The Role of Business In Managing Global Water Shortages
One of the biggest causes of ecological degradation around the world is the over-abstraction of water taken from aquifers, rivers, lakes and chalk streams.
And global businesses are by far the biggest water users of them all, with almost two-thirds of water consumption being used to support corporate supply chains.
The Nature Conservancy highlights the fact that there have been numerous events around the world that have seen water shortages and pollution cause serious disruption to business operations, or causing damage to brand reputations.
For example, protests in Kerala in India saw Coca-Cola forced to shut down one of its bottling plants in 2005 after a local villager claimed that its operations had caused the wells to dry up, as well as polluting soil and groundwater with sludge disposal. This, in turn, led to an anti-Coke campaign being carried out at universities as far away as the US.
And manufacturers had to stop buying cotton grown in the Aral Sea region, because irrigation diversions reduced the sea to a quarter of its size and chemical-laced dust and salt blown in from the lakeshore went on to cause an outbreak of cancer.
By 2030, UN predictions indicate that demand for water will outstrip supply by 40 per cent, driven by population growth, climate change, more frequent and intense extreme weather events, over-exploitation of resources, water mismanagement, ageing infrastructure and pollution.
Because water is a shared resource, it will be imperative for collective action to take place – particularly from a business perspective. The World Economic Forum goes into detail on this topic, suggesting that what’s necessary is “concerted, collective action” to make sure there is sufficient water for everyone in the future.
“The competition for scarce water resources is not a battle the corporate world can resolve by working alone. To stay in business, maintain good relations with local communities and protect their licence to operate, it makes much more sense for businesses to join forces to preserve water resources and protect basins that are at risk,” it was observed.
To that end, the Water Resilience Coalition has been set up, a CEO-led initiative of the CEO Water Mandate, which is a collaboration between the Pacific Institute and the UN Global Compact.
By joining this group, businesses are committing to preserving freshwater resources around the world in three different ways. First of all, they’ll achieve this by achieving net positive water impact in water-stressed basins they operate within, ensuring that their contributions surpass the water stress impact they have.
Businesses in the coalition also pledge to support water resilience throughout their entire supply chain and, thirdly, to work to raise awareness of water-related issues through both corporate and public advocacy.
Big-name brands have already made good progress in this regard. For example, Levi Strauss now uses up to 96 per cent less water for its denim finishing processes than it used to – and has successfully saved over three billion litres of water thus far.
And tech corp Microsoft recently tested out a submarine data centre, which eliminates the need for freshwater cooling processes altogether.
Thus far, 27 prominent businesses have signed up to the coalition, but the goal now is to increase this to 150 to enjoy even greater influence over global water use.
By 2030, the aim is to have a positive water impact in 100 basins facing water stress issues and to ensure access to safe water and sanitation for over 300 million people.
How to improve your water stewardship
Without taking action now, businesses run the risk of serious operative disruption in the future – but the good news is that there are lots of ways in which corporate water stewardship can be improved.
Recognising just how essential water is to your operations is a must, as well as understanding how lack of access to resources in sufficient quantities or of the right quality could have a significant impact – no matter what industry or sector you’re in.
By becoming a water steward, you will gain a deeper understanding of your own water usage and consumption within the context of your particular water catchment, as well as the risks involved in water balance.
Once you’ve considered all the risks associated with water, including regulatory, financial, reputational and physical, you will then be able to introduce the most effective strategies to minimise the risks relevant to you, ensuring that your business remains resilient and robust – and operating in a more sustainable way over the long term.
A great first step to take towards improving your water stewardship is to have a water audit carried out across your site. This will show you how and where you use water and which measures you need to take in order to reduce wastage.
You could also have a water footprint assessment carried out so you can see your direct and indirect usage habits and set achievable targets in place to help you drive your footprint down.
The Alliance for Water Stewardship has a global standard for water stewardship that could prove interesting reading, a globally applicable framework designed for major water users to help them understand their water use and the impacts it has.
It also provides guidance on collaborative and transparent ways of working to prioritise water management within catchments, with the aim being to deliver social, environmental and economic benefits at scale.
If you’re not sure where to begin and feel as though you need a bit of help and guidance, get in touch with the team here at SwitchWaterSupplier.com today to see how we can help support you in your drive to become more water efficient now and well into the future.