Putting the O in H2O: Where is the Opportunity in water?

I've been working on Environmental Management Systems (EMS) with businesses for over 20 years. Their drivers for EMS (often legal compliance and cost savings) have led some to focus on quick-wins, typically in waste and energy.

Putting the O in H2O: Where is the Opportunity in water?

An often forgotten element of an EMS, for many water is neither a core business process nor a major cost. While manufacturing and agriculture should clearly see the benefits, other sectors are only now recognising the importance of good water management.

The EMS standard ISO 14001 requires internal and external issues to be considered which could pose risks and opportunities to the organisation.

More development and an ageing sewerage system are pushing costs up, though the deregulation of the water industry this year may present opportunities. The impacts of climate change may be affecting premises locations, though the risk of flooding may be better understood than water scarcity. Both may have a direct impact – business continuity, increased costs, pressures on local people and environments.

The UN’s Sustainable Development Goals will be seen as a driver for many businesses. These cover a range of issues including Goal 6: ‘Ensure access to water and sanitation for all’. By 2050, at least one in four people is likely to live in a country affected by chronic or recurring shortages of fresh water.

So, what are businesses, big and small, doing to actively conserve water?

L’Oréal, recently recognised in the CDP Water A List, has a reduction target (relative to finished product) of 60% by 2020, from a 2005 baseline. By 2016, the Group had already reduced usage in plants and distribution centres by 45%. In addition to simply decreasing water consumption, L’Oréal also develops innovative projects to reuse and recycle water at its production sites. 

The Intercontinental Hotels Group (IHG) has put in the Green Engage system to help the hotels manage their impacts. With over 40% used in bathrooms and kitchens, IHG focuses on low-flow fixtures and operational processes. Its 2013-2017 target is to reduce consumption by 12% per occupied room in water-stressed areas.

IHG’s partnership with the Water Footprint Network is helping to develop a worldwide water stewardship programme. Understanding usage at a local level and particularly in extreme water-stressed areas, drives best practice techniques and behaviours.

I recently judged edie’s 2017 Sustainability Leaders Awards, in which Suffolk brewers Adnams won the water category. Following on from carbon, they have applied the concept of water footprinting to their product range, using ISO 14046 the water standard.

This identified perhaps surprising results: rather than the beer itself, the bottle manufacture and bottling process comprise 76% of water use. Lightweight bottles are specified, working together with suppliers to develop them. Their investigations also covered water scarcity and quality, in addition to consumption. Adnams are keen to share their findings with others in the industry to promote best water management.

These three examples show how far some businesses are going to address the risks and opportunities in relation to water management. Cost savings are seen through reduction measures, while scarcity issues will affect location and business continuity.

Come and hear more about water management at the edie Live 2017 session I am chairing on Tuesday 23 May at 3.45pm: Putting the O in H2O: where is the opportunity in water?

Find out more about edie Live 2017 and register for your free two-day pass here.

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