Writing in a Corporate Eco Forum blog, Ecolab’s vice president of corporate sustainability, Emilio Tenuta advised companies to first acknowledge the issue and associated risks at both site and organisation level.

“A smart water management strategy starts with understanding the water-related risks facing your business, which could result in business disruption, supply chain interruption, rising costs of operation, and barriers to growth,” he said.

These risks include increased demands on local water supplies, insufficient water quantity or quality, inadequate water infrastructure and changing climate conditions altering historic water availability.

“It is important to understand these risks at the site level, as well as the broader implications for business operations in the surrounding community. If we assess the real and future risks facing us at the site level, enterprise level, and surrounding community, we can begin to see how our operations will affect others in our shared watersheds and vice versa,” Tenuta added.

The next step is making the business case for water stewardship – this will help businesses substantiate their strategies and the scale of investment required to reduce current and future water risks.

According to Tenuta, this is a challenging exercise. “In many cases today, the market cost of water is actually inversely proportional to its availability. Today’s cost of water does not reflect current and future risks associated with the limited availability of water. This makes it hard to demonstrate a meaningful return on water-related investments.”

Quantification of water risk at the site level can assist here as a deeper understanding of the physical, regulatory, reputational, and financial dynamics at play can help businesses determine a risk-based premium for water use.

The third step is to operationalise water stewardship practices. By integrating risk into business decisions, companies can target high-risk locations and choose the most appropriate water management strategies for the situation.

“It is important to remember that the risks driving this process are not exclusive, nor are they controlled, by a single site. The shared nature of water makes it important to incorporate the dynamics of the local watersheds into decision-making,” Tenuta added.

He went on point out that for the private sector, increased demand for clean water can potentially threatens a company’s license to operate.

“When water must be rationed, domestic and agricultural use are most often the public priorities. Public pressure can challenge the reputations of even the most trusted companies. The risks are real, and they need to be acknowledged and understood by water users.”

Tenuta’s comments echo those of another authority on water. In May edie reported on comments made by Jason Morrison, technical director at CEO Water Mandate, who urged the global business community to ‘lift its game’ in delivering corporate water stewardship on the ground.

At the time, Morrison argued that businesses needed to start socialising water stewardship issues within the communities they operate, by engaging ‘outside their factory fence lines to be part of the problem’.

Maxine Perella

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