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Water Conservation: Let's Avoid A Drought Of Action

April 10, 2020
Inattention to water issues will dampen industry’s prospects

Water security is assuming a higher profile for business as well as the public as a whole. More and more companies are paying increasing attention to the sustainability of their water supplies, hoping to ensure sufficient quality and quantity of water for their operations long term.

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Inputs to CDP, London, certainly bear this out. The nonprofit group, which started by soliciting disclosures from companies about their carbon emissions, for some time also has asked for information about water. It received responses on water security from 2,433 firms in 2019, up from 176 in 2010.

Cate Lamb, CDP’s global director, water security, used World Water Day 2020 (March 22nd) to emphasize the importance of water security:

“The water supply crisis is considered to be one of the biggest risks to society over the next decade [World Economic Forum, “The Global Risks Report 2019”]. Water is our lifeblood, and the demand for this finite resource is growing massively; the World Resources Institute predicts a deficit of 56% by 2030, revised up from previous forecasts.”

Further warnings about water security come from “The United Nations World Water Development Report 2020 — Water and Climate Change,” which came out on World Water Day. Its “middle of the road” scenario predicts that global industrial water demand will increase by 165% from 2010 to 2050, and amount to 1,381 km3/yr in 2050. That report cites potential issues such as lack of water curtailing production or its increased cost markedly raising operating costs.

Lamb (who authored a 2013 CP cover story, “The Tide is Turning,” that provided an early glimpse at efforts by chemical makers to address water-related risks and opportunities) notes the business implications are clear: “The World Bank predicts a growth rate decline of 6% of GDP by 2050 as competition for water intensifies. Companies reported up to $425 billion combined business value at risk through CDP in 2019.”

However, she also points out that the challenges present opportunities. “By radically reducing water demands and impacts, corporate activity can lead the way to a climate-safe, sustainable future, while protecting the bottom line. Pioneers are starting to take action. Examples of leadership are growing among the 2,433 companies who report their water risks and impacts through CDP. The number of the world's biggest companies to have reached the CDP’s Water A List has doubled in the last year, and a majority of reporting companies are now engaging their suppliers on water security and sparking the chain of ambition and action we urgently need.”

A total of 72 companies made the “Water Security A List” this time. About 10% are from the chemical industry. Our cover story “Water Security: Some Chemical Companies Get an ‘A’,” delves into how some “A List” chemical companies — Air Liquide, BASF, Bayer and Novartis — have used the CDP questionnaire to help inform their efforts, and looks at actions they are taking and progress they are making.

However, Lamb stresses that the pace and scale of change by business in general is insufficient. I agree. I urge other companies in our industry to give serious and sustained attention to water security.

MARK ROSENZWEIG is Chemical Processing's Editor in Chief. You can email him at [email protected]

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