WWF UK Blog  

Water: A Risky Business


Every year, the World Economic Forum publishes its Global Risks Report ahead of its annual meeting in Davos, Switzerland. For the third year running, the water crisis was in the top three global risks in terms of impact. The report noted that the interconnected nature of the water crisis and environmental risks highlights the need for international collaboration to tackle some of the greatest challenges our planet is facing. At WWF, we believe that collective action through good water stewardship is the key to solving some of the challenges we face.

Top 10 global risks in terms of likelihood and impact / © World Economic Forum 2017Top 10 global risks in terms of likelihood and impact / © World Economic Forum 2017

So what role can water stewardship play in mitigating these risks? 

Well, it is vital that companies understand environmental and societal risks highlighted in the Global Risks Report 2017 and how they might impact on their business, as the cause and effect aren’t always obvious. In particular, failure to act on issues such as ecosystem decline or water security could worsen other existing risks and tensions highlighted in the report, including involuntary migration and the failure of climate change adaptation. This in turn could impact upon businesses across their supply chains and operations, adding pressure to already overstretched resources.

Water stewardship offers companies a way not only to protect their business from current risks (water and others), but also a way to safeguard water resources for the future so that they can continue to support communities, ecosystems and businesses. Without good water stewardship, companies will find themselves facing a number of challenges including:

  • Increased competition over water resources;
  • Higher operating costs;
  • Problems around continuity of supply and quality of produce;
  • Difficulties maintaining a social license to operate where communities face water scarcity;
  • Pressure from consumers to demonstrate that their products aren’t negatively impacting communities or the environment.

Our water stewardship framework follows a five-step ladder. The first three steps focus on companies taking action across their own operations while steps four and five require companies to look outside of their own fence lines to take action.

Steps one to three encourage companies to increase their awareness of water use and risks, identifying where water impacts lie and undertaking internal action to mitigate against risks, including developing a water strategy.

Step four calls for companies to consider how they can support catchment-wide sustainable water management through collective action. In step five, businesses are encouraged to use their supply chain influence to support and promote strong water governance practices.

WWF's water stewardship stepsWWF’s water stewardship steps.

So how does this mitigate against global risks?

All five steps mitigate against the water crisis by encouraging companies to be efficient in their use of water, plan their usage with other stakeholders in the catchment and encourage policies which ensure that there is enough water for communities, ecosystems and businesses. Once you know where your water risks are, you can take action using sustainable water management practices to lower your vulnerability. Companies can then use predictions about the likely impacts of climate change to plan how to adapt for the future.

By engaging stakeholders in catchment planning and collective action on water management, companies will not only avoid the adverse impacts of water scarcity, but will also have a better understanding of the local context from a resource perspective. This can be helpful when mitigating against some of the societal risks highlighted in the report, some of which may create instability for businesses.

Sound good? Well here’s what you should do next…

At WWF, we’ve developed a range of tools and resources which may be helpful to businesses who are looking to mitigate their water risks. Here are 5 things you should do in 2017 to mitigate your water risk:

  1. Learn more about water stewardship and how it can benefit your business. There’s lots of information on our website, including advice from M&S who we’ve been working with on water stewardship.
  2. Identify where your risks are. Our Water Risk Filter is easy to use and free! Upload the location of your operations and supply chain and find out where your water risks are highest.
  3. Once you know where your risks are, take action! Our report, From Risk to Resilience covers the five stages of water stewardship, and offers advice for each step. It includes some water stewardship golden rules, and covers water stewardship in the UK and abroad.
  4. Think outside the box (or fence)! Water stewardship isn’t about just taking action on one site or as a single business, for the biggest impact we need to influence water governance and implement good practice collectively. Get to know who else is in your high risk catchments, and explore opportunities to work with them on water. We can help with that, watch this space for more information.
  5. Get in touch. If you need help with water stewardship, or would like to know more about things you could get involved in over the next few months, please get in touch with our team at WaterStewardship@wwf.org.uk

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