Increasingly dire news about the California drought prompts another look at the plea for broad water stewardship in CDP’s 2013 Global Water Report Moving beyond business as usual. The tactic commonly used by many companies, a blanket water use reduction goal, won’t prepare us for a water-stressed future. Instead, companies need water policies that are locally relevant, risk-sensitive, and far-reaching enough to address their business impacts, risks, and the very real threat that water scarcity can mean to business continuity.
If there is a good side to the third consecutive year of drought in California, it is that many business leaders are finally taking water seriously. With the California Farm Bureau estimating that uncultivated farmland will cost the economy roughly $5billion this year, water scarcity just became tangible for many.
Local Solutions to a global issue
As problematic as a severe drought affecting one of our nation’s agricultural centers is, we should also take the long view. Even if California were flush with water right now, we would still be facing a serious water scarcity crisis, as exploding population growth is the main driver of the worsening global problem. While changing weather patterns exacerbate water scarcity – and pain – in areas that are becoming drier, skyrocketing population growth means skyrocketing water demand worldwide.
Against a constant supply of water on our planet, experts predict global demand will increase by 55 percent between 2000 and 2050. The increase for manufacturing will be in the range of 400 percent. These statistics suggest that water risk will be widespread. There are also ethical reasons to act, as the United Nations reports that one-fifth of the world’s population is already experiencing water scarcity.
CDP found water stewardship activities to be ‘notably lacking’
While there are several excellent summaries of CDP’s 2013 report of the water disclosures of 593 companies, our focus here is on the nature and adequacy of the reporting community’s responses. Describing participating companies’ water stewardship activities as “notably lacking,” CDP reported that, “The majority of respondents are currently focusing their strategic attention on discrete activities within the fence line to reduce water dependency within their operations with little attention to other aspects of their value chain or local watersheds.”
The results are quite startling. According to CDP, companies are failing to adequately respond to problems they have already encountered – not to mention preparing for potentially greater future risks. Thirty-nine percent of respondents have already experienced water risks in their supply chains, yet only four percent have supply chain water goals.