Water is our world’s most valuable resource. Each year on March 22, World Water Day is observed by the UN to highlight the importance of freshwater and advocate for the sustainable management of freshwater resources. This year’s theme is “Leaving No One Behind,” a central tenet of Sustainable Development Goal 6 (SDG 6), which aims to ensure availability and sustainable management of water for all by 2030. According to the CDP Global Water Report 2017, companies have committed US$23.4 billion across more than 1,000 projects to tackle water risks in 91 countries around the world. The sustainable water management actions companies take today will determine the well-being of citizens across the world.
For most businesses – especially those in more water-intensive industries such as agriculture, manufacturing, food and hospitality– sustainable water management is becoming as critical as energy management to control costs and ensure a safe supply. It’s estimated that business & industry consumes roughly 16 percent of all water globally (based on 2005 data), and that share is projected to increase to 22 percent by 2030. The cost of that use is rising as well. Circleofblue.org, which tracks water rates in 30 U.S. cities, reports that in the last nine years, we’ve seen an average 50 percent increase in water costs nationwide. Certain parts of Texas and California have seen more than a 100 percent increase.
Source: Circle of Blue Research, based on utility water rates.
More and more, investors are challenging businesses to take meaningful steps to address climate change and water sustainability. If you are a multi-site company, not having a water sustainability strategy is a risk, especially if investors see you as ill-prepared for the changes you might face if there are water shortages or supply disruptions. Companies can choose to disclose water issues separately when reporting to CDP, GRI and the Dow Jones Sustainability Index (whose questionnaires are aligned for easier reporting). According to CDP, the number of companies driving water action into their supply chains has increased by 80 percent, while 73 percent of responding companies identified business opportunities and are taking action to address water risks.
We know that water costs are quickly rising, but why? There are two main macro trends that are leading not only to increasing costs, but a shortage of quality water in many parts of the world.
One of the primary effects of climate change is the disruption of the water cycle. One year may have sufficient snowpack or rainfall that fills reservoirs while the next five years may be below average (sometimes called “precipitation whiplash”). These variations can tip a relatively stable climate out of balance and jeopardize water, food and energy systems we rely on. To manage risk and protect water resources, many state and local governments are implementing water policies, restrictions and fines on both businesses and consumers.
Much of our water infrastructure was laid in the early to mid-20th century with a lifespan of 75-100 years. According to the American Society of Civil Engineers 2017 Report Card for America’s Infrastructure, Drinking Water Report, there are an estimated 240,000 water main breaks per year in the United States, wasting over two trillion gallons of treated drinking water. Upgrading existing water systems will require at least $1 trillion. Funding infrastructure improvements is primarily through increased water utility rates.
As our planet experiences more disruptions in our water supply, World Water Day is the perfect time for companies to consider their own impacts on water supply and water safety and security. Water conservation not only helps keep costs in check, it helps sustain resources for everyone to ensure we “leave no one behind.”
In order to take meaningful action on water sustainability, companies need to know what their current water footprint is and set future conservation goals. In our next blog on this topic, we’ll talk more about specific strategies for leveraging both macro and granular consumption data and analytics to optimize water consumption.
What are the most impactful water management strategies your business implemented?