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World Water Day: Three Ways Companies Can Take a Stand

March 19, 2020
By Judith Rowland

As much of the world woke up to the news that COVID-19 was a global pandemic, I was just wrapping up a week of visiting water programs throughout the northern half of Mozambique. It’s an experience that makes you realize two things: How we in the developed world tend to take this precious resource almost totally for granted; and what an intimate relationship there is between water and the global economy.

That relationship is, of course, no secret. Great global cities throughout history have emerged on the shores of oceans, lakes and rivers, and the control of waterways was a determining factor in the trajectory of the colonial powers. Now urbanization, climate change and other factors are bringing this important global resource under threat.

As we look to counter that threat, consider this: 19% of water withdrawals come from industry. That means the private sector has a major role to play in conserving water resources and achieving Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 6 – a global commitment to ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all. By taking a stand on three critical fronts, corporations can reduce water-related financial losses while conserving water supplies for future generations.

Measure and disclose water usage

CDP, an organization supported by 500+ investors who represent more than $57 trillion in assets, reports that in 2018 alone, water-related financial losses within the private sector reached $36 billion. Operational or supply chain disruptions cost some companies up to $200 million annually. Measuring and monitoring your brand’s water risk is an essential step toward eliminating those losses.

Many companies understand that water usage is a material topic for them because it reflects and influences significant economic, environmental and social impacts of their business operations. That’s why water disclosure is featured so prominently in sustainability reports. Water isn’t an esoteric environmental issue; it can influence your company’s bottom line and your reputation among stakeholders.

Investors deserve to understand the full spectrum of business and market risks facing the companies in which they invest. Water must be part of this risk analysis. Disclosure creates greater transparency, which in turn improves accountability and coordination between stakeholders.

Identify opportunities to reduce water usage

Growing awareness of water risks increases the urgency of reducing water usage, particularly in high-stress areas. Disclosure is an important first step, but companies are learning that simply completing a water risk assessment won’t achieve the reputational benefits of being a leader in water conservation. As more brands complete those assessments, sustainability leaders are finding new ways to stand out from their peers, including the establishment of ambitious water reduction goals.

For these goals to be meaningful, however, companies must hold themselves accountable for the targets they establish. CDP reports that, while the number of companies who have set water reduction targets has nearly doubled since 2015, almost 50% more corporations now report higher water withdrawals. More and more investors and other stakeholders are noticing this kind of discrepancy and punishing companies for it. Taking a stand for accountability can help you maintain your leadership and their good will.

Consider water as part of your corporate giving strategy

Benjamin Franklin once said, “when the well’s dry, we know the worth of water.” And I can assure you that, in Mozambique, people know the truth of those words. As I watched school children take turns happily pumping water for each other and sipping out of shared cups, I couldn’t help but appreciate the full ecosystem of water and the way it intersects the environment and human development.

As our world practices social distancing to reduce the spread of COVID-19, I further reflected on the range of other diseases my new friends in Mozambique may have been exposed to prior to the dedication of these wells. Waterborne illnesses like diarrhea, dysentery, guinea worm, river blindness and others continue to have devastating consequences on the developing world. Pairing your organizations’ water risk reduction strategy with financial gifts to support clean drinking water programs is another important way your company can take a stand. And it can help create an even more compelling narrative to support your company’s commitment to SDG 6.