Water management is rising as an issue of strategic importance for businesses across many industries, from apparel and beverage to food, energy, and beyond. Companies are increasingly focused on addressing water-related business risks and managing the resource more sustainably.
It isn’t always easy to map a company’s water impacts, especially if you explore water use throughout an entire value chain. What’s heartening is that many businesses are trying to address how they manage water inside their direct operations, while also exploring how to use their influence to build connections with suppliers, customers, and consumers.
Water measurement remains inconsistent across industries and lacks the clarity needed for proper disclosure and decision making. In response to growing demand from businesses and investors for a standardized framework to report on water management, The CEO Water Mandate--a partnership between the companies and the United Nations that focuses on the business case for water sustainability-- released a set of guidelines today at World Water Week in Stockholm, developed by the Carbon Disclosure Project, Global Reporting Initiative, and the World Resources Institute. (My company, PwC, served as a strategic adviser to the process.)
The guidelines help businesses address fundamental questions about making their water footprint public:
- What is the business case for water disclosure?
- What are the primary stakeholder interests in water disclosure?
- What minimum information should I include in a company water profile?
- What does leading disclosure practice look like?
For companies just beginning to disclose on water-related issues, the guidelines will help them gather and analyze common data and incorporate the results into their respective sustainability or financial reports. For businesses with more progressive water management systems, the guidelines provide advanced metrics and guidance on how to report on such activities as engagement with NGOs, governments, suppliers, and communities.
While the guidelines are entirely voluntary, they will likely be incorporated into future revisions of various sustainability certifications, pushing them to widespread acceptance. These guidelines represent a leap forward for corporate water reporting; the outcomes may influence current and future business behavior and ultimately help companies better manage a critical resource.