Michael Phelps — the most decorated Olympian of all-time and the holder of a record 23 Olympic gold medals — has spent his entire life in water. As someone who’s made his living thanks to H2O, it makes total sense that his retirement thus far has been dedicated to the sustainability of earth’s most precious resource.
Over the last few months, Phelps has been visiting college campuses around the United States, encouraging that they get involved by preaching the importance of water conservation in our daily lives. Through Colgate’s Every Drop Counts initiative, Phelps has given students tips on how to make every drop count.
Uproxx spoke to him about his newfound career in bringing awareness of water conversation to the masses, which he called “way bigger than winning an Olympic gold medal.”
Shorter showers, turn off the faucet. How important is it to ingrain these methods into everyday life?
I think it’s super important in every way possible — but I think one of the core things for me now having a family and getting ready to have a family of four, just understanding the amount of water that is wasted. A family of four can use up to 400 gallons in a day. That’s 400 gallons for a single family of four, that’s a lot of water. If there’s any way that we can all jump together and make some small adjustments to our everyday lives, that can help not only grow the amount of water that we’re going to have for the rest of our lives but provide clean water for the rest of our kid’s lives.
It is challenging, but it’s something that I think is so simple for all of us to come together and do. Two minutes of every day if we can turn the water off, that’s going to make this world become a better place. It’s just mind-blowing if you think about some of the stats and if you leave the water running for two minutes you’re wasting four gallons. That’s one person and roughly 350 million people that we have in this country. That’s a lot of water, especially when everything starts adding up, I think it’s almost just a no-brainer to be able to work more together as a team.
Then you look at like California’s drought and the wildfires that have happened. Is it going to be easier, unfortunately, to get your message across with these issues happening?
I think if you look at younger generations that I think we’re all obviously trying to make significant changes to make the world a better place. Because there are always things that are going on and occurring that are constantly changing, the more we do and spend time caring about things that will make our world a better place. I think it’s going to be astronomical to be able to think about the changes that we can make to give everybody the fair opportunity and a fair chance to help out where we all can. Common sense, you know? Turn the water off when you’re brushing, you save so much water, you’re able to have clean drinking water and that’s something that not many people or not everybody in the world has the opportunity to have like we do here.
If we can all work together, we have the chance to really just make a significant change. We don’t need to take 30-minute showers right? If we can just start talking more about some of the things that we have going on in our world. That’s why I always talk about the stats that we have about the water usage of a family of four, because that’s something that we can all think of, and how to realize that it’s something that we need to change and something we need to change now before it’s too late.
What can we do as citizens? There’s the Line 5 Pipeline that’s sending oil from Canada through the Great Lakes that hasn’t really been upgraded in decades. What can citizens do at the local and government level to address the bigger issues?
It’s communicating. I think communicating is something that’s so big and I always make this joke, like I just really learned to communicate and to understand certain feelings that I have and why I have them over the last couple of years. Using my voice to speak out about things that I’m passionate about I think just really helps so much. It’s something that I’ve seen in my life that has made my life 10 times easier than what it ever was before. It helps me with my relationship, it helps me with my mental health, it helps me with our son who’s now understanding things and his mind is like a sponge. Constant communication, whether it’s good stuff or bad stuff, just constantly always talking about things that are coming up in your life and for me, I’m very fortunate to be able to have a place where I can try and make a difference in a number of different ways in life.
Is politics in your future?
I tend to stay away from politics. That’s something that I’ve, you know for me, I’ve always kept very personal and very quiet. Politics are politics. It is how our world works, and obviously, we all know that our country is in a difficult time right now, and I think that’s one of the best parts about being an American is that we can get through any situation together. That’s something that I’ve seen through my line of work, but also just being around everything that’s been around, I’ve been able to see that firsthand.
What can we do on that level to mitigate the waste that is happening every single day?
I guess it’s really just determining what your wants and needs are. We can all want something, right? There are hundreds and thousands of things that I probably would want but don’t always make sense. So, that’s what why we talk about how much like I said the family of four, 400 gallons, that can be from washing your dishes X amount of times a day, or doing X amount of laundry per day, or watering your plants.There are so many different things when you think of water, that we’re doing and using and as long as we’re more aware and conscious of what’s going on, I think that’s the first step in really making a significant change. I think once we can get there then that brings up other things.
I think it’s a matter of time before we’re all on the same page and we’re all trying to think and do the same exact things to try to preserve as much as we can of this great resource that we are able to use and to have every single day of our lives. It’ll be interesting to watch. Like I said, it’s been pretty amazing to me to be able to travel from city to city, whether I’m in airports or walking down the street in New York City or whatever. Being able to have somebody walk up to me and say “Every single time I brush my teeth I’m now thinking of you turning off the faucet.”
And that’s a start, right? That’s a step in the right direction that we never had before. Hopefully as a team, as a country, and as a world we can come together and continue to do these things that we need to keep our world growing and moving in the right direction so we can have our younger generation really truly experience how many great things we have in this world.
Like I said, it’s just working together and working as team to try to get everybody on the same page where we’re able to show and I guess we’re able to really just make this world better and make sure everybody has the opportunities or experience the same things that we’ve experienced throughout our lives.
I remember hearing the “turn off the faucet when you brushed” over twenty years ago as a kid, and it’s really coming to the forefront now especially with you. At the same time, you love golf and there are 57 golf courses in Palm Springs that are estimated, via NPR, to require a million gallons of water a day. So at what point do we have to look at the hard truths of things that we enjoy and possibly look away from just having citizens kind of subsidize their use? There are 16,000 U.S. golf courses that use almost 300,000 gallons of water a day. At what point should we be looking in the mirror and wondering what we’re doing with this resource?
I know for one thing, that there’s a golf course that actually recycles its water. A guy, Bob Parsons, has developed a lake that’s on his property where all of the water that is ever used on the course goes back and is recycled through this lake. So, all of the water is drained to the lake and then he’s able to then take that and reuse it to do whatever he needs to do on the course. I think that something that I’ve never seen on a golf course before and it was pretty interesting to watch when he first took over Scottsdale National. It’s pretty incredible to see what he did there like we’re saying now, to try to save water. He’s found a way to recycle water on his golf course and there’s probably going to have to be a way where we all are able to do things like that. I think you see that people are actually starting to pay attention to that, so I think it’ll be interesting to see and watch things change over time as we’re moving forward to see what people really want to do to change the environment for the better.