The private sector is the world’s largest consumer of water. Global value chains and investments mean that local water problems can also become water risks for multinational companies. (see the WWF study ‘The Imported Risk’)
Main topics: Water Management, Water Risks, Water Condition, SDG Goals 6 and 14 (Sustainable Development Goals)
Sustainable water management plays a key role in this 21st century. In addition to an efficient consumption of water, the risks associated with water shortages and business opportunities that can arise by contributing to a solution for water shortage are key focal points for companies. In the ‘emerging markets’ and developing countries, the consequences of climate change and its impact on freshwater resources are increasingly being felt. The OECD (Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development) forecasts that as early as 2030, nearly half of the world’s population (47%) will be living in ‘high water stress’ regions, i.e. regions where more water is consumed than is available.
The WWF points out that Germany has enough water, but water risks are already being imported through global production and supply chains. Managing the natural resource of water is thus regarded as a central task of sustainable development and of the sustainable development goals (SDGs). Through sustainable water management, companies can identify the risks in the management of water resources and evaluate them adequately.
The example of Bayer clearly shows the relevance and the risks, but also the opportunities, which water management brings with it:
Based on existing environmental management systems, Bayer established a programme for the targeted and continuous improvement of water-related operational procedures, involving the protection of resources and their efficient use. To ascertain levels of water scarcity on all environmentally-relevant sites, a screening programme was performed in 2013, based on the Global Water Tool of the WBCSD (World Business Council for Sustainable Development). Reviews were carried out, for example, to ascertain whether water-related strategies, goals, initiatives and an appropriate risk management existed.
The sites in question have been analysed annually since 2013 and their water use, quality and drainage data evaluated. In addition, site-specific initiatives are examined and evaluated, enabling the re-use of water, thus contributing to the reduction of water consumption. The 2015 review showed that effective water management already existed at around 58% of the reviewed sites. About 73 percent of the total water used by Bayer is cooling water that is only heated and does not come into contact with products.
Based on this data, individual steps to improve water management have been agreed upon with the respective sites since 2015. This benefits the company in that regulatory approval requirements now enable the recycling of water into the water circuit without any further treatment. The Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP) has repeatedly rated Bayer as one of the world’s leading companies in water management, thanks to its comprehensive water management approach.
The WBCSD provides a structured approach with its ‘Water Access, Sanitation, and Hygiene’ model (WASH). It recommends five steps on which management solutions can be based:
1. Definition of the relevance of the topic of ‘water’ for your company
—> Water Stewardship Toolbox
2. Carrying out of a ‘self-assessment’
—> WBCSD Self-Assessment Tool
3. Prioritise identified deficiencies, using the following as a guide:
—> Distinction between corporate performance, compliance expectations and common industry practice
—> Extent of the risks associated with non-action and the efforts to achieve improvement
4. Concrete implementation of an improvement plan
5. Reporting and communication