How can organisations take action on water stewardship and efficiency?

Ahead of edie’s free webinar (Thursday 24 August) during World Water Week, Martin Townsend, Director for BSI Centre of Excellence for Sustainability, explores the steps that corporates can take to start acting on this critical resource.

How can organisations take action on water stewardship and efficiency?

Water is one of our most fundamental, precious, and undervalued resources – meaning that there are enormous benefits to be realized for individuals, organizations, and society from improved water stewardship. Since almost all life relies on it using water wisely can help maintain good health, a biodiverse natural environment, ensure we have sufficient food supplies and contribute to economic growth. Access to clean water is also at the forefront of building a more equitable society, which is why the United Nations rightly incorporated access to safely managed drinking water and sanitation in the Sustainable Development Goals.

If we weren’t already aware that water scarcity was a major concern, recent events have challenged the perception that drought and flooding are rare events. As the climate crisis intensifies, communities are beginning to confront issues arising from too little and too much water on an annual basis. And the BSI Water Security Indicator – created in partnership with Waterwise – evaluates water availability in 40 locations, highlighting that major economies including the US, China and India are facing serious challenges.

In some countries, the impact of water scarcity and the positive benefits of conserving water have long been a key priority, such as in Israel where water recycling efforts see the country reusing close to 90% of its wastewater for irrigation purposes. But, as we explore in Thirst for change’, a report from BSI in partnership with water NGO Waterwise, globally we do not necessarily recognize this to the same degree as with other environmental issues.  In recent years we have seen a willingness to partner, to innovate, to change and to openly challenge the status quo to reduce carbon emissions. But, the fact is that, water provision and how we use water also contributes around 10% to global carbon emissions – water stewardship and carbon reduction are intrinsically linked and there is the opportunity to partner across society to address both at the same time.

Learning to manage water differently and applying strategies to secure a water-positive future can benefit us all. To turn ambition into action on water stewardship and efficiency, a helpful starting point is to consider that there are both supply and demand side opportunities.

In other words, water usage has different drivers for commercial and domestic purposes. We drink water to stay alive but choose to use water as consumers and citizens. Likewise, different actions can be taken to respond and enable better water management, led by utility companies. This can include everything from Sustainable Urban Drainage Systems (SUDS) to water efficiency labelling and, more broadly, embedding a water-saving culture. Standardization and global collaboration can also be key to adopting best practices worldwide.

There are many steps organizations can take to drive leadership and action on water stewardship, such as:

  1. Recognize water wastage as a serious challenge – Policymakers, water companies, organizations and individuals can all play a part. Visible and meaningful effort by water utilities around the world to reduce network leakage, driven by government action to incentivize change, can have a direct impact and persuade individuals and organizations to acknowledge their own role.
  2. Ensure it is easier to choose affordable water saving products – for example via mandatory water efficiency labelling.
  3. Embrace innovation and make better use of data. Smart water meters have the potential to be a game changer – through legislation, regulation, use of standards, enhanced funding and upskilling workforce capability, governments can facilitate progress so that water saving becomes the norm.
  4. Encourage a water saving culture – We can effect change if we step up efforts to prioritize addressing water availability challenges and encourage a positive water saving culture amongst individuals, organizations and society, at home and in the workplace, and across different sectors.
  5. 5. Close the loop – Applying a circular economy mindset to the water scarcity challenge can help tackle some of the key drivers of the issue. Reusing water provides a huge opportunity to reduce freshwater withdrawals/abstraction and to address rising water demand.
  6. Collaboration is king – Partnership across a wide range of players can help us address the growing challenges around water availability.

The good news is that there are signs the world is becoming more aware of the benefits of managing water more wisely. In research conducted for BSI in 2023 by Malvern Insight & Yonder, we found that two-thirds of consumers and 80% of small business leaders identified clean water and sanitation as part of the important debate on a achieving a sustainable future, while half of the former and 44% of the latter placed it in the top five of issues to focus global and resource and effort on.

By partnering across society and acting to increase water availability, we can start to secure a water positive future and accelerate progress towards a sustainable world.

BSI on edie’s World Water Week webinar

Martin Townsend will be joined by other experts from WWF and Anglian Water Services to speak on edie’s next FREE webinar, which is being hosted on Thursday 24 August to mark World Water Week.

This webinar will bring together sustainability leaders and water management experts to share tools, insights and practices that accelerate innovation and drive global water security. Topics covered will include water efficiency, eliminating pollution and conserving and restoring natural habitats. 

Click here for more information. 

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