New Realities Needed for Water Sustainability
Water’s scarcity and abundance impact the availability and price of goods, the profit of companies, and the vitality of economies. Climate change realities coupled with urban growth, infrastructure demands, and economic constraints create additional pressures on cities, businesses, and water utilities. These circumstances highlight the need for increased awareness about the value of water and its impact on business operations.
The business community is mobilizing investment and expertise to address the growing global water crisis. Companies are investing millions of dollars to create assessment tools of help them appropriately examine the problems, devise cost-effective strategies and solutions, understand the impact of water on their value chains, and improve water use practices and impacts.
Forward-thinking CEOs exhibit a general optimism that sustainable solutions can and will be developed to meet urban water needs. Most support the thesis that the actions we take will require ingenuity, creativity, and a continuous stream of information about the new water reality—one in which we cannot continue to have all the water we want, when we want it and at a relatively low cost.
Terry Mah, CEO and President of Veolia North America, advocates for a “blue model” of growth that helps corporations improve productivity, use less water, and work to find ways to sustainably replenish water sources. “Cities and industries must adopt efficient consumption, higher levels of reuse, and true innovation or risk the consequences. If problems are not at a business-as-usual pace, then our solutions cannot be either. Innovation and speed are required.”
Water is an incredibly precious and powerful resource. Its intrinsic value is far beyond what we pay for it. We can define a new reality by positioning value of water discussions front and center and having what Michael Deane, Executive Director of the National Association of Water Companies, describes as “crucial conversations” that define the real costs associated with delivering a reliable supply of high-quality water.
“During the last 100 years, the water industry has done such an effective job of invisibly and reliably delivering drinking water to the tap at a reasonable cost that we inadvertently diminished the value of the water systems that deliver it…Water saturates every aspect of our life, and it stands to reason that the systems that deliver water are as valuable as the water itself,” Deane notes.
While there may be little agreement on the monetary value of water (though new research is emerging), there seems to be universal consensus on its critical value. Understanding the risks—and the opportunities—places businesses, water utilities, and governments in a more competitive position to lead and succeed in a carbon and water-constrained economy, and ultimately secure a future of water sustainability.
Heiner Markhoff, President & CEO, GE Power & Water, Water & Process Technologies, explains that “(t)o sustain energy production and a dependable water supply, we must all gain even more detailed understanding of the interdependencies of water and energy systems, balance the needs of all users and continue developing technologies to reduce water use and promote water recycling. These are the key drivers of the future of the water-energy nexus; these are what will allow us to realize the true value of water for generations to come.”
Water can no longer be “under the radar.” It connects us, grows jobs and opportunity, keeps us safe and healthy, and sustains our environment. We all need to be stewards of this precious resource.
Donna Vincent Roa is a water sector communication expert and author of The Value of Water: A Compendium of Essays by Smart CEOs. The book showcases thought leadership by industry-leading CEOs who understand economic importance of water and the pivotal role that water plays in creating long-term business value. Forty CEOs provided insights on the value of water from a business perspective, how they are driving change to support improved water management, and the corporate leadership needed for a natural resource-constrained world. This collection of essays provide a unique look into “value of water thinking” and details on how this diverse group of CEOs are creating resilient organizations, upgrading management models and practices, facilitating creative public-private partnerships, elevating the role of the customer, and using strategic communication to change perceptions about the value of water.
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