By Emilio Tenuta
Depending on where your operations are located, water may be one of your less expensive resources. But that doesn’t mean water isn’t valuable. In fact, one of the biggest concerns for businesses today, from Fortune 500 companies to small facilities, is the increasing risks and impacts associated with global water stress.
As an essential part of business operations, lack of available water can wreak havoc on supply chains, as we saw with the recent semiconductor manufacturing shortage in Taiwan. And the physical risks associated with a changing climate and water stress, from droughts to floods, can have significant financial ramifications. According to data from 357 companies surveyed in CDP’s Global Water Report 2020 the total potential financial impact of reported water risks in 2020 was up to $301 billion.
And lack of available freshwater isn’t going away anytime soon. The World Resources Institute projects that if we continue on our current path, demand for freshwater will outstrip supply by 56% by 2030. That’s an increase from the United Nation’s initial projection of a 40% gap by that time.
Many of the world’s largest brands have taken action by setting water reduction targets to help curb water use and protect their supply chains, supporting their resilience to water-related risks. Yet, in a 2021 survey conducted by Ecolab and GreenBiz, a sustainability research company, only 38% of respondents said that water is a strategic corporate initiative that is being managed across their supply chains.
As the urgency for action around water increases, it’s clear that it’s not just the Fortune 500 and corporations that have a role to play in preserving water use. Smaller businesses can take steps to reduce their own water footprints, which in turn can help create a smaller footprint for their partners. Additionally, with thinner margins, smaller companies may be more vulnerable to the costs associated with water stress, from disrupted supply chains to increasing water prices. By taking proactive action to optimize water use today, smaller businesses can work to develop resilient practices, protecting themselves against future water-related risks.
No matter the size of your company, water solutions need to be local. When Ecolab works with customers big and small to identify opportunities to optimize water use, we recommend looking at several factors, from the cost of water, to weather conditions, to water basin health. Setting localized targets for unique facilities ensures that you’re optimizing the amount of water you can save throughout your operations. For example, there are smart technologies available today that can optimize your cooling water systems to operate with less water and energy while lowering your total costs.
In addition to guidance on setting meaningful targets, they need access to tools that allow them to monitor the health of their systems and track progress against these targets.
The Ecolab Smart Water Navigator is one resource teams can use to put such a framework in place. The tool walks users through four smart water management steps to help drive water goals, whether you’re just starting your water management journey, or you’re looking to track progress on a more advanced program. Using the tool, you can:
- Identify the cost of water risk in your organization, to gain a more holistic understanding of how water is being managed across the enterprise and at specific facilities
- Set meaningful targets based on local conditions that enable a specific facility to meet its operational needs without contributing to water stress in the surrounding community
- Implement the actions needed to deliver reduction targets that align with industry recommendations
- Track performance over time to document progress against goals and continuously reassess operations for new risks and growth opportunities
This type of strategic water management plan can be applied to one facility or enterprise wide. Ecolab recently partnered with Digital Realty, the largest global provider of data center, co-location, and interconnection solutions, to improve its water strategy using the Smart Water Navigator. With the tool, Digital Realty minimized overall water use, ensured reliable performance, and protected its operations from water-related risk.
Working together, Ecolab helped Digital Realty develop a three-step action plan to:
- Prioritize key facilities that required immediate action
- Evaluate water practices at every site to identify inefficiencies and steps that local teams could take to optimize water use and efficiency, tailored to individual sites
- Use Ecolab’s 3D TRASAR™ technology and dashboards to gain enterprise-wide visibility, measurement, and monitoring of water use, helping the team track, trend, and compare water use across all data centers and quantify savings from water projects.
As a result of this partnership, Digital Realty has a more effective strategy to manage water at its data centers and a greater understanding of water across the organization.
Water is an essential component of healthy, resilient business operations. Through thoughtful and strategic implementation of water management tools, businesses of any size have the opportunity to get ahead of the water crisis, prevent potential water-related risks, and protect this valuable resource.
Tenuta is Senior Vice President and Chief Sustainability Officer at Ecolab. His 36-year tenure at Ecolab includes 25 years of technical, marketing, and business management experience in various industries, including food & beverage, pharmaceutical, lodging, healthcare, primary metals, and automotive. In the past 11 years, Tenuta has led Ecolab’s strategic sustainability journey focused on corporate responsibility, internal environmental stewardship, and helping customers operate more sustainably.