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Pacific Institute Insights is the staff blog of the Pacific Institute, one of the world’s leading nonprofit research groups on sustainable and equitable management of natural resources. For more about what we do, click here.

  • Context-based water targets slider cropped

    Thirsty for Change? 4 Ways to Improve Corporate Water Targets

    By Paul Reig, Morgan Gillespy, Tien Shiao, Kari Vigerstol and Alexis Morgan

    Context-based water targets slider cropped

     

    Water-related business risks are becoming more and more apparent. According to CDP’s 2016 global water report, 607 companies lost $14 billion last year alone due to water scarcity, drought, flood and other water risks.

    Current methods for creating corporate water stewardship targets—which often ignore the unique local context of water issues—are inadequate. For companies to succeed as water stewards, they need a new generation of targets. Such targets—based on the local context and guided by the best available science—would help ensure long-term business growth in the face of increased competition and depletion of water.

    That’s why CDP, the UN Global Compact CEO Water Mandate, the Nature Conservancy, the World Resources Institute and WWF are calling for a new approach to setting corporate water targets. Our discussion paper launched today makes the case for setting context-based corporate water targets. Here are four considerations for companies looking to create more impactful water stewardship goals:

    1. Local context matters—a lot.

    Water is a complex and local issue. Analyzing the locations from which a company withdraws and discharges water is critical to understanding the social, economic and environmental impacts—and associated business risks and dependencies. When watershed issues begin to impact a facility’s operations, the most effective and cost-efficient solution often lies outside the facility’s four walls. As such, water targets at each company facility need not only account for company circumstance, but also for the larger watershed conditions and risks. In short, performance needs to be assessed against the surrounding context.

    Aligning company performance with the local river basin context is increasingly considered a requirement for meaningful water targets. Ford reduced the water use per vehicle manufactured in their Cuautitlán, Mexico facility by almost 58 percent between 2000 and 2013, as a direct result of water scarcity in its surrounding area. The Beverage Industry Environmental Roundtable’s approach to performance in watershed context and Teck Resource’s 2030 water goal (which aims to work within ecological limits, regional issues and demands on water resources) are other great examples of a locally based approach.

    2. Use science to inform water targets.

    A scientific understanding of the watershed conditions must underpin effective water targets, for two reasons. First, it removes subjectivity from the decision-making process. Science, instead of individual interests, informs what needs to change and when. Second, it provides a common language and understanding of sustainable water use and basin limits to facilitate communication between all stakeholders.

    This approach is gaining momentum. The Center for Sustainable Organizations developed a context-based metric that relies on a deep understanding of the available renewable water supplies to determine the ecological sustainability of an organization’s water use. Mars Inc. knows that targets should use science for maximum impact. Their Global Sustainability Director, Kevin Rabinovich, notes that “water is a resource that depends upon local context for sustainable management. That means corporate targets for water use must be based on science and understanding at the basin level, and not set arbitrarily.” Mars used the latest science on the global carbon budget, water stress and other ecological limits to set meaningful sustainability targets for greenhouse gas emissions, water and land.

    3. Align with public and private sector initiatives.

    Governments and local basin initiatives are at the forefront of water management. Existing public water policy goals and other watershed initiatives, will, in theory, align with the identified needs of local communities and ecosystems. Because of this, companies have a lot to gain by aligning their water goals with local, national and global water priorities, such as the Sustainable Development Goals. This helps distribute the cost and responsibility of action across water users in a basin. This type of alignment can also help build trust amongst sectors and stakeholders, drive collaboration, and increase investment and collective action.

    The benefits of private sector engagement in public water policy are well documented, and are driving increased collaboration between companies and governments to reduce shared water challenges. The California Water Action Collaborative is a unique platform that links companies to state water goals. Through this platform, five companies—including Nestlé Waters North America and Olam—will contribute to and help implement the California Water Action Plan, which provides a roadmap to sustainable water management. 

    4. Always involve stakeholders.

    Context-based target setting requires engagement with stakeholders inside and outside the company to identify, understand and reduce shared water challenges. Without the perspective of local actors—such as civil society groups, farmers, local governments, and other companies—corporate water targets are likely to miss some of the many perspectives and needs present in the local watershed context.

    General Mills, for example, has identified multi-stakeholder collaboration as a foundation of success in implementing their water strategy, which aims to protect the human right to water and sanitation in the communities in which they operate.  Their water stewardship plans stem from consultation with local stakeholders from relevant sectors (industry, agriculture, government, NGO and communities) in the higher-risk river basins in which they operate.

    By incorporating these considerations, companies are more likely to reduce water-related business risks, sustainably grow in the future, and accelerate positive impacts from collective action. Moving forward, CDP, the UN Global Compact CEO Water Mandate, the Nature Conservancy, the World Resources Institute and WWF are working to establish a roadmap to help corporations develop context-based water targets.

    Learn more by reading our discussion paper, and contacting us to get involved.

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  • National Geographic ScienceBlogs: National Water Infrastructure Efforts Must Expand Access to Public Drinking Fountains

    By Peter Gleick and Rapichan Phurisamban 

    March 8, 2017

     

    Modern drinking fountains chill and filter water, and let users fill water bottles (Photo: Peter Gleick 2011)

    Modern drinking fountains chill and filter water, and let users fill water bottles (Photo: Peter Gleick 2011)

    There is strong bipartisan support for expanding investment in the nation’s water infrastructure as part of a broader infrastructure effort. But there is, as yet, little agreement about what specific investments should be made. Here is one idea: expand access to high-quality and safe municipal water by improving access to drinking fountains in schools, parks, public buildings, and around public transit areas.

    Drinking fountains are an important public resource, serving as an alternative to bottled water or sugary drinks and accommodating a wide array of users, including children, commuters, runners, the homeless, and tourists. Some fountains are even designed to provide water for pets. A newly released study from the Pacific Institute, entitled “Drinking Fountains and Public Health: Improving National Water Infrastructure to Rebuild Trust and Ensure Access,” discusses the state of the nation’s drinking fountains and addresses concerns about their quality and links to illnesses. The report concludes that the risk of fountain water contamination can be reduced or eliminated altogether through improved maintenance and cleaning or updating and replacing old water infrastructure and pipes. …»

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  • National Geographic ScienceBlogs: From Scientists to Policymakers: Communicating on Climate, Scientific Integrity, and More

    By Peter Gleick, President-Emeritus and Chief Scientist

    December 1, 2016

    Among the different professional categories, scientists and engineers remain very highly respected by the public, at least compared to politicians, business leaders, the media, and even religious authorities. Part of this is due to the fact that success in the scientific enterprise depends on impartial analysis and independence from political ideology. And yet there are strong connections between science and policy: good policy without good science is difficult; good policy with bad science is impossible. Sure, there is plenty of bad policy made even in the face of contradictory scientific evidence, but that is the result of political failures, or, at times, poor scientific communication.

    A perennial question facing scientists is when — and how — to participate in public communication and policy debates around issues of social concern. This is not a new question: as long as scientists have seen a connection between their work and major challenges facing society, some have acted on a sense of responsibility to contribute to debates about how science can be harnessed to improve the world. Scientists have little political power: they are small in numbers, rarely sufficiently financially wealthy to use money as a political tool, and often politically naïve or poorly networked.

    …»

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  • waterscarcity

    National Geographic Presents: Water Scarcity

    By Peter Gleick, President-Emeritus and Chief Scientist

    October 27, 2016

    The reality of climate change, driven by the fossil-fuel industrialization of the planet, is upon us. Scientists have known for decades of this risk and have, with increasing urgency, tried to alert the public and policy makers about the threat and the opportunities to reduce that threat, to little avail. And now, we must live with unavoidable consequences, even as we continue to work to reduce the emissions of climate-changing gases.

    Among those unavoidable consequences are widespread impacts on freshwater – perhaps the most important resource for human and ecological well being, economic productivity, and global security. Water is a renewable resource, and vital for all the things we want to do. The hydrologic cycle of evaporation, condensation, precipitation, runoff, and back to evaporation provides life-giving rains for crops and forests, generates the runoff we see flowing in our rivers and streams, and refreshes the oceans that are the nurseries for much of the life on the planet.

    …»

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  • 21st Century Water Demand Forecasting

    By Matthew Heberger, Senior Research Associate and Heather Cooley, Water Program Director

    August 31, 2016

    Yogi Berra once said, “It’s hard to make predictions, especially about the future.” And nowhere is this more true than in the water business. Forecasts are extremely important for water utilities, which must make plans today to meet their communities’ current and future water needs. Since water supply projects can take years to plan and build, utilities’ long-term view often reaches twenty years or more into the future. But the industry has a poor track record when it comes to long-range forecasting.

    The results of this are not purely academic. The end result is that water utilities may build unneeded or oversized water supply and treatment infrastructure – things like reservoirs, pumping stations, treatment plants, and desalination facilities – passing on the costs to customers and creating unnecessary environmental impacts. …»

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  • Steven Depolo

    U.S. Bottled Water Consumption on the Rise: What Does It Mean?

    By Rebecca Olson, Communications Associate

    July 21, 2016

                           Steven Depolo

    If last year’s bottled water sales are any indication, the sale of bottled water in the U.S. this year will likely surpass that of soda. In 2015, Americans bought the equivalent of five bottles of water per citizen each week. Meanwhile, the sale of soda fell 1.5 percent, reaching the lowest level per person since 1985.

    While there is a positive side to this picture — certainly water is a healthier beverage to consume than sugary carbonated drinks — the consumption of bottled water has negative environmental and economic repercussions, as outlined in Peter Gleick’s 2010 book Bottled and Sold: The Story Behind Our Obsession with Bottled Water. As Gleick explained, each bottle of water is the product of a vast amount of energy and contributes to plastic waste. …»

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  • ERW Opinion: On Methods for Assessing Water-Resource Risks and Vulnerabilities

    By Peter Gleick, President Emeritus and Chief Scientist

    July 29, 2016

    Much more can and should be done with new data and methods to improve our understanding of water challenges, says Peter Gleick.

    As populations and economies continue to expand and as anthropogenic climate change accelerates, pressures on regional freshwater resources are also growing. A wide range of assessments of water pressures has been produced in recent years, including the regular updates from the United Nations World Water Development Reports (WWAP 2003, 2006, 2009, 2012, 2014, 2015), the biennial assessment The World’s Water (Gleick et al 1998–2015), the Aqueduct water stress datasets produced by the World Resources Institute (WRI 2015), and numerous other efforts to develop quantitative water measures and indices. The development of such methods has become increasingly common in recent years in order to help measure progress and evaluate the impacts or effectiveness of water policies and practices. The new letter in this volume of Environmental Research Letters by Padowski et al (2015) offers another opportunity to evaluate freshwater threats and vulnerabilities.

    …»

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  • Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Plant, courtesy PG&E

    National Geographic ScienceBlogs: Diablo Canyon, Climate Change, Drought, and Energy Policy

    By Peter Gleick, President Emeritus and Chief Scientist

    June 24, 2016

    The announcement that Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E) will close the Diablo Canyon Nuclear Plant when its current operating licenses expire in 2025 has caused what can only be described as consternation mixed with occasional conniptions among the nuclear industry and some strongly pro-nuclear groups.

    That’s understandable. Diablo Canyon is aging, but is not the oldest nuclear plant in the fleet and PG&E could have chosen to push for a renewal of the license to continue operations for many more years. Diablo Canyon’s two reactors are also California’s last operating nuclear plants, following the closure many years ago of Rancho Seco near Sacramento, and more recently, the last of the San Onofre reactors. As such, the closure is symbolic of the broader woes of the nuclear power industry in the United States, which has been unable to build new reactors and is seeing the current reactors being shuttered, one by one.

    …»

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  • SaltonSea2_lg

    Fits and Starts at the Salton Sea

    By Michael Cohen, Senior Research Associate

    May 16, 2016

    Daniel M. Edwards
    Daniel M. Edwards

    The fortunes and prospects of California’s Salton Sea have ebbed and flowed over the years. Currently, the Sea is enjoying renewed attention and funding, after almost a decade of neglect and indifference. The State of California is poised to dedicate $80 million to efforts to protect and revitalize (a small portion of) the Salton Sea, prompted in large part by a fast-approaching tipping point that will see a dramatic shrinking of the Sea, devastating its rich ecosystem and imperiling the health of hundreds of thousands of people in the region.

    …»

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  • global-drought-201602_GPCC_SPI03_edited-400x198

    National Geographic ScienceBlogs: Global Droughts: A Bad Year

    By Peter Gleick, President

    April 27, 2016

    Populations around the world face many severe water challenges, from scarcity to contamination, from political or violent conflict to economic disruption. As populations and economies grow, peak water pressures on existing renewable water resources also tend to grow up to the point that natural scarcity begins to constrain the options of water planners and managers. At this point, the effects of natural fluctuations in water availability in the form of extreme weather events become even more potentially disruptive than normal. In particular, droughts begin to bite deeply into human well-being.

    …»

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