Coro’s Blog: On Purpose

The Water Imperative: New Standards in Corporate Water Leadership

Published on November 12, 2014

No one should take water for granted. Whether it’s too much, too little or poor quality, water security is a top global issue. Virtually every product requires water at some point in its production, manufacturing or use. Water shortages and lack of access to clean, fresh water are two top global risks – and by 2030 global water consumption is expected to rise by 40%.

As water demand rises around the world it will be difficult for many businesses to operate as usual. Whole sectors, companies and corporate value chains depend on water for their success.

Water Risk is a Top Issue – and Under Managed

The recent Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP) 2014 Water Report analyzes the water disclosures of 174 global 500 corporations with high water vulnerabilities and impacts. They report that over two-thirds of survey respondents identified water as a substantive business risk, many have experienced detrimental water impacts in the past five years, and most have water management plans in place. However, as CDP points out, this operational focus misses out on critical issues in corporate value chains or local watersheds. Their research reveals that company water plans lack concrete measures in community engagement, supply chain management, watershed management, and public policy. Few are considering how water issues could impact their growth strategy ten years or more in the future when water stress will become an even bigger issue than it is today.

The New Water Reality

The new reality for companies wishing to remain a going concern over the long term is that corporate water management is no longer enough. Forward looking companies are moving to set water stewardship strategies – beyond site water management – that respond to local water challenges and opportunities in their operations and value chains.

Leading corporations are anticipating the impacts of climate change and global population growth and pursuing steps to address their water footprint for future social and financial prosperity. They understand their risks and opportunities and set goals and implement plans to address them, collaborating with stakeholders and using their influence. They see water as a strategic and core business issue that is material to their profits and social license to grow. As they recognize that their long-term profitability depends on a water supply that meets the needs of people and ecosystems as well as their operations, forward thinking companies are becoming authentic water stewards.

What is Transformational Corporate Water Leadership?

Corporate water stewards adopt a transformational approach to water as revealed in these new Qualities of Transformational Corporate Water Leadership – guidelines adapted from research into the Qualities of a Transformational Company I conducted for Canadian Business for Social Responsibility.

Transformational corporate water leadership involves committing to substantial reductions in water use in company operations and value chains and collaborating with stakeholders to improve watershed conditions. Transformational companies develop robust strategies that minimize their risks and build long-term resilience, using their influence and collaborations to improve watershed health.

I will explore these and other issues in an upcoming Conference Board of Canada webinar on Tuesday December 4 1 – 2 pm ET. I will be joined by:

Alexis Morgan, WWF’s lead advisor on water stewardship and standards, will provide an overview of this issue from the Canadian context. He will explore water risk, the business case for addressing water risk, and how this is relevant to Canada – with its abundant water supply – and to corporate supply chains. He will share best practice and tools for water stewardship and supplier engagement, such as the recently released Alliance for Water Stewardship standard.

Andrew Craig, senior manager of environmental initiatives for RBC, will provide insights into how financial institutions perceive water risks and opportunities and outline current practice and emerging issues for lenders and insurers in the due diligence process. He will profile examples of RBC’s innovative, practical and cost-effective water conservation measures that other companies could easily replicate.

Jamie MacKinnon, global sustainability senior manager of energy, water and transparency at Molson Coors will share his company’s approach to water stewardship, including water conservation, stakeholder collaboration and partnerships and participation in the CEO Water Mandate global initiative. He will discuss the strategies that work to improve the water resilience of his company, its supply chain and operating communities.

Risk, facilities, operations and procurement managers will benefit from this webinar, as will financial professionals and CSR and sustainability practitioners. Governments and environmental organizations will gain valuable insights and will learn how to accelerate corporate awareness of water as a top global issue.

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