The charity warns that those UK businesses that rely on imports must take steps to proof their supply chain against an increasingly stressed global water supply.

Two thirds of the UK’s virtual water consumption is from other nations.

While 80% of imports face at least ‘moderate risk’, around half of those imports come from countries with areas of high-water risk.

The agricultural, pharmaceutical and beverage sectors are all affected, but the fashion industry is most vulnerable, with 60% of clothing imports – worth £9.7bn – facing ‘high risks’.

The dangers for UK businesses can include supply chain disruption from floods, droughts and poor water quality.

The most significant countries for the UK (in terms of import value) with hot spots of high water risk are China, the USA and Spain.

Domestic problems

The report – From risk to resilience: Does your business know its water risk? – claims that there is also a problem closer to home.

The latest Environment Agency figures show that just 17% of England’s rivers are in good ecological health – with roughly a third of this negative impact being attributed to the agricultural impacts of producing of food and drink.

WWF-UK water stewardship manager Lucy Lee said: “Businesses must wake up to their exposure to water related risks, and also realise the potential benefits of assessing and responding to them.

“UK plc has an important role to play in safeguarding the rivers, lakes and aquifers which are under such serious threat and which provide the water for people, nature and business.”

CDP’s 2014 Global Water Report revealed an interesting contradiction in how businesses are responding to water risks.

While 68% of global 500 company respondents said that water poses a substantive risk to their business, only 38% had conducted a risk assessment that included operations and supply chain.

In the UK, just 21% of had conducted a risk assessment that took into account the river basin where they operate.

Case study

Brewing giant SABMiller was highlighted in the report as an example of good water stewardship (along with M&S, Coca-Cola and Molson Coors).

Sharing his experience, SABMiller water risk manager David Grant said: “Once we understood our risks in detail, we moved to engage with others across a number of river basins where we operate.

“We were able to make a much stronger business case for action within SABMiller using detailed local assessments, and quantifying the risk exposure to our facilities.

“I imagine that many other businesses would find the same once they have the right information in front of them. I’d encourage businesses to understand the risks, and then move to minimize them, and their impact on the freshwater environment.”

WWF itself laid out 10 ‘Golden Rules’ in its report, including creating a publicly available water stewardship plan and collaborating with stakeholders or businesses that may face similar water issues.

Brad Allen

Action inspires action. Stay ahead of the curve with sustainability and energy newsletters from edie