Why has Nike invested in developing a waterless fabric dyeing process? Why has Nestle spent $7 million to transform a California-based milk factory into a zero-water facility? Why is Coca Cola working conscientiously with the World Wildlife Fund to “replace” the water that it uses in its global production processes?
You can find the answer in the clear message that emerged from the World Water Week conference held in Stockholm, Sweden less than a month ago: a reliable supply of clean water is essential to every sustainable development goal that the world has set itself, including a sustainable global economy.
The map to the right says it all. A business-as-usual water usage scenario shows that by 2050 the GDP of much of Africa and Asia will shrink by as much as 6%. In our highly global economy, dismal performance in these emerging economies has a dramatic impact on business everywhere. In contrast, putting in place smarter water policies could actually spur economic growth in many of the most vulnerable areas.
More and more businesses are grasping that water risk assessment should be an integral part of their strategic planning. Once identified, proactive policies to mitigate those risks will not only boost their own performance but will also benefit all the stakeholders in their business ecosystems.
To this end, in 2011 GE and Goldmann Sachs founded the Aqueduct Alliance in partnership with the World Resources Institute, a global research organization that works with civil and corporate leaders “…to turn big ideas into action to sustain our natural resources—the foundation of economic opportunity and human well-being.” Today the Aqueduct Alliance partners include Shell Oil, Dow, Bloomberg, J.P. Morgan, DuPont, Kimberly-Clark, Procter & Gamble, Veolia, the GM Foundation – and more. With their support, companies, investors and governments around the globe have access to the Aqueduct Water Risk Atlas, a global water risk mapping tool. The Atlas uses the best-available data and a peer-reviewed methodology to create high-resolution, customizable global maps of water risk.
Another platform to help companies understand their water usage profile and associated risks is CDP, a global disclosure system that encourages civil authorities as well as companies to voluntarily disclose their environmental footprint, including water usage. The accumulation of global data provides companies with the insight necessary to drive responsible action, as well as be able to transparently present their sustainability profile to investors and customers.
As with all challenges of great scope, it is not the public sector or the private sector alone that can ensure the adequate supply of fresh water so crucial to a healthy world economy. Robust private-public partnerships are critical to putting into place smart water management policies. While it is up to governments at all levels to implement sustainable water policies, such as proper allocation and pricing, Sweden’s environment minister Karolina Skog summed it up well when she said at Water World Week “The private sector has an important part to play — it has the competence, the technology and the ability to invest.”
 Jessica Lyons, How to Future-Proof Corporate Water Supplies, Environmental Leader, May 24, 2016
 Water central to sustainable goals, Smart Cities World, September 5, 2016
 Adapted from High and Dry: Climate Change, Water, and the Economy, World Bank Water Practice Group, 2016
 Aqueduct Water Risk Atlas, World Resources Institute