackH2O, a collapsible backpack made from industrial-grade woven polypropylene that holds 5.3 gallons, or about 20 liters.

This simple, affordable, yet revolutionary solution replaces cumbersome pottery crocks, the metal or plastic "jerry" cans often polluted with gasoline or diesel fuel, and other ad hoc water carriers prone to spillage and causing injury to the bearer.

PackH2O is long-lasting, ergonomic, sanitary and in use in many countries already.

The cost to manufacture is under $10 per unit -- magnitudes less than the water pipes we all hope will eventually replace PackH2O, but for now a solution that makes life easier and safer for people living in developing areas, and at a price that is doable for the NGOs and charities serving them.

Independent observers are seeing PackH2O for what it is, a simple, innovative product that has the potential to change millions of lives for the better.

Popular Science magazine called PackH2O, "an elegant solution to a problem faced by millions of people: how to transport drinking water," in its 25th annual Best of What's New roundup.

Global Green USA gave PackH2O the Industrial Design Award in its 13th annual Sustainable Design Awards, recognizing products that promote both design innovation and environmental responsibility.

PackH2O intentionally is a non-profit enterprise. For us, it is a small way of using what we know to give back to the world. But we'd like to see PackH2O become a sustainable business for other entrepreneurs.

We have designed a way for the backpacks to be assembled by micro-businesses near the point of use, so local entrepreneurs can develop effective delivery systems and local workers can earn a living. This enterprise will function most efficiently if those directly affected by its success can buy in to the process.

Because of our expertise in one small area, we have been given the opportunity to make a difference for suffering, impoverished people around the world. Our work, on their behalf, is our reward.