There’s an increasing amount of attention being paid by regulators, academics, NGOs and consumers worldwide about water availability and quality. Naturally, some of this attention is directed at businesses. Why? The answer is that a company’s impacts on water availability and quality can be significant, but also complex and not well understood. These impacts stem from a company’s people, its facilities, the processes it employs and even the products or services it sells. All of these water impacts, collectively, constitute a company’s “water footprint.”
There are strategies and tools to identify and correct water issues in a business. These include the calculation of the company’s entire water footprint or even the water footprint of a single product or service. This calculation can be done using the Water Footprint Network’s assessment tool and/or by reference to a number of available databases that link water impacts to economic activity. Once the footprint is complete and “hot spots” are identified, companies can take steps to mitigate water impacts. Some steps are as simple as replacing existing plumbing fixtures with newer, water-saving models. Some steps are quite complex, such as reformulating raw materials inputs so that they contain less “embedded” water.
The good news is that there is a lot of low-hanging fruit for most companies when it comes to sustainable water management. Many investments that cut water consumption result in direct savings and pay back quickly. Other investments have a medium-term payoff and some are more correctly characterized as “risk management” tools. In any case, it’s a good time to address water issues in business before it’s too late.