Why include water in your sustainability strategy?

By Chetan Mistry, Strategy and Marketing Manager at Xylem Africa

Water is likely already a part of your sustainability strategy. 

After all, it’s a utility with an associated cost, and every responsible business will track that cost. Yet, even at that level, most companies treat water with broad strokes and don’t gain the advantages of a more nuanced water management strategy. 

Fortunately, it’s something they can start harnessing quickly.

 A sustainable business model needs sustainable business practices. At the foundation of its strategy, a business should generate more than it spends in input, so it tracks materials, staff hours, maintenance, and several other cost centres. Utilities are a vital part of this; for example, many companies have had to hone in on electricity management to defer the adverse effects of load shedding.

Water also falls under this management view because it is a vital part of business operations. Running taps and working toilets, cleaning, dedusting, cooling machinery, and even community relationships depend on a company’s relationship with its water usage. However, many organisations still treat water bluntly and with little granularity. Ultimately, this undermines the benefits they could get from their water supply and puts them at the mercy of rising costs.

The water situation will become more serious, leading to scarcity and higher prices. South Africa is a water-stressed country with uneven rainfall, and our water ecosystems have sustained serious damage that leaves many rivers, dams, wetlands, and aquifers polluted and in a critical state. Rapid urbanisation and climate change are making water even scarcer. If companies do not apply a water management strategy with sustainable water practices, water will become a vast yet irreplaceable cost centre.

Any leader or investor who cares about a sustainable and efficient business should include good water management—and those who don’t will because water ecosystems are under stress everywhere. The United Nations has warned that by 2025, two-thirds of the world’s population will live in water-stressed countries. Water sustainability practices are becoming joined at the hip with sustainability in business.

But this topic is not just about the negative consequences. Good water conservation and stewardship deliver benefits, such as cost savings, improved brand reputation, and stronger stakeholder relationships.

What can leaders do to improve water management at their organisation? Start with a water audit to know where it’s going and what the most critical water requirements are. Monitor water usage at these key points, and consider efficiency gains such as low-flow taps, energy-efficient washing systems, and cut-off valves at strategic points. Invest in water recycling and use local plants to maintain water-friendly gardens. Even simply collecting water data into a cloud-based water management platform will provide significant strategic levers.

Water goes beyond operations. Educating staff about water pays big dividends to your business, and they take those water stewardship habits home into their communities. Nearby communities also benefit as your business includes environmental issues and clean water availability as part of your business strategy.

There is still time to phase nuanced water management into your sustainability. Soon, it will become an imperative and late movers will have less choice and opportunity. According to the non-profit risk advisory group CDP, “the cost of water risks to business could be over five times greater than the cost of taking action now to address those risks.” Investors are paying much closer attention to water strategy as part of a company’s sustainability portfolio. By 2050, poor water management could shrink some GDPs by 6%. A water crisis can create serious recessions.

But let’s not focus on fear. There is opportunity, based on extensive industry knowledge and digital technologies. Some of the things we can do today for water management weren’t even possible two decades ago, and those choices keep growing to offer low-cost, quick turnaround interventions.

Water should be part of every company’s sustainability strategy, something they can accomplish quickly and affordably with the right strategy and water partners.

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