Does Your Organization Have What It Needs to Fight the Water Crisis?
Does Your Organization Have What It Needs to Fight the Water Crisis?
The world is in a water crisis, and it will not go away on its own. Globally, according to the World Resources Institute (WRI), we are on course for a 56% freshwater shortfall by 2030, a significant increase from the 40% shortfall the United Nations projected in 2015.
The shortfall is not inevitable, but averting the crisis will require every organization to make decisions and take actions that better support our carbon-stressed, water-challenged planet as well as address the long-term viability of their operations.
While many organizations already feel financial, regulatory, and reputational motivations to strengthen water-use and greenhouse gas-reduction strategies, not all have the tools, insights, and expertise to help curb their consumption.
Fortunately, there are several efficient, effective water-management solutions on digital platforms with real-time monitoring and analysis that can help organizations meet their water goals while reducing operational costs.
Beyond optimizing water use within facilities, a strong water-management strategy should also consider an organization’s relationship to the local watersheds in which it operates and how its water use affects the surrounding community.
“Many corporate water targets are not fully aligned with a local watershed’s specific needs or address the root causes of water challenges,” said Emilio Tenuta, Ecolab senior vice president and chief sustainability officer. “Water quantity and quality vary by location, and it is crucial to set context-based targets grounded [in] local water stress conditions and the needs of the surrounding communities.”
Setting Goals, Measuring Progress
Throughout the world, current local water prices may not reflect water’s true value. The relatively low cost of water can make its value easy to overlook. But population growth, increased demand, and climate change will continue to stress our world’s limited water supply, making the financial value of water to business operations impossible to ignore in the long term.
Among 357 companies surveyed by the environmental nonprofit Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP) in 2020, the financial impact of their reported water risks exceeded $300 billion. But not all organizations are proactively addressing these risks.
In a 2021 Ecolab and GreenBiz survey of companies with revenue of at least $1 billion, only 38% of respondents said water is a strategic corporate initiative they manage across their operations. Nearly half of the survey respondents reported that their local facilities lack the tools and resources to meet their existing water goals.
Organizations can’t effectively mitigate water risk from the executive suite—they need to address the issue at the site level.
“Smart water-management programs contribute to reducing business risk at the corporate level and addressing local shared water challenges by guiding industrial sites in setting meaningful targets, establishing strong accountability, implementing industry best practices, and preparing facilities for engaging with other basin stakeholders,” said Tenuta.
Each local plant and facility must set goals based in the context of the local conditions within which they operate. With an understanding of the value of water to local operations, facilities can then set context-based targets and a plan to implement changes and assess progress over time.
Water Strategy and Technology
At any organization, a successful water-management plan starts with gaining visibility into its own consumption by analyzing water usage to identify and improve inefficiency. While this sounds simple, tracking water performance has traditionally challenged organizations with manual, tedious, resource-intensive processes yielding inconsistent or inconclusive results.
However, today’s advanced digital data-collection and analytics technology can help speed up this process through automated measurement, notifications, and insights. Ecolab recently launched an enhanced version of its free, publicly available online tool, the Ecolab Smart Water Navigator, which can help organizations at any stage of their water-use reduction initiatives accelerate their smart water-management journey. The tool helps users understand their level of water risk, set attainable targets for individual locations, identify actions to help deliver reduction targets, and track performance for continual reassessment and growth opportunities.
“Sites without water targets can utilize the Smart Water Navigator to identify risk and develop a response plan following the guidance and resources provided in the portal,” said Tenuta. “Sites that already have water targets can use the tool to evaluate if the ambition of their targets is sufficient to address the shared water challenges and to access best-practice guidance on how to implement strategies and track progress toward meeting the target.”
Other tools, such as Ecolab’s Water Flow Intelligence service, offer real-time visibility into water usage to help organizations understand where and how they use water throughout their networks so they can align processes and set optimal water-consumption standards across the enterprise.
By multiplying local improvements at a national or a global scale, an organization can deliver significant improvements to environmental sustainability—supporting the health and quality of life for people—and to its own productivity, performance, and profitability.
Partnering for Water Expertise
Many organizations worldwide are still in the early stages of understanding their water use and its role in the ecosystem. Beyond using tools to help your organization mitigate your consumption, collaboration is key to achieving meaningful progress.
“Setting a foundation for engaging with external stakeholders is critical to building business resilience. This will help establish trust and enable a stronger social license to operate,” said Tenuta.
Organizations looking to advance their water-stewardship initiatives can use the expertise and resources of partners, including:
- The Alliance for Water Stewardship, which sets global water-use standards with locally adaptable frameworks to help enterprises contribute their own freshwater-use reduction efforts to worldwide goals
- The Water Resilience Coalition, part of the U.N. Global Compact, a CEO-led initiative that aims to drive water-stress awareness and action via measurable corporate commitments
- The Nature Conservancy, whose Our Watercampaign has raised millions of dollars of public and private funding to protect the Mississippi River and other fragile freshwater resources
Water is an essential component of business operations and of healthy lives. By adopting proactive water-management plans that account for an organization’s size, location, and offerings and by using digital insights and engaging in effective partnerships, companies can build their own operational resilience and help adapt to a changing climate while helping protect this valuable resource.
Learn how Ecolab can help your organization grow through efficient water use.