Five ways business can take action on water

Water is the essence of life. Without it we would die in a matter of days. With too much we would drown in minutes. It shows the health of our natural environment and is at the heart of ensuring people and nature can thrive in the future.  As one of our most precious resources, it is also under significant strain from climate breakdown and land use changes. Many countries are already starting to experience water shortages. The UK is no different – East Anglia gets less rain than Israel1  and the drought of 2012 put the London Olympics in jeopardy2

Water is critical for every business. CDP’s latest report shows that globally, 19% or withdrawals are for industry and 70% across agricultural supply chains, with water related financial losses reaching $3bn in 20183. From the mundane to the strategic, water affects everything.  How long could you operate if staff couldn’t flush the toilet or wash their hands? How much water is embedded in the products and services you sell? Where does your water come from? Where does it go? Are you at risk of polluting sensitive landscapes through your supply chain? Are you dependent on materials from water deprived areas? Might future developments be compromised by water risks? How can you identify these risks and become part of the solution?

Every business can act on water to ensure they are finding new ways to create value and protecting themselves and their customers from risks.  Business in the Community's key recommendations are:
 
1. Understand your relationship with water
Identifying challenges and opportunities across the lifecycle of your products and services is an important first step. Adnams was the first brewery to undertake a water footprint exercise and were surprised to find that glass bottle manufacture was the most water intensive part of their products, with hops and barley less than expected, but with issues for water quality through farming practices.
 
2. Develop an action plan
As always, then next step is to develop an action plan based on your unique challenges and opportunities. WWF’s Water Risk Filter can help you identify where to prioritise.
 
3. Manage direct and indirect water use
Here there are many practical actions you can take. From tackling leaks, to rainwater harvesting, to implementing water efficiency measures. Nestle’s requirement for water per tonne of product in the UK has reduced by 60% over the last ten years, saving almost 1.4m3 of water. Sainsbury’s have three water neutral stores, whereby they support local water savings close to new stores, so that the water used in that community doesn’t go up with the development. Your water supplier can help you think about how you can manage water more effectively. 
 
4. Build resilience to flooding and water shortages
Thinking across your value chain to build resilience to water risks will be hugely important. Business in the Community (BITC)'s Would You Be Ready? tool can help you plan for flood risk and the WWF Water Risk Filter can help look across global supply chains. The 9 Elms Development in London is a great example of collaboration between Thames Water, Stantec and Costain to deliver a sustainable solution to surface water risks at a significant development in a congested part of London. In Manchester, BITC has facilitated a collaboration to develop innovative ways to finance nature based solutions to climate and flood risk, identifying that if 249 schools and NHS sites implemented sustainable urban drainage systems they could save £300k per year and pay back in five years, generating £83m of economic and social value. 
 
5. Collaborate at a local level on sustainable water management and water quality
Contributing to the health of local waterways and local communities is essential if businesses and communities are to thrive. Yorkshire Water is part of the ‘Living with Water’ collaboration to make Hull, one of the UK’s most flood risk prone cities, resilient to climate change by bringing a huge range of stakeholders together to co-create a vision for the future. Anglian Water are supporting a collaboration at the other end of the risk spectrum, creating Water Resources East, a guide for innovative, multi-sector, regional resource planning, to find ways to ensure a sustainable supply of water for the region’s future. BITC’s work on the LENS (Landscape Enterprise Network) model with Nestle, United Utilties and 3Keele has started to develop collaborative ways that different stakeholders can invest in a landscape to nurture the natural assets they depend on and ensure sustainable and resilient supplies of water for businesses, communities and nature. 

Hopefully these recommendations inspire you to get started. Get in touch with Business in the Community's environment campaign at environment@bitc.org.uk to find out how we can support you.
 
References
1. The Observer (2018) ‘It’s essential to life’: Ofwat’s Rachel Fletcher sets a new course for water. Available at https://www.theguardian.com/business/2018/dec/15/rachel-fletcher-ofwat-s...
2. Evening Standard (2012) The real risk to London of a 2012 drought. Available at https://www.standard.co.uk/comment/comment/the-real-risk-to-london-of-a-...
3. CDP (2018) Treading Water: Global Water Report, Available at https://www.cdp.net/en/research/global-reports/global-water-report-2018