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I have tried to speak out against single issue initiatives after work I did decades ago looking at the performance of international development assistance projects for the World Bank, the UN and various bilateral aid agencies. A focus on a single issue rarely makes a difference unless the surrounding enabling environment is functional.
That is not to say that water is not an important issue, but that the solution to water issues must be put in context. I recently heard a high profile water expert observe that it is not economical to move water around the world which, I would argue, is patently untrue, but totally believable if you have never been near death because of lack of water. Total lack of water kills in just a few (3) days, and in these situations water has an enormous value. The UN emergency operations routinely airlifts water when death is imminent, but modern global leadership will not invest in critical and immensely valuable water infrastructure because in general, this leadership has never been anyway near drought and death.
I was glad to see reference to the supply chain in this piece, but disappointed not to see discussion of the variability of the importance of the water issue depending on location. In some places there is adequate water for profligate use without undesirable consequences, but in other places water is scarce and not enough for all the important needs. For water ... place matters ... together with the size of the population in the place.
But there is a bigger systemic dysfunction that applies to water and a lot of other things that are immensely valuable, but not part of the dominant money based value system and therefore easy to ignore ... at any rate, for those with wealth and power. I argue that the system of metrics we are using is dangerously outdated and in need of radical reform to make it useful for the 21st century. We need a way to quantify the value of water ... and the value of everything else that has importance with respect to quality of life, on the broader society and the impact on the environment in the broadest sense.
My work on the design and development of Multi Dimension Impact Accounting (MDIA) is an attempt to pull all of these things together ... and yes, MDIA has water as a key piece of the puzzle that needs transformational leadership. See http://truevaluemetrics.org
It's time for transformational corporate water leadership
Water is high on the 10-year risk list. Too much, too little, contaminated, pure – “water crises” is identified in the recently released World Economic Forum’s 2015 Global Risks Report as one of the most likely and most impactful risks over the next decade. It shares the stage with climate change, extreme weather events, biodiversity loss and ecosystem collapse – all of which involve water.
According to RBC research, the Canadian sectors most likely to be affected by pending water challenges include power generation, mining, semi-conductor manufacturing, agriculture, and food and beverage. RBC anticipates that many companies will face increased costs related to water supply, management and compliance with ever-tightening water-related regulations. The bank also foresees business disruption due to water issues such as significant storm events and flooding, increased competition for finite freshwater supplies and reputation risks for water mismanagement.
But the real devil is in corporate supply chains. Companies whose suppliers depend on water for their harvesting, extraction, manufacturing or production could be equally threatened if supply chain water use is not proactively managed. Expect insurers, bankers and investors to ask companies they insure, lend to, or invest in to assess, disclose and manage their water impacts and dependencies along the value chain.
To help companies get ahead of these issues I partnered with Alexis Morgan, lead advisor, Water Stewardship and Standards, WWF to adapt my CBSR research into the Qualities of a Transformational Company to water stewardship. With this tool we hope to empower companies to become transformational corporate water leaders.
Transformational companies commit to operating beyond their organizational boundaries, bringing their capacity, scale and influence to create solutions to systemic social issues. Transformational corporate water leadership involves committing to substantial reductions in water use in company operations and value chains and collaborating with stakeholders to improve watershed conditions.
Ultimately water issues are shared issues – companies can’t act solo. To improve watershed conditions, companies must collaborate with stakeholders up and downstream of their operations, wherever their biggest impacts and dependencies lie. By following these guidelines for Transformational Water Leadership companies can position themselves, their suppliers and customers and whole communities for success.
Transformational Corporate Water Leadership Framework:
Governance & culture
Value chain influence
Stakeholder accountability & transparency
Public policy advocacy
Mar 6, 2015
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