Water management improves, but not enough

Food companies need to adopt far stronger practices to reduce their demands and impacts on limited water resources, according to a new report. 

Feeding Ourselves Thirsty, published by Ceres, ranks the 40 largest global food companies based on their management of water risks in their operations and agricultural supply chains. Most still view water as a “cheap and limitless input, ignoring its central role to the profitability of their business”, Ceres found.

Full scores are available here, with Unilever topping the table. The results generally were mixed.

For example, despite 77% of companies in the report specifically mentioning water as a risk factor in their financial filings, effective management of water risk is poor, with an average overall company score of 38 out of 100. Meat companies, which are acutely vulnerable to water risks, also continue to do the least to manage them. More than a third of major food firms (37%) still lack goals to source crops in ways that reduce impacts on water use and quality.

Ceres said the intensifying effects of climate change are placing an unprecedented strain on water resources and agricultural productivity, hampering the growth prospects of the $5 trillion (£3.9 trillion) global food sector.

There were some significant improvements in key areas, including board oversight of water risks and strategies, establishment of water use or efficiency targets for operations, as well as assessment of water risks.

Co-author of the report, Brooke Barton, said: “We’re encouraged by the growing acknowledgement of water risks and believe any action taken to advance internal water risk management is a step in the right direction. Still, a long path lies ahead for many of the industry’s largest water users and polluters.”

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