Simply Sustainable

Water conservation: is your business making every drop count?

By Sabrina Chiaretti, Consultant

Towards the end of August, the world celebrated World Water Week, an intense week of events around the most precious of resources. Experts, practitioners, innovators and young professionals from all over the world gathered in Stockholm to exchange ideas and discuss the challenges and opportunities of the current global state of water.

According to CDP, the climate disclosure organisation, 2,025 of the world’s largest organisations are now reporting on their water footprint. Almost 25% of them, confirm to have experienced benefits in implementing water efficiency measures, making the business case for water management and reporting stronger.

For those businesses that are unsure where to start or interested in improving their approach, we outline some considerations below for measuring and managing your water footprint. But first, let’s talk about why the water issue should be top of your agenda.

Ensure a resilient future

This summer, the UK was hit by the longest heatwave of the past 40 years, forcing United Utilities to restrict hosepipe use to 7 million households. Earlier this year, Cape Town almost ran out of water entirely, avoiding a social and environmental catastrophe only through extremely aggressive water savings measures. According to the latest climate change projections, the intensity and frequency of heatwaves and droughts will only increase in the future and by 2030, water supply will satisfy only 60% of global demand on average. Businesses, particularly those whose products and services rely heavily on the natural environment, need to address the water issue with urgency, to ensure the resilience of their operations against this increasingly stressed and critical resource.

Stay ahead of future regulations

In the UK, the water sector is regulated by UK Government, the European Union and global organisations such as the World Health Organisation. The regulations concern water quality, the environment, public health and water prices. The water sector will face significant challenges in the future, including climate change, population growth, tightening environmental standards and changing customer expectations. These challenges will inevitably result in stricter regulations over the upcoming years. Several water companies, including Anglian Water, Affinity Water and United Utilities are already reviewing business models and activities to address future requirements. The European Union is reviewing the Drinking Water Directive and is expected the start reviewing the Water Framework Directive shortly, to address key issues such as pollution from urban wastewater, drinking water quality, micro-pollutants and river basin management.

In this changing environment, it is critical that businesses start addressing water issues proactively to meet future challenging regulations.

 Achieve cost savings

Implementing water efficiency measures is proved to help business save money and identify opportunities for operational improvements.

For once, we first recommend you think small. Simple and small water efficiency measures, such as water saving taps, can save up to 60% of water expenses and repay for themselves in as little as three months. Small technical measures are particularly effective when linked to behaviour change initiatives, to raise awareness with your people on the importance of saving water at work.

Thinking bigger and more long-term, extensive technological improvements across your line of production and supply chain can save your business thousands a year. For example Diageo, a leader when it comes to tackling water scarcity, invested in three water recycling programmes in India, reducing water extraction by 35%. In Uganda, the company has invested £4.4 million in a wastewater treatment facility, returning high-quality water to Lake Victoria and improving the quality of life of the nearby communities, while generating its own biogas.

Mitigate reputational risks

Public awareness of the water issue is increasing rapidly. For instance, in 2015, Nestle faced significant protests when continuing to bottle water in California during the drought. Such reputational risks often result from inefficient production activities and lack of understanding of water related-impacts on ecosystems and communities. This can decrease brand value and consumer loyalty, disrupt operations or even threaten a company’s license to operate. Having a strategy in place to manage and report on water helps companies to significantly mitigate reputational risks.

Create mutually-beneficial partnerships

The scale of the challenge means that no one business can tackle it alone. By engaging with water management providers and organisations devoted to saving water (e.g. Water Aid, One Drop) a company can learn about its operational initiatives, create positive and long-lasting partnerships, and share the effort of saving water, one drop at a time.

Champion the SDGs

An increasing number of businesses are now addressing the Sustainable Development Goals in their business strategies, to align their operations with global priorities. Having measures in place to address water scarcity, poor water quality and inadequate sanitation help you meet Goal 6 and demonstrate your commitment to sustainable development.

 

Managing your water footprint: make every drop count

The first step is to identify and understand water consumption and map out how water-related risks might affect your operations and future growth. Once you have a complete picture of your water stream and related risks, you can start planning to better manage your water use and mitigate future risks by setting challenging context-based water targets (CBWTs).

The concept of CBWTs comes hot-on-the-heels of context-based carbon metrics, that prescribe organisational-specific allocations according to science-based thresholds. CBWT methodologies can take several variables into account: the ecological thresholds, economic water uses, social water needs, a wellbeing allocation process and public-sector objectives. In other words, setting these targets will enable your business to adjust science-based targets to the context that you operate in and align your decisions with local and global needs. A fair share allocation system alongside science-based scenarios will ensure your CBWTs are realistic and impactful.

When implementing actions to address your water footprint, you should also focus on ensuring the circularity of your water stream. At present, much of the water used by business moves through the system and becomes increasingly polluted until it can no longer be used. Instead, by implementing circular water streams you can retain the water’s value after each use and return it to the system wherever possible.

Addressing the water issue proactively by understanding and managing your water footprint, will help your business mitigate risks, reduce its impacts and ensure the long-term viability of your operations and supply chain.

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