Water plays a critical role in every industry.
No business can operate without it. It irrigates crops, supports manufacturing processes, enables energy generation, cools servers, and plays a variety of roles across products and services. And demand for water is growing. Water consumption (by industry and household) rose by 25 percent between 2019 and 2020, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics. In the next 30 years, water consumption in larger cities is expected to rise by 73%.
But water is a finite resource. After three consecutive years of La Niña, El Nino is returning, and with it an increased risk of drought. Australia is no stranger to droughts, but droughts are becoming more common. The Keelty Review found that more than half of the driest 10% of years in the colonial history record (1895-2020) have occurred in the past two decades.
So why aren’t businesses building water resilience into their business models?
Water resilience often doesn’t get talked about as much as energy efficiency, but both present significant risks and opportunities to Australian businesses. Australia is the driest continent in the world and we have an opportunity for Australian businesses to lead the world in design, innovation and technology that will help make business operations more water resilient.
This is about future-proofing our landscapes, biodiversity, businesses, and industries; it’s about ensuring both operational continuity and regeneration of natural systems when our water is going to become increasingly scarce.
The water challenge for businesses is not just about availability, but also quality. Industry and agriculture are often big sources of water pollution. Companies cannot discharge polluted water; the total pollutant load needs to be reduced. This may come at an increased cost but is outweighed by the cost of the potential damage to the environment, biodiversity, and stakeholder trust.
The Business Case for Water Resilience
Making your business water-resilient is not just about ESG credentials; it can improve business performance, supports cost savings and cost management, competitive advantage, mitigation of risks caused by water challenges, and when you can demonstrate progress, you can enhance your reputation with investors and other stakeholders.
Working with First Nations people for better water outcomes.
Indigenous and local communities have unique and holistic relationships with land, rivers, seas, natural resources and wildlife, whose ecological, spiritual, cultural, economic and social dimensions avoid fragmentation or compartmentalization (Posey 1999).[i]
There is a delicate balance required to ensure that water management practices allow business continuity while ensuring that ‘Indigenous peoples have the right to maintain and strengthen their distinctive spiritual relationship with their traditionally owned or otherwise occupied and used lands, territories, waters and coastal seas and other resources and to uphold their responsibilities to future generations in this regard’ as stated in the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (2007).
Forward Faster: A global initiative
Water resilience is one of five pillars in Forward Faster, a global campaign from the United Nations Global Compact that aims to help companies accelerate progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by focusing on where they can make the biggest, fastest impact ahead of 2030.
As we reach the halfway point for the SDGs, the urgency to act has never been clearer. The Forward Faster campaign calls for swift and scalable action to bridge the gap between aspirations and reality. The time for water resilience is now. Businesses that proactively address water challenges will not only safeguard their operations but also contribute to a sustainable and thriving future.
[i] Posey, D. A. 1999 Cultural and spiritual values of biodiversity: a complementary contribution to the Global Biodiversity Assessment. Intermediate Technology Publications, London, UK
By Kate Dundas, Executive Director, UN Global Compact Network Australia