This World Water Day, Explore Zero Water Strategies

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Adrien Couton Vice President, Sustainability Solutions-Americas
Water Management
Water Efficiency

Zero carbon is becoming a new norm for leading companies. As companies are pushed to explore new ways to push the boundaries on their environmental strategies, we expect them to put a greater focus on their water targets. For World Water Day, “Everyone Has a Role to Play,” we take a look at the reasons to expect a growing adoption of zero-water strategies.

By now we all know that reducing carbon emissions is critical to keeping our global temperature increase below 1.5 degrees Celsius. More companies and cities are taking action, committing to reduced carbon or zero carbon goals. Of course, competition and innovation are pushing those boundaries even further, with companies like Microsoft announcing their bold plan earlier this year to become carbon negative by 2030.

Carbon strategies will lead companies to place a greater focus on water targets in link with their carbon objectives. According to the UN World Water Development Report 2020, water management plays an important part in climate change mitigation; water efficiency has a direct effect on energy savings, which leads to a reduction of GHG emissions.

But water footprint reduction will increasingly be tackled as an objective on its own. By 2040, global water demand is expected to increase by more than 50 percent, primarily from manufacturing, electricity generation and households. Including a water management strategy as part of your organization’s overall sustainability strategy can help protect from climate risks related to water, ensure that water will be there for your business needs, help reduce your carbon footprint, and ensure a safe supply for the localities in which you operate. The more water an organization uses, the bolder actions it can take to reduce.

This year’s World Water Day theme, “Everyone Has a Role to Play” is an opportunity for global organizations to involve teams in this important topic.

Inspirational Businesses Who Are Reducing Their Water Footprints

While actions to conserve water have not, so far, received as much attention as those focused on zero carbon goals, numerous companies provide inspirational examples in water footprint reductions.

  • Microsoft emerged as a top leader a few years ago when it announced its Silicon Valley campus would be the first tech campus with a net-zero water certification. 100 percent of the building’s non-potable water comes from rainwater or recycled water (from an onsite wastewater treatment facility); the only water used from municipal reservoirs is for drinking fountains, sinks and showers.
  • Starbucks announced its goal to be “resource positive” within a decade by reducing carbon emissions, water withdrawal, and landfill waste. According to the company, 50 percent of its water withdrawal for direct operations and coffee production will be conserved or replenished with a focus on communities and basins with high water risk. They will also invest in innovative and regenerative water replenishment in their supply chain.
  • Even though it is not a water-intensive company, Sprint has committed to using less water and since 2007 has reduced overall water use by 50 percent. At its headquarters campus in Overland Park, Kansas, an eight-acre lake and more than seven acres of connected wetlands on the company’s 200-acre campus serve as catch basins for storm-water runoff and as the principle irrigation source for landscaping. Millions of gallons of water annually are recycled and conserved and support the biodiversity and wildlife that reside on the company’s campus.
  • In 2018, the city of Austin, Texas launched Water Forward, a 100-year water plan to ensure its citizens, as well as smaller surrounding communities, would have the water they needed. The catalyst was an earlier drought in Central Texas that saw the flow in the Colorado River from tributary streams reduced to just 10 percent of its normal level, while local lakes shrank to only 30 percent full. A sizeable portion of the plan relies on demand-side management, but also includes water reuse goals, innovative storage technology, resiliency, social equity and affordability.
  • According to CONSERVE, in California the Irvine Ranch Water District and the City of Santa Rosa have both used reclaimed water to irrigate lettuce, strawberries, grapes and other row crops for more than 30 years. Together, they use 1.8 billion gallons per hundred acres of reused, local water to irrigate crops.

Many companies, cities, and water districts provide examples of innovative water approaches. Unlike carbon, the impact of these initiatives is at the watershed level. A significant effort will be required to generalize these good practices across basins and regions, particularly in water-intensive sectors such as food or apparel. The collective efforts driven by water resource management organizations such as GWP, WRG, WWF, IMWI remains essential, but important efforts can also be carried out at the company level.

What sustainable water management strategies can companies take?

Focus

Zero water goals will look different for every company, so strategies must be focused. First, we look at where water management strategies will make the greatest impact. A global organization will have different strategies for its locations in specific watersheds in India or the Middle East versus Canada; a company in the U.S. might employ different approaches in the desert Southwest than it would in the rainy Northwest. Understanding water scarcity is key, and a great resource is Water Resources Institute’s Aqueduct that identifies and evaluates water risks around the world.

Measure

Striving for zero water goals also means understanding use. You can’t manage what you don’t measure, so data is critical to establishing baselines, identifying where usage is highest and tracking progress to goal.

Reduce

Good data will set a foundation for efficiency interventions; there too, the potential will vary by industry. For large users, the development of a shadow water price can be a powerful tool to incentive change within the company

Compensate

Once organizations have implemented water efficiency projects, they can start looking at ways to compensate for what is used to bring net consumption to zero. For example, a large manufacturer might invest in building onsite solutions for water reclamation or re-channel runoff back to the water table. For small water users, this may not be feasible, but innovative organizations such as BEF are helping build options for Water Restoration Certificates in partnership with a range of organizations in the water sector.

Report

Finally, reporting water footprints and reduction efforts is a growing practice for companies. According to CDP, over 2,400 companies disclosed water targets in 2019, which is a 15 percent increase over 2018 and a 70 percent increase in the last 3 years. Data and disclosure are crucial to close the gap on achieving sustainability goals.

It’s Time to Play Your Role in Sustainability Towards Circularity

A new generation will require companies to move beyond zero carbon commitments toward a broader definition of their sustainability footprint and will want to know what your organization is doing to reduce your water use. Better water management also means less energy, less waste, and fewer carbon emissions. Ultimately, according to the UN’s Water Policy Brief, if we can limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, compared to 2 degrees Celsius, we could cut climate-induced water stress by up to 50 percent.

Become a Zero Water Leader

Take the steps today to understand how your business is utilizing water resources from the supply chain to the facility and how you can stand out as a zero water leader.

For more resources, connect with one of our experts in resource management or strategy-setting by contacting us today.