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The Top 6 Water Management Questions

Water is a critical and in some regions scarce resource. It’s also a frequent topic of conversation as water management climbs the ranks of sustainability concerns. Here are answers to the questions our consultants regularly field from companies about water use, efficiency and reporting.

1. Should I set water-related targets or take water efficiency criteria into account when setting energy targets?

Water-consuming processes often use considerable amounts of energy, meaning that water efficiency projects can bring monthly water and energy consumption savings. In 2015, the savings delivered under Nestlé’s Environmental Target Setting Program amounted to 1.1 million gigajoules of energy, 1.7 million cubic meters of water and 81,146 tons of carbon-dioxide equivalent. Water and wastewater treatment plants are another great opportunity to improve energy efficiency. For more information, read “Tap Into Water Treatment Savings“.

2. Should I measure and report on water and wastewater volumes at a corporate and site-level?

There are a variety of tools companies can use to measure their water and wastewater flows. Real-time energy intelligence available to operators and managers can help cut operating cost by 25 percent; at the same time, energy consumption accounts for up to 30 percent of a wastewater plant’s operating cost.

Clarifier tank a sewage treatment plant3. Should I take water availability forecasts into consideration in my business strategy?

Yes. There are a variety of tools companies can use to assess water availability in the regions of interest and identify spots with water stress. It is essential to take into account not only currently available water, but also plan in accordance with water availability forecasts.

Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide launched a project installing desalination plants onsite to produce enough fresh water for its guests in locations within water scarce regions, significantly changing their energy use profile. African Rainbow Minerals experienced production disruption that resulted in losing a third of its revenue in 2015 due to increased water stress in the region. Water availability can have a profound impact on the bottom line.

4. Are water-related risks material for my business?

They can be. CDP has reported on cases of companies not taking into account water risks, which led to detrimental impact for their businesses. Similarly, Canon reported that the risk of a flood could cause deterioration in production efficiency or shortage in parts supply, driving up manufacturing and product costs.

Floods in Thailand in 2011 adversely affected production, sales activities and revenues for myriad organizations. As a result of this and other related incidents, which have been happening with greater frequency, shareholders and investors often put pressure on companies to detail their water management strategy. For example, in 2016, shareholders requested that Portland General Electric prepare a climate change adaptation report quantifying the financial and operational risk to the company from climate change driven “mega-droughts”.

Shot of a businessman giving a presentation to his colleagues in an office5. Should I measure water-efficiency across my supply chain?

An example of a best practice is Unilever. The company’s Responsible Sourcing Policy sets mandatory requirements for 76,000 suppliers to include water efficiency and risk management into their practices. To assess water risks within its supply chain, Bayer AG conducts health, safety, environment and quality (HSEQ) assessments each year and will use the data to evaluate all strategic suppliers by end of 2017.

6. What actions should I take toward water stewardship?

It depends on the business. As an example, Bayer publicly demonstrated its commitment to water stewardship by publishing relevant water performance indicators and goals the company’s annual report. It has also endorsed the UN CEO Water Mandate and achieved an A rating in CDP’s 2016 Water A List. Bayer factors water use into product development as well. Environmental risks in the company’s direct operations are identified and reviewed annually, with water use and withdrawals measured at site level and monitored at least once per year.

Need help tracking and reducing water consumption? Contact our experts

Contributed by Irina Gilfanova and Frederic Pinglot, Sustainability Consultants at Schneider Electric

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