The increasing frequency and intensity of droughts worldwide has made water conservation and efficiency a business imperative. As climate change exacerbates the risk of drought, businesses must adapt to ensure their operations remain sustainable and resilient. This article will explore the importance of water efficiency, the impact of drought on various industries, and the steps businesses can take to mitigate drought risk.
Understanding the Growing Threat of Drought
In recent years, droughts have become more frequent, intense, and longer-lasting in many parts of the world. This trend is expected to continue as climate change disrupts historical weather patterns and increases the risk of water scarcity. The impact of drought on water availability and quality presents a significant challenge for businesses that rely on water for their operations.
Drought and Climate Change
Climate change is a major factor contributing to the increased risk of drought. Warmer temperatures enhance evaporation, reducing surface water availability and drying out soils and vegetation[^4^]. This makes periods of low precipitation even drier, intensifying the severity of droughts. In addition, climate change is altering the timing of water availability, leading to decreased snowpack and changes in precipitation patterns.
Impacts on Industries and Communities
Drought affects a wide range of industries, from agriculture and manufacturing to technology and energy production. The availability and quality of water resources can have significant consequences for businesses, resulting in disrupted operations, increased costs, and potential reputational damage.
Agriculture, which accounts for 70% of global water withdrawals, is particularly vulnerable to drought. Droughts can lead to crop failures, reduced yields, and livestock losses, impacting food supply chains and increasing food prices.
Water scarcity also poses challenges for industries that require large amounts of water for their operations, such as mining, power generation, and manufacturing. Drought can disrupt production processes, increase energy costs, and result in regulatory restrictions on water use.
Communities that rely on water resources for drinking, sanitation, and economic activities are also at risk during drought periods. Water scarcity can lead to public health issues, social unrest, and forced migration.
The Business Case for Water Efficiency
Given the growing threat of drought and its wide-ranging impacts, businesses must prioritize water efficiency in their operations. Investing in water conservation measures and implementing sustainable water management practices can help businesses reduce their water footprint, cut costs, and enhance their resilience to drought.
Direct Operations and Water Efficiency
By implementing water-efficient technologies and practices in their direct operations, businesses can reduce their water use and reliance on vulnerable water sources. Some strategies for improving water efficiency include:
Implementing water measurement and reporting practices, and incorporating water use into key performance indicators (KPIs).
Identifying and eliminating water leaks in operations.
Introducing new technologies that reduce water use, such as low-flow plumbing fixtures, water recycling systems, and drought-resistant landscaping.
For example, Ford Motor Company achieved its goal of using 30% less water per car by 2014 through a combination of new KPIs and operational improvements, including internal water metering and the introduction of water-saving technologies.
Supply Chain Management
Businesses can also promote water efficiency throughout their supply chains by working with suppliers to implement sustainable water management practices. This may involve:
Setting supplier standards for water use and reporting.
Encouraging suppliers to adopt water-efficient technologies and practices.
Collaborating with suppliers to identify and implement water-saving solutions.
Nike's Minimum Water Program, for instance, works closely with the company's largest materials suppliers to ensure good water practices and offers support and expertise to help suppliers improve their water efficiency.
Wider Basin Health and Collaborative Efforts
In addition to improving water efficiency within their own operations and supply chains, businesses can contribute to wider basin health by collaborating with other stakeholders to promote water resilience. This may involve:
Participating in partnerships and initiatives that focus on water conservation and sustainable water management.
Advocating for responsible water policies and supporting public awareness campaigns on the importance of water conservation.
Investing in projects and technologies that enhance water availability and quality at the basin level.
The Water Resilience Coalition, for example, is an initiative of the UN Global Compact's CEO Water Mandate that aims to address water challenges through collective action in water-stressed basins.
Building Resilience to Drought: Steps Businesses Can Take
To mitigate the risk of drought and build resilience, businesses should consider the following steps:
Assess water risk: Understand the company's exposure to drought risk by evaluating water use and dependencies across the value chain. This may involve mapping global water use against regions with heightened water risk and focusing efforts on high-risk areas.
Develop a water management strategy: Create a comprehensive water management strategy that addresses water efficiency, conservation, and alternative supply sources. This may include setting water use reduction targets, implementing water-efficient technologies, and exploring options for water reuse and recycling.
Engage stakeholders: Collaborate with suppliers, customers, and other stakeholders to promote water conservation and responsible water use throughout the value chain. This may involve sharing best practices, providing technical assistance, and setting standards for water performance.
Invest in drought-resilient infrastructure: Upgrade water infrastructure to minimize water losses, improve water storage capacity, and enhance system resilience to drought. This may include repairing leaky pipes, installing water-efficient fixtures, and investing in water treatment and reuse technologies.
Monitor and report on progress: Establish regular monitoring and reporting processes to track water performance and ensure continuous improvement. This may involve incorporating water use data into company KPIs, reporting on water performance to stakeholders, and participating in water-related disclosure initiatives.
Advocate for policy and regulatory changes: Support and advocate for responsible water policies and regulations at the local, national, and global levels. This may involve engaging in policy discussions, participating in water-related initiatives, and collaborating with other businesses to promote sustainable water management.
By taking these steps, businesses can not only reduce their vulnerability to drought but also contribute to a more sustainable and resilient water future for all.
As climate change continues to intensify the risk of drought, businesses must take action to ensure their operations remain resilient and sustainable. By prioritizing water efficiency and conservation, collaborating with stakeholders, and investing in drought-resilient infrastructure and practices, businesses can mitigate the impacts of drought and contribute to a more secure water future for all.
It is crucial that businesses not only recognize the growing threat of drought but also take the necessary steps to prepare for and adapt to this challenge. By doing so, they can help safeguard their operations and supply chains, minimize costs and risks, and contribute to global efforts to secure water resources for future generations.