Fresh Water: A Risky Business?

Located at the mouth of the Yangtze River, Shanghai is a hub for many leading global businesses. (Photo: © istockphoto/Photo by Alex Nikada)

Marielle Canter Weikel is currently attending World Water Week — the leading annual meeting on freshwater issues — in Stockholm. Read other World Water Week blogs here.

When you think about the relationship between people and fresh water, you probably think of drinking, washing, cooking and other daily needs. But here’s another angle: healthy freshwater ecosystems are also critical to keep businesses afloat.

Water is essential for a number of industries, from agriculture to energy to its use in industrial processes. Today at World Water Week, the World Business Council on Sustainable Development will launch an updated version of its Global Water Tool (GWT), which is used by leading global businesses to map their water use and assess risks relative to their operations and supply chains. The GWT now will include a new “Biodiversity Bonus” feature that takes CI’s biodiversity hotspots into account and helps businesses reduce their impact on species and their habitats.

Through the GWT, companies are able to investigate their facilities’ overlap with water-scarce regions of the world. The addition of CI’s biodiversity hotspots to the GWT is a first step allowing companies to paint a more holistic picture of their risk profile when it comes to water resources. CI believes this is an important step in helping companies better understand what their potential impacts to freshwater ecosystems may be.

In addition to being vital to our very existence, freshwater ecosystems are home to at least 126,000 species — and probably many more which remain undiscovered. From the fish that we eat to birds that we value for their beauty, these creatures and their homes are under increasing threat from a variety of sources, including pollution, habitat destruction and overconsumption. Roughly one-third of all species on the IUCN Red List, a global tracking system for species at high risk for becoming extinct, are fresh water-dependent.

The pressure on companies to address their impacts on global water resources, thereby reducing their operational and reputational risks, has mounted rapidly over the last few years. For example, the number of investors calling for increased reporting of companies’ water use, impacts and risks has more than doubled in the past year. Additionally, a number of multi-stakeholder initiatives — CEO Water Mandate, Water Footprint Network, and Alliance for Water Stewardship, to name a few — are underway to tackle various aspects of corporate water impacts and related risks.

In addition to participating in these important efforts, CI is also working with partners, including many companies, on developing the water-related content in the Integrated Biodiversity Assessment Tool (IBAT). IBAT is a mapping tool designed to help companies and other users get accurate, up-to-date biodiversity information to help inform their decisions. For example, a company can use IBAT and determine whether or not a facility they’re looking to develop is in the same area as an important wetland or critical habitat for a freshwater species on the verge of extinction.

With this greater awareness, companies are able to make better informed choices about whether and how they proceed with a development project, hopefully reducing their impacts on freshwater ecosystems and the species within them.

Here at World Water Week, I will be presenting more information on the GWT, IBAT and the important role these tools can play to help companies better understand their water risks. I am excited to be working on these issues and helping to expand corporate awareness of the deep-rooted connections between freshwater ecosystems and sustainable business.

Marielle Canter Weikel is the director of corporate freshwater strategies in CI’s Center for Environmental Leadership in Business (CELB).


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