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Date: 2024-02-22 Page is: DBtxt001.php txt00009388


Coro Strandberg ... It's time for transformational corporate water leadership

Yes ... there is a need for transformational leadership, but not only for water, but for a rather long list of critical issues that include water.

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 I argue that the system of metrics we are using is dangerously outdated and in need of radical reform to make it useful for the 21st century.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
Peter Burgess

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:

Sustainable purpose
Core business strategy addresses water challenges and invests in measures that protect and maintain the water resources upon which the company depends.

Customer offerings
Reduce the embedded water impacts of products and services; provide product and service offerings that address water scarcity, water pollution and require less water in their use and disposal.

Solutions oriented
Pursue business opportunities that create solutions to water scarcity, quality, governance and freshwater ecosystem issues.

Go beyond reducing impacts and engage in restoration efforts (in particular to the companyu2019s source waters); invest in the natural systems that will help to keep the business operating in the long term.

Long-term vision
Adopt bold long-term water stewardship and watershed management goals that take into account the energy-food-water security needs of present and future generations for the company and others in the watershed.

Governance & culture
Adopt an enterprise-wide water stewardship commitment/policy and strategy with board level oversight. The policy should acknowledge the human right to water and sanitation and the imperative for functioning freshwater ecosystems. Integrate water goals into executive and staff remuneration and water valuation considerations in business-decision making (e.g., capital investments, siting new facilities, due diligence, etc.)

Enlightened leadership
CEO and executives are engaged in promoting water stewardship in regions and markets. Have CEOs sign on to key global platforms/initiatives such as the CEO Water Mandate.

Employee engagement
Engage employees as water ambassadors at work, at home, and in the community. Help employees understand and reduce the water impacts of their consumption (e.g. food, clothing, electronics, housing, etc.).

Promote and engage in efforts to support equitable access to clean water, sanitation and hygiene. Ensure operations do not compromise the right to water and sanitation of local communities.

Closed loop
Reuse and repurpose chemicals, waste by-products and wastewater to close the loop on liquid waste during production and provide end-of-life solutions for products to minimize water impacts.

Resource productivity
Based on a deep understanding of corporate value chain impacts and risks, develop and implement a water and wastewater use efficiency plan to substantially reduce total usage, increase recycling and reuse, eliminate wastewater discharge and use alternative water sources such as rainwater harvesting. Encourage development of, invest in and use new technologies to achieve these goals. Reinvest water savings in watershed management initiatives.

Value chain influence
Understand water impacts and both up and downstream water risks in the value chain. Engage suppliers and business partners in efforts to improve their water practices including capacity building to analyze and address watershed risk and regularly report on water progress.

Stakeholder accountability & transparency
Disclose material water risks (including dependencies and impacts), mitigation strategies and progress of the company and its supply chain partners. Provide product-level information on the water-energy-material impacts of products to customers.

Customer engagement
Engage with consumers to help them reduce the water impact of product use and consumption and become water ambassadors.

Industry standards
Lead or join industry association initiatives to set and advance water stewardship in standards for the sector.

Multi-stakeholder collaborations
Lead or join local multi-stakeholder collaborations with civil society, business, academia and government to improve watershed conditions. Engage and partner with catchment neighbours on community water projects.

Finance community
Proactively engage with the finance community on the value of water and water stewardship practices. Issue green bonds to finance corporate water efforts.

Public engagement
Engage the public on the importance of water stewardship and their role.

Public policy advocacy
Advocate for effective public policy solutions on water stewardship in partnership with civil society. Be transparent in dealings and conversations with governments and other public authorities on water issues.

Coro Strandberg
Mar 6, 2015
The text being discussed is available at
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