“What we really need is more leadership by the business and agricultural communities— major users of water—to raise awareness, take action in their own operations, and lobby governments for better water stewardship regulations.”
As World Water Day reminds us, the state of the world’s water is in a deplorable state. California, where one-third of America’s fruits and vegetables are grown, is years into a drought with no end in sight. Sao Paolo is literally weeks away from running out of water. Meanwhile, in India and China, groundwater levels are dropping precipitously and that water is increasingly contaminated with a toxic soup of chemicals. Meanwhile, the United Nations estimates that global water demand for manufacturing is expected to increase by 400% from 2000 to 2050.
It’s grim folks and getting grimmer for communities, livelihoods and flora and fauna of all kinds.
When it comes to the intersection of water and business, the CEO Mandate, a public-private water sustainability initiative, highlights five major areas of concern:
- Increasing demand for water: As the world’s population continues to grow and incomes increase, our thirst for water will grow
- Water scarcity and uneven supply: Global water stress is increasing in many areas as demand outstrips supply
- Declining water quality: Even where there is water, it may be heavily compromised by pollution of all kinds
- Increasing public expectations for responsible resource use: The public is becoming aware of the risks of water shortages and expect companies to be part of the solution
- Climate change: Precipitation patterns are changing significantly, creating more variability in supply
Despite the magnitude of these challenges, it’s fair to say that the business community-at-large has generally stayed on the sidelines of action. It’s a puzzling strategy given that the business risks of water – from raw material production to product use or end of life – are significant. There’s the risk of little or poor supply; stakeholder reputation issues; changing, ineffective, poorly implemented, and inconsistent water policy and regulations; and vulnerabilities up and down the supply chain.
Yes, the beverage industry, including the likes of Coca Cola, Pepsi and ABInBev, has been catching up with the issue. But, pardon the pun, their actions are just a drop in the bucket. And their own conservation and efficiency efforts don’t remotely begin to deal with larger systemic issues.
What we desperately need is more leadership by the business and agricultural communities – major users of water – to raise awareness, take action in their own operations, and lobby governments for better water stewardship regulations.
The hydrological cycle knows no boundaries so cross-sector collaboration is critical. And to do their part, corporations have to start by flagging water as a strategic issue and putting some dedicated resources behind it – people, money and monitoring. If not, rather ironically, we’ll all find ourselves in deep water.
Peter ter Weeme is a Principal at Junxion.