The good news for companies in the early process of embracing a corporate water strategy is that heightened awareness of the issue has resulted in greater availability of data, tools, and best practices.
Although much of the most innovative work continues to be guarded due to competitive advantage, there are many leading companies and/or sector examples to learn from. From my experience, I would point to the beverage industry and most notably the Beverage Industry Environmental Roundtable as a prime example.
Having accepted water as a core business issue, how do companies develop a corporate water strategy given the fact that comprehensive, standardized methodologies may be years away? Successful companies have followed a common process:
Step 1: Know your water sources, use, consumption and discharge for all operations. Benchmark operations, set targets and drive efficiency. “Walking-the-walk” is a prerequisite for a successful corporate water strategy.
Step 2: Establish a cross-functional water team to define a viable three-to-five-year water stewardship vision that is measurable and aligned with overall business goals.
Step 3: Complete a baseline water risk assessment to understand and compare local watershed conditions beyond the four walls of each facility. Examine risks and opportunities including physical, regulatory and reputational.
Step 4: Develop, implement and maintain local water management plans (e.g., location or site specific) based upon Step 3 results. Incorporate performance monitoring systems and issue escalation processes.
Step 5: Engage with supply chain partners to understand your company’s broader water footprint, impact and opportunities.
Step 6: Strategically engage with external stakeholders through partnerships, reporting and other related efforts.
A word of caution: Water issues are highly localized and dynamic. Successful companies have addressed the following types of questions to apply their resources to greatest advantage:
- Are your facilities among the largest water users in a given community? How does your efficiency compare to peers and other local industries?
- Can water issues limit growth aspirations?
- Could individual sites face water restrictions in the next 5, 10, or 15 years? If so, are there viable back-up supply and/or treatment options?
- Can you meet current and future regulatory limits? What level of investment may be required and when?
- How intense is media or political attention to water in communities where you operate?
- Can you justify water-related business expenditures and strategically allocate resources?
Water risks are a reality for every business. What are some of the questions you think companies should ask in developing their water management strategy?