It’s an oft-cited fact that, despite being absolutely essential for the very survival of mankind, the water crisis is the least-discussed aspect of the climate emergency… but this looks set to change in the very near future, given new research revealing that water shortages are now the fastest-growing environmental concern among consumers around the world.
Mintel’s annual Global Outlook on Sustainability has found, in fact, that growing fears over water shortages have now pushed plastic pollution out of the top three environmental concerns.
Overall, the number of consumers who now put the water crisis at the top of their environmental worries has climbed to 35 per cent, up from the 31 per cent in 2022.
Region by region
What is interesting to note is the regional differences between consumer concerns. For example, in Mexico, shortages are now the number one issue, while in Brazil water shortages tie for first place with climate change itself.
But over in Canada, just seven per cent have cited water shortages as their main environmental concern and in the US, the same is true for 11 per cent of consumers.
This discrepancy lies, no doubt, in the fact that Mexico and Brazil are now facing more immediate problems with their water supply than the US and Canada.
In Mexico, more than half of the nation’s households that do have access to piped water currently receive this service on an intermittent basis, with the country now holding the record for the highest per capita consumption of bottled water globally.
And in Brazil, the situation is even more interesting, with 14 per cent of the population now lacking access to reliable and safely managed water sources, and 51 per cent lacking access to safely managed household sanitation services… despite the fact that the country has the highest level of water availability in the world.
Furthermore, those people who do enjoy safe access to water still face challenges of their own, such as service disruption, water supply downtime and deficiencies in potable water systems.
Other challenges include providing consistent access to water in urban environments, growing sewage treatment problems because of poor sanitation solutions and infrastructure developments to ensure rural communities have access to water.
These issues have been ongoing for some time, which is perhaps why consumers are now starting to sit up and take notice. But in Canada, it seems as though the water crisis is only just now starting to make its presence felt, which could be why consumer concern ratings are so comparatively low.
Last year, research from the University of Saskatchewan warned that Canada’s water security could put in greater peril as time goes on, despite the fact that the country is a water-rich nation, putting the lives, health and livelihoods of communities at risk, as well as the integrity of the natural environment.
Water-related extreme events really came to the fore in 2021, with the country seeing flooding, widespread drought, glacier retreat and permafrost thaw, all of which led to damage to crops, animals, forests, lakes and communities. As such, we may well see a significant hike in the number of consumers worried about water in the next Mintel sustainability report.
While growing awareness of the water crisis is certainly welcome news indeed, climate change itself is still ranking as the top concern among consumers globally, however, with the proportion of people putting in their top three now at 47 per cent, up from the 39 per cent seen in 2021.
Commenting on this year’s findings, Richard Cope – senior trends consultant with Mintel Consulting – said: “Consumers’ growing prioritisation of water shortages as a top three environmental concern reflects how water stress has become a reality worldwide.
“The ascent of water shortages from fifth to third place in consumers’ list of environmental priorities is symptomatic of a population directly impacted by – as opposed to increasingly informed about – climate change.
“This marks a new era where environmental concerns become pressing issues of self-preservation, such as water and food shortages and a desire to conserve resources for future resilience.”
He went on to say although plastic pollution is still a top concern, it is being pushed down the agenda for consumers, who are now starting to focus increasingly on their own personal supply shortages, as well as becoming more educated on matters that could be generating more emissions.
Business water footprint
What we are likely to see in line with this increasing awareness among consumers regarding water stress and scarcity is increasing action from businesses, big and small, to reduce the water footprint of their operations.
Keeping the customers satisfied is an old adage, of course, but it rings true even now – and consumers are becoming increasingly keen to see the brands they do business with adopt a more sustainable mindset.
If you’re to remain competitive and continue to bring customers through the doors and keep the tills ringing, focusing on your business’s water usage and consumption is sure to yield positive results in the future.
In order to enact real and long-lasting change where water is concerned, you first need to gain an in-depth understanding of how you use water and where. This will enable you to see where you can make improvements, as well as identifying any potentially weak or vulnerable areas you might have that could be addressed with ease.
A good first step to take is to have a water bill audit and water use survey carried out, where your water bills are analysed to help give an idea of actual use. Bill analysis can also reveal any potential issues like water leaks, which can then be tackled head on.
It is a well known fact businesses can often reduce their water consumption and waste water discharge by at least 30 per cent which makes a significant contribution to our environment oh and the business finances.