It’s Time to Bring Water to the Board Table

by Anastasia Sousanoglou, Water Strategy Manager at Waterscan

“If you want to make progress on global challenges, start with water”, advised the World Economic Forum (WEF) while setting its agenda for this year’s Davos summit.

‘Hang on!’, we hear you cry. ‘We were finally getting somewhere with regard to our plastics and net zero targets and now you want us to wade into the murky depths of our water footprint too? One thing at a time, surely?’

Well, no, actually, and I’m afraid it’s getting rather urgent if water isn’t already firmly flowing through your sustainability agenda. And here’s why.

Less than 1.2% of all water on earth is available for human use. Yet, the availability of water underpins the success or failure of every other environmental and social challenge that we face on the planet. Indeed, all of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are dependent, in one way or another, on clean water. So, doesn’t it make sense to start with water and benefit from its ability to unlock progress on multiple other fronts?

Making sense is one thing. Taking action is quite another, it seems.

Water features in very few corporate risk registers or business continuity plans. This is especially true in the UK where our notoriously wet weather and island geography combine to give the impression that usable water is plentiful here. It may come as some surprise then, to learn that London is the only place in Europe to feature on the list of water-deprived cities globally. Joining the likes of Cairo and Cape Town, Bangalore and Beijing, Mexico City and Miami, our capital is the 9th city mostly likely to run out of drinking water. At the same time, WEF has ranked water stress as a top five global risk in terms of impact for the past five years, not least when it comes to productivity: water stress makes supply more unpredictable and expensive, affecting operational capacity, profit margins and reputation.

So, what needs to be done? As with most business functions, if you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it. And here, with data and disclosure, is the best place to start.

Thousands of organisations are well used to disclosing on carbon, working with the Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP) or other schemes to demonstrate their commitment to transparency and accountability, but many have yet to extend their reporting to water.

This is probably because water reporting is very different to carbon reporting. While the process is the same, there are more variables to consider: location, time of year and population dynamics all need to be considered when analysing impacts and risks. A tonne of carbon has the same impact no matter where on the planet it is emitted, but the consequences of consuming a cubic metre of water can vary dramatically. Consider, for example, water consumption in a location where reservoirs are full and at a time when demand is low versus the same consumption in a water scarce area in the middle of a drought.

Water disclosure is specialised, and it requires a unique data set, which is why relatively few companies disclose their water footprint. But don’t let that stop you.

Get ready for a second surprise. While you may not have it at your fingertips, there is an enormous amount of water data available. If you want to know how much water you’re using, where, and benchmark this against the rest of your portfolio or against competitors, this is more easily achieved that you may think. If you want to work water into realistic strategic and holistic sustainability targets and action plans, you can do that too. If you want to stand out from the crowd and take a leadership position on water, it’s yours for the taking, through disclosure via CDP, with whom we partner as the UK’s water expert.

Several of our customers - Coca-Cola European Partners, Morrison’s, Sainsbury’s and Whitbread - already disclose on water and we applaud them for diving in head-first. These companies are now effectively identifying strengths and weaknesses, enhancing their reputation and influence, reducing risk and building operational resilience. Find out how you can join them.

The CDP Reporting Platform is open for submissions until 28th July 2021.

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