Water scarcity impacts every continent on our planet. Lake Mead, the largest water reservoir in the U.S., is barely a third full. In Chennai, India, the municipal water sources are drying up so much that the government has sent out water tankers. The Tigris-Euphrates Basin in the Middle-East is losing water faster than almost anywhere in the world as a result of water stress and climate change! These are only three examples. The United Nations projects that about two-thirds of people on the planet will live in water-stressed areas by 2025.
Historically, water impact was rarely included as part of a company’s sustainability commitments. Many companies proudly displayed carbon emission reduction goals, perhaps even carbon neutrality or carbon positive claims. Yet carbon is only one indicator for climate change. To align with the UN’s sustainable development goal number six to ensure clean water and sanitation for all, major companies are beginning to announce water commitments. We’d be naïve not to mention public appearance as another incentive for water action. Companies who operate in water scarce regions don’t want a bad reputation. Regardless of reasoning, we need to take action now. How will you respond?
Leaders like Google, Meta, Microsoft, and PepsiCo have publicly announced water goals to address the global water crisis. Most recently the CPG powerhouse, P&G, set ambitious targets to reduce water consumption at their manufacturing facilities by 35% per unit of production and recycle five billion liters of water every year by 2030.
What does ‘Water Positive’ mean?
While there are no formal definitions of ‘water positive’, generally the term means a company will replenish or restore more water then they use. While company plans differ in scope, ‘water positive’ commitments typically go far beyond normal water reduction commitments. Instead of simply reducing water use, water positive goals also aim to minimize impacts from water use itself. Most companies making public water commitments are also members of non-profit organizations who work together to accomplish these goals.
Take tech giant Meta, who recently announced a commitment to becoming water positive by 2030. They are taking several steps to reduce water usage, improve efficiency, and restore water through a lens of social justice. According to Meta, outside air and efficient cooling systems are used throughout their massive data centers to reduce water usage by 50% compared to typical data centers. To truly elevate their initiatives towards a water positive goal, Meta participates in 14 current water restoration projects. These include projects to increase flows and facilitate groundwater recharge in the Upper Rio Grande in New Mexico, build a wetland treatment system in the Richland Creek Wildlife Management Area, and funding to support the Colorado River Indian Tribes (CRIT) System Conversation Project to conserve water and stabilize declining water levels in Lake Mead in Arizona, among others.
How do you Analyze your Water Impact?
Water is essential to business operations. For products and packaging, water is required throughout the entire lifecycle, from the extraction of raw materials through to the disposal. Therefore, using a lifecycle approach can be very beneficial. Like any system, information needs to be collected in order to measure its environmental impact and work to reduce it. Professionals in the product or packaging industries can benefit from the environmental indicators built into EcoImpact-COMPASS and take a holistic approach when designing improvements for water positive goals.
By examining a water use indicator during the lifecycle of products and packaging, you can determine your current impact and identify areas of improvement. Perhaps a large use comes from the manufacturing phase, and you could potentially look at using reclaimed water. Or perhaps the largest use of water is during the material phase, such as with bio-materials that require water to grow. Is there a way to minimize the water consumption during the growing period? Perhaps the answer is a drip irrigation system.
Water quality can be measured with multiple indicators throughout the lifecycle. Ecotoxicity and eutrophication are two examples of indicators that can be used. Ecotoxicity is the quantity of environmental emissions resulting in aquatic toxic impacts released throughout the life cycle. Eutrophication, think algal blooms, is a measurement of abnormal increase in chemical nutrients causing excessive plant growth which causes anoxic conditions. Examining your company’s impacts across these indicators can help inform decisions around water quality initiatives.
It’s Not Too Late to Take Action
Water scarcity is a global problem that we cannot afford to ignore. It’s not too late to take action and you don’t have to do it alone. There are plenty of resources out there for companies wishing to reduce their water impact. The Water Resilience Coalition is one which is a CEO-led initiative of the UN Global Compact. In addition to joining organizations, data is key. Using Trayak’s EcoImpact platform you can view your company’s water impact across three indicators. Viewing these alongside your carbon impact provides a holistic approach to your sustainability commitments.
With EcoImpact, you can get data on the impact of your current portfolio, analyze metrics on regions where water scarcity is of concern, and consider packaging alternatives that use less water early in the design phase. Data can help you put your public commitments into action to reduce the impacts associated with water use. How will you respond?
Trayak has been helping leading brands of all sizes make data-driven sustainability decisions for over 10 years. If you would like to learn more about our tools and services please contact us.