Global water challenges, such as water scarcity and pollution, are having an increasingly negative impact on businesses. Now more than ever, companies need to assess their water performance and the watersheds in which they operate in order to address these challenges and ultimately stay in business.
Each river basin is unique, but there are a number of water trends that are occurring in many parts of the world. Freshwater consumption worldwide has more than doubled since World War II and is expected to rise another 25 percent by 2030. More than one-third of the world’s population – roughly 2.4 billion people – live in water-stressed countries and by 2025 the number is expected to rise to two-thirds. Declining water quality is an acute problem around the world due to agricultural runoff, industrial wastewater, improper disposal of human waste, and many other issues. Climate change is affecting the hydrologic cycle, leading to more frequent extreme weather events, such as droughts and floods.
Water scarcity, pollution, climate change, and other problematic global water trends pose major challenges to businesses now and will continue to do so in the years ahead. Water-related business risks are generally placed in three broad categories:
- Physical risk – Relates to water quantity (scarcity and flooding) and water quality that is unfit for use (pollution)
- Reputational risk – Relates to the impact on a company’s brand and can influence customer purchasing decisions
- Regulatory risk – Relates to the capacity of government to manage water effectively and sustainability
Water stewardship helps companies identify and manage water-related business risks and allows them to contribute to and help enable more sustainable management of shared freshwater resources. Stewardship also reduces operational costs; protects the company from ensuing water stress; and improves the company’s image in the eyes of consumers, investors, and nearby communities.
Water stewardship offers a comprehensive and dynamic framework that allows companies to manage these risks, while seizing the many opportunities related to water. It asks companies not only to ensure their operations are efficient and clean, but that companies actively promote sustainable water management in the river basins in which they operate.