Issues We Work On
Corporate Water Assessment
Companies’ ability to measure and understand their water use and corollary risks and impacts is key to effectively mitigating specific water problems and becoming responsible water stewards. Risk and impact assessments are largely based on a process often referred to as water footprinting or corporate water accounting – where companies use quantitative measures of water use and wastewater discharge as a starting point to assess impacts and risks, track the effects of management changes over time, and report this information to stakeholders. Water assessment also allows consumers, civil society groups, and the investment community to compare different companies’ water risks and impacts in order to inform their actions and decision making. The ability to effectively assess corporate water use and impacts is essential in helping companies drive improvement and become aligned with external stakeholders’ expectations, as well as their efforts to advance sustainable water management.
Collecting and disseminating meaningful water-related information, however, is a complicated and difficult undertaking. Corporate water assessment methods and tools have been under development for the past decade, yet there is near-universal agreement that current methods – though a good start – are inadequate and need to be expanded and refined.
Corporate water assessment today can be seen as serving three general, inter-related steps:
- Measurement of water performance: In the first stage, companies quantitatively measure the water performance of their various facilities and products. This process often includes an assessment of water use, water use efficiency (e.g., water use per unit of production or number of employees), recycled water use, and volume and quality of wastewater discharge throughout their value chain, including their own direct operations, suppliers, and product use.
- Assessing water-related social and environmental impacts: The actual social and environmental impacts associated with corporate water use and wastewater discharge can differ drastically depending on the local water resource context (i.e., physical availability of water, in-stream flow needs, and community access to water). Impact assessments take facility water performance and overlay it with data on local watershed conditions, such as physical water availability, the proportion of available water currently being used by humans, community access to water services, environmental flows, and water quality. Impact assessments ultimately aim to understand and quantify the ways in which business activities may affect issues such as community access to water, human health, or the in-stream flows required for healthy ecosystems.
- Determining business risks associated with water performance and impacts: Quantitative measures of a facility’s water performance and impacts can be coupled with assessments of local watershed conditions to determine risk. Unlike these previous two measures, risk assessments are typically largely qualitative. They aim to determine which facilities or value chain segments have the greatest impacts or costs, where water supply may be unreliable or unsecure, and where water quality may be prohibitive.