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Achieving business resilience through smart water management

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Emilio Tenuta
Senior Vice President & Chief Sustainability Officer ECOLAB.

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  • Achieving business resilience through smart water management

Access to water is essential to economic prosperity and environmental sustainability. The theme of World Water Day 2021 was “valuing water”, reminding us all to take good care of such a precious resource. The health of our economy and society strongly depends on the availability of good quality freshwater.

The World Resources Institute (WRI) estimates that more than 1 billion people currently live in water-scarce areas, and that by 2025, 3.5 billion would experience water scarcity. A study from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology published in 2014 already predicted that trend projecting that by 2050 more half of the world’s population will live in water-stressed areas.

The WRI has also predicted a 56% gap between global water supply and demand by 2030, if nothing changes. In many places, demand is already exceeding sustainable supply, and in others, water scarcity is hindering economic growth.

Water availability and economic prosperity are highly intertwined. To sustain economic prosperity in an increasingly water-scarce world, we urgently need to decouple growth from resource use. Industry is a significant water user accounting for around 20% of global water withdrawal, and agricultural supply chains for 70% (FAO Aquastat).

Companies have a critical role to play in contributing to a water-secure future. Business leaders must place water at the heart of their corporate strategy, including plans to decrease water use, and implement smart, circular water management practices in order to build resilience and unlock opportunities.

The 2020 CDP Global Water Report shows that 64% of the companies surveyed are now reducing or at least maintaining their water withdrawals. This is a positive trend, but more needs to be done to ensure a thriving, sustainable economy.

At Ecolab, we have committed to undertake responsible water stewardship by identifying opportunities for our company and our customers

To better understand the state of corporate water management and how companies can more effectively advance their water management goals, in February 2021 Ecolab and sustainability news research organization GreenBiz surveyed 93 companies with revenues of at least $1 billion.

The survey underscored the need for increased urgency around water action within organizations, with only 38% of respondents stating that water is a strategic corporate initiative that is proactively managed across their operations. At the same time, S&P Global reports that corporate water use progress is currently insufficient to prevent the projected freshwater gap.

While water targets and goals are typically set by sustainability and corporate responsibility teams, 95% of respondents in the Ecolab-GreenBiz survey said that facility-level teams are responsible for achieving these targets, which may contribute to the disconnect between water intention and action.

The enhanced Ecolab Smart Water Navigator, developed in partnership with WRI, the Pacific Institute, S&P Trucost and leading global companies, supports users who are just beginning to identify baseline water use as well as those who are ready to track year-over-year performance. The tool delivers an automated analysis of water use that allows users to set informed, context-based goals that consider the water basin health in surrounding communities and environments.

Smart and circular water management help reinforce the resilience of businesses and local communities. In addition to the Smart Water Navigator, there is a wide range of existing solutions that businesses can use to understand and address water-related risks and opportunities to better develop strategies for managing water.

At Ecolab, we have committed to undertake responsible water stewardship by identifying opportunities for our company as well as for our customers to use water resources in a manner that benefits business, communities and nature.

Water is essential to our economy and society. It’s time we become smarter in the way we manage water resources. What’s good for water is good for business.

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