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News // Three Big Ideas for Corporate Water Stewardship

Date // 23rd September 2014

Three Big Ideas for Corporate Water Stewardship

Peter Penning, Senior Consultant, Antea Group, debates the importance of water stewardship.

Water is an essential ingredient for all living things, but it's also a primary source for most production processes in the super-industrialized world we live in. Promoting the sustainable use and protection of water is a business imperative hotly discussed from company c-suites to factory floors today - everyone is looking at innovative approaches, tools and methodologies for assessing both the technical and business aspects of water within their operations. The following are three ideas to consider should you find yourself in the mix.

One: Water Stewardship - Don't Do It!

Wait, what? Source water protection is nothing new. In its modern form - mainly protecting groundwater sources through hydrogeological studies and protection measures - source water protection has been around for more than half a century in most developed nations. In some countries legislation goes back even further. Still, the ideas of watershed management and source water protection are in vogue these days with many companies feverishly developing strategies. It's easy to jump on the bandwagon and develop your company's water strategy. However, the first question you should ask yourself is why? Unless you have sound business reasons, don't do it. Water stewardship requires a significant commitment of time and resources that should only be deployed where you can make the biggest impact for your company, society and the environment. That means looking across the entire value chain, determining the hotspots and designing your water stewardship program accordingly.

Two: Water Scarcity is NOT the Issue

The front runners in water stewardship - mostly beverage companies - have learned the hard way that it's not just physical risks that you need to protect yourself from. In our digital age where information is instant and public perception is king, managing stakeholder expectations is oftentimes an order of magnitude more important than physical protection of source water, especially in water-stressed locations. New and increasingly complex water standards continue to emerge, moving beyond technical and regulatory aspects and into reputational and supply chain contexts. These new overlays include impacts on brand equity, image and overall competitiveness. The European Water Stewardship Standard, Alliance for Water Stewardship Standard and the water component of the Carbon Disclosure Project all aim to provide stakeholders with public indicators across the whole water cycle from extraction to re-allocation.

Recently, a global power systems manufacturer responded to water stewardship challenges in their emerging markets by using the Ceres Aqua Gauge™. By deploying this framework as a first step, they developed a flexible yet comprehensive view of the multiple facets of water management, allowing them to frame business discussions, prioritize actions and build a logical roadmap to fit their operations. To learn more, click here.

Three: Water Footprinting - The New IQ?

Distilling complexity into one single, all-telling number is something we as humans love to do. How is the stock market doing? The Dow Jones Index will tell you. But will it help you pick the right stock for your investments? Ask the people who bought Enron. How smart is a person? Their IQ score will tell you. But IQ tests only take into account little more than one's ability to solve puzzles. In this same vein, a water footprint does not fully tell you what is going on in a watershed, what your risks are and what you should do to mitigate them. It also completely ignores the role of stakeholders and their interests. Water is very location and company-specific.  Understanding a facility or company's footprint is only one piece of the story, which must be interpreted within the context of broader conditions and challenges.  Rather than forcing a one-size-fits-all methodology, such as Water Footprinting, companies should step back and think about goals and objectives and select an approach that delivers useful business insights.  

While this article is meant to be cautionary based upon lessons learned supporting leading clients, water stewardship is and will increasingly become a competitive differentiator throughout the world.  Water issues are not going away and projections indicate the challenges will increase before they get better.  The sooner a company can get their arms around the importance of water to their operations and growth, the greater the opportunity will be to turn this challenge into business advantage.  The key is to understand what exactly water means to your business and pursue strategies that are aligned with your specific goals and objectives.

About Antea Group Water Expertise

As a global engineering and environmental consulting firm, Antea Group has local water expertise and watershed knowledge in over 50 countries, has conducted more than 250 source water vulnerability assessments, and screened over 2,800 facilities for water risks and opportunities in 2013 alone. Antea Group also facilitates water risk assessment and source water protection planning workshops for companies throughout the world.

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