Without water, we cannot live. It is an essential part of our everyday life but often, we are not fully aware of the impacts, water has. In my last blog post, I presented data for water consumption on a personal level but in the professional field, too, water is a highly discussed topic.
According to the annual study conducted by the Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP), which watches what companies are doing to measure and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. It is a survey of the 302 biggest companies in the most water-intensive sectors, across 25 countries. The results are presented where presented in the Guardian.
At least one in five of the companies using the largest amounts of water in the world is already experiencing damage to their business from drought and other shortages, flooding and rising prices. Growing pressure on global water supplies and changing weather patterns cause commercial problems for companies.
About half the companies responded to the water survey, of whom 39% said they were already experiencing “detrimental impacts”. In answer to a separate question, about half said the risks to their businesses were “current or near term” – in the next one to five years – a sample likely to have significant crossover with those already reporting problems.
Astonishingly, 96% of the companies who answered were aware of potential problems, and two-thirds have somebody responsible for water issues at board or executive committee level.
Scientists calculated, that by 2030 global water demand would outstrip supply by 40%, with shortages in some parts of the world much more severe than others, but also claimed existing management and technology could cut water use and boost supply enough to close the gap.
Corporate water consumption is an important point nowadays and companies should reduce the water footprint not only because of social responsibility (like reducing the carbon footprint) but because of certain risks.
- Physical risk: companies may increasingly face freshwater shortage in their supply chain or own operations.
- Reputational risk: the corporate image of a company will be damaged when questions arise among the public about whether the company properly addresses issues of sustainable and equitable water use.
- Regulatory risk: governmental interference and regulation in the area of water use will undoubtedly increase.
- Financial risk: above risks may translate into increased costs and/or reduced revenues.
Risks can turn into an opportunity for those companies that proactively respond to the challenge of global freshwater scarcity. Frontrunners that create product transparency before others do, that develop strategies to improve their water situation and that can demonstrate actual improvements, can turn this into a competitive advantage.
A company can reduce its operational water footprint by saving water in its own operations and bringing water pollution to zero. Keywords are: reduce, recycle and treat before disposal. (Here we have the 3 R’s again!) The operational water footprint can generally brought back to nearly zero. For most businesses, however, the supply-chain water footprint is much larger than the operation footprint. It is therefore crucial that a company address that as well. Achieving improvements in the supply chain may be more difficult – because not under direct control – but they may be more effective.
Among the various alternatives or supplementary tools that can help improving transparency are: setting quantitative water-footprint reduction targets, benchmarking, product labelling, certification and water footprint reporting.
You see that water consumption is a vast topic and I am well aware of the fact that I couldn’t cover every angle but I tried to show lots of different sides and sensitize to the topic. Hopefully, I aroused some interest and if you want to discover more, I highly recommend http://www.waterfootprint.org/. At this point, I would like to thank my friend Ayesha, who presented via Prezi the water problem last semester and since then, got me more and more fascinated. Thank you!