Water: Why is it important to you and to businesses?

By the time the child born today turns 18 in 2030, the world will need at least 50% more food, 45% more energy and 30% more water – WBCSD

Why is water so important?

Water is one of the most important substances on earth and there is significant stress on our fresh water supply. We use it for drinking, transport, electricity, farming and more. Water is a global concern, influencing low, middle and high-income countries in terms of agricultural, industrial and domestic use.

What’s the problem?

The problem with water can be broken down into two elements, availability and distribution. Less than 10 countries possess 60% of the world’s available freshwater supply. The diagram below highlights that only 0.5% of fresh water on earth is accessible and available.

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What do we use water for?

Aside from the primary reason of drinking for survival and its use for cooking, washing and sanitation, in many developing nations, water is vital for agriculture with irrigation accounting for over 90% of water use. The importance of water across countries remains constant, however the reasoning for its vitality differs. Irrigation has enabled many developing countries to produce enough food to feed everyone, however as the global population continues to rise, more water will be needed to produce more food.

Industrial use of water increases with country income and on a global scale, is the second largest user of water. To put things simply, no water, no business. Therefore, all businesses and all sectors depend on water in some way, as it is used in the production of every product on earth in some way.

1.8 million people die every year from diarrhoeal diseases (including cholera) – the equivalent of 15 killer tsunamis each year or 12 Boeing 747 crashes every day.

What do we mean by water stress and scarcity?

As our use of water increases, our environmental costs only become greater. Water scarcity is occurring in areas where there is simply not enough water available to meet demand. The causes behind such as a state, are derived from half of the world’s wetlands being eradicated over the last century and the insufficient human/financial capacity to provide adequate water resources.

Why should global economies care and how can they tackle such a problem?

With growing population pressures and the stress on earth’s water supply, in order to maintain current levels of water services, significant investment will be required. Over the next 20 years, infrastructure will need to be developed to meet future demand; it is likely that this monetary need will be facilitated by different forms of taxes and tariffs. The level of financing needed can be significantly reduced by improving water efficiencies, such as by reducing utility leakages in production processes.

What can industry do to alleviate water stress?

  1. Measure and monitor water use.
  2. Aim to reduce water consumption via recycling water, lowering toxic contaminants in all operations involving water and increasing water efficiency of production processes.
  3. Drive efficiencies by searching for new water treatment technologies.

Why should businesses care?

A water-constrained world presents significant risk for businesses worldwide. Should corporations fail to seize opportunities to offer sustainable solutions in relation to water and their market offering, they could face any of the following:

  • Greater costs: as a result of falling availability and reliability of freshwater, production costs may escalate.
  • Health risks to both employees and customers: business growth is reliant on a healthy global consumer base.
  • Competition: as consumers become more climate conscious and consider their water footprints, corporations risk losing out to competitors who offer products and services that have low ecosystem impacts.
  • Financial risk: with climate change and sustainable development becoming more important in the eyes of investors, companies water-related risk exposure and their ability address challenges are of great importance. Failing to demonstrate consideration towards the management of water usage could restrict access to capital.

Let us not wait to realise the value of water.

When the well is dry, we know the worth of water – Benjamin Franklin

(All data used in this blog has been derived from WBCSD research)

Written by Callum Hudson

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