Cancel
Advanced Search
KEYWORDS
CATEGORY
AUTHOR
MONTH

Please click here to take a brief survey

What's Your Company's Water Footprint?

by Will Sarni

Last year we heard a chorus of "water is the new oil," including a memorable BusinessWeek cover depicting oil baron T. Boone Pickens knee-deep in H20. This year the cry is "water is the new carbon" in response to a heightened awareness that resources such as water are more critical and valuable to a company's operation (and brand value) than previously assumed. If you are a water-intensive business such as the food and beverage sector, water is now at the top of your list of sustainability issues to address.

Yes, water is a key business risk that needs to be managed just as energy and carbon are now managed. But in fact, water is not the new oil or the new carbon, and neither comparison is a constructive way to view the value and risk of water within a business context.

Water presents several unique challenges:

  • it is not actually "used," but simply "borrowed" (water is used and discharged returning it to the hydrologic cycle for potential reuse);

  • discharge is as critical as extraction (location, quality, temperature, etc.);

  • local stakeholder issues vary tremendously (what makes sense in one area may not in another); and last but by no means least, there is the issue of the "human right to water."

According to the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development, 47 percent of the world's population will face severe water shortages by 2030. This means that multinational corporations now face "water risk" to their operations and brands — even though water is "noise" in a profit and loss statement for most multinationals.

The issue with water is not really one of cost (although this will likely change as we begin to value water according to use and need) but instead has to do with a company's license to operate and its supply chain. While water is a global issue, it is addressed locally in the communities in which companies operate. If a company mis-manages a local water resource and negatively impacts a community, bad press quickly follows. And that, in turn, can create operational interruptions and erode brand value.

Some multinationals have responded by developing guidelines for measuring their water footprint and taking a leadership role in addressing water as a critical global issue (for example, see the CEO Water Mandate at unglobalcompact.org).

Recommendations as to how to address water risks are relatively straightforward and somewhat similar to how multinationals are developing and implementing carbon strategies:

  • Determine your enterprise-wide water footprint and, if appropriate, evaluate the embedded water in key products;
  • Identify ways to reduce water use (direct and indirect);
  • Consider local water "offset projects" in collaboration with local and global NGOs;

  • "Re-value" water beyond the current cost of water;

  • Determine physical, regulatory and perception risks with direct and indirect water use;

  • Be transparent in communicating your goals and performance; and

  • Finally, develop a corporate-wide sustainability strategy that takes a systems-wide approach to energy, carbon, water and material use. All of these resources are interrelated, and any corporate strategy requires an integrated solution.

(For a more suggestions, see the Water Footprint Network.)

Thinking proactively about your water footprint — before you are forced to — will create goodwill toward your brand and protect your business from risk.

William Sarni is founder and CEO of DOMANI, and has 30 years of experience in providing sustainability and environmental consulting services to private and public sector enterprises.

This piece originally appeared on Harvard Business Publishing's Leading Green blog.

Bookmark and Share




EMAIL THIS ENTRY TO:

YOUR EMAIL ADDRESS:


MESSAGE (optional):


Search Worldchanging

Worldchanging Newsletter Get good news for a change —
Click here to sign up!


Worldchanging2.0


Website Design by Eben Design | Logo Design by Egg Hosting | Hosted by Amazon AWS | Problems with the site? Send email to tech /at/ worldchanging.com
©2012
Architecture for Humanity - all rights reserved except where otherwise indicated.

Find_us_on_facebook_badge.gif twitter-logo.jpg