Tackling water scarcity: The key barriers and enablers

I recently spoke on a panel at World Water Week (WWW) alongside Charles Iceland of the World Resources Institute and Bessma Mourad of the Skoll Global Threats Fund, where we talked about how new data and partnerships are helping P&G and other companies create meaningful goals and holistic water programmes.

Tackling water scarcity: The key barriers and enablers

At P&G, we understand our responsibility not only for stewardship but for leadership. We are focused on not only reducing the water we use in the manufacturing phase but also giving consumers access to products that allow them to save water in their home and providing clean water to those who need it most through our Children’s Safe Drinking Water Program.

For decades, P&G has focused on water savings within our manufacturing plants. Prior to setting external reduction goals, conserving water was an internal measure of success at our plants.. Our 2020 goal of a 20% water reduction in our manufacturing plants has been achieved ahead of schedule. However, we believe there’s always room for improvement and won’t stop there.

In addition to focusing on water reduction, we’ve also spent more than 10 years providing clean drinking water to those who need it most through our Children’s Safe Drinking Water Program. Our 150+ partners have helped us deliver more than 10 billion litres of clean drinking water to people in need all around the world. In addition, last year we announced a new goal to provide one billion people access to water efficient products by 2020.

During my time at WWW, it was interesting to hear about the common themes, barriers and enablers on water scarcity. I’ve listed a few here:


  • Local issue with global consequences – No two river basins are created equal. It takes time to identify the underlying risks in order to create effective plans.
  • Large number of basin actors – Water is a complex issue. In one river basin alone, hundreds or thousands of stakeholders can exist, all playing a unique role in the health and quantity of the freshwater in the region.


  • Global forums – Events like WWW give companies, governments, NGOs and academia the opportunity to come together in one location to learn from one another and identify opportunities.
  • Knowledge of river basins experiencing the highest water risks – A better understanding of the health of a river basin can allow for more impactful mitigation efforts. As part of our Water Stewardship program, we have a formal water risk assessment process that has been deployed to all P&G manufacturing sites in order to identify sites located in areas vulnerable to water stress. The process was developed in partnership with external experts at the World Resources Institute (WRI) and the World Wildlife Fund (WWF). The results we gather from the water risk assessment are then used to inform and prioritize proactive conservation efforts.
  • Partnerships – No one company, government or organization can solve the water challenges alone. We value all of our partners and must work together to achieve our goals.


My final thoughts are my top tips for anyone thinking about how to drive stronger approaches to water in their business…

  1. Pinpoint your impact. Identify where your products or services are having the most impact in terms of water. Is it in the supply chain? Is it during manufacturing? Once you understand where your impact is, you can begin to craft a strategic plan for how your organization wants to approach water stewardship.

  2. Tie it back to the business. Consider ways that water is tied to your business growth and help to educate your business on its importance. Take your colleagues in R&D, Marketing and other areas on the journey with you.  

  3. Partner for success. Include others in your Water Stewardship journey. Partners are essential for making progress on your Company’s goals. Impact can be amplified through collaboration.

Shannon Quinn, Water Stewardship Leader, Procter & Gamble

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