This blog was originally published on GreenBiz. Read the full post.
We know how important food, water and energy are to our daily lives, but what happens when we fail to value them as critical, interconnected resources for our economy?
In the summer of 2012, the U.S. was impacted by one of the worst droughts in recent decades. Eighty percent of U.S. farms and ranches were impacted, crop losses exceeded US$ 20 billion and unforeseen ripple effects followed.
With corn crops withering from the lack of rainfall, prices for food and livestock feed supplies rose, as did ethanol, predominantly sourced from corn. Numerous power plants had to scale back operations or even shut down because the water temperatures of many rivers, lakes and estuaries had increased to the point where they could not be used for cooling. Household, municipal and farm wells in the Midwest had to be extended deeper into rapidly depleting aquifers to make up for the lack of rainfall, draining groundwater supplies and demanding more electricity to run the pumps.
It is estimated that consumers will feel these ripple effects for years to come — over the next year alone, this impact could result in personal costs up to $50 billion.
Now more than ever, our infrastructure is built on an interlinked system for the production and use of energy, water and food. Water is needed for almost all forms of energy production and power generation, energy is required to treat and transport water, and both water and energy are needed to produce food.
This interconnection, or energy-water-food nexus, underscores the global challenges that we face as a society. The growing global population, increased wealth and urbanization will continue to stress energy, water and food supplies. Climate change and unsustainable development practices will exacerbate them. In preparing for a population that could top 10 billion by 2050 (according to U.N. estimates), in the next 15-20 years alone we will need 30% more water, 45% more energy and 50% more food.
Conservation International’s Business & Sustainability Council examined the corporate risk and opportunities related to the energy-water-food nexus. The nexus is still new in the minds of many corporations, but CI sees several examples of companies broadening their strategies to build synergistic solutions.
Sonal Pandya Dalal is the director of the Business & Sustainability Council at CI’s Center for Environmental Leadership in Business.