Parternships at Work: World Business Development Council for Sustainable Development

By Anne-Leonore Boffi
From the Winter 2012 Edition of Values

How companies manage water is becoming a key performance indicator increasingly under scrutiny from various stakeholders, including investors. And there are good reasons why.

Today, 1.8 billion people worldwide use unsafe drinking water; 2.5 billion people lack access to adequate sanitation; and some 80 percent of the population lives in areas where the threat to water security is high. Population growth, increased wealth, urbanization, and industrialization are driving up demand for water. The world is potentially facing a 40 percent shortfall between forecasted demand and available supplies by 2030 (McKinsey 2009). Climate change will bring further uncertainty in the availability, quality, and accessibility of fresh water.

Poor water management can expose companies to many risks: restricted access to capital, escalating production costs, more stringent regulations, market share loss to environmentally preferable products, and brand damage when corporate water use competes with local community needs. Often the biggest risks, impacts, and water dependencies are not associated with a company’s own operations, over which it has direct control, but with its extended value chain.

The World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD) encourages the business community to address water risks and opportunities proactively across entire value chains by:

  • Measuring and managing water impact and dependence. WBCSD, in collaboration with other organizations, has developed a series of tools helping its members perform global risk assessments (WBCSD Global Water Tool©), put together site-level water management plans (GEMI Local Water Tool™), and communicate with stakeholders including the investment community (Ceres Aqua Gauge).
  • Innovating and deploying new water-saving technologies and services. Companies such as Bayer CropScience, DuPont, Jains Irrigation, and Syngenta are researching and developing a range of products and techniques that could play a significant role in improving the productivity of water use in the industry with the biggest footprint: agriculture. These efforts include promoting efficient irrigation and farming practices, providing the best available seeds, training irrigators to optimize fertilizer use, and applying crop stress management techniques.
  • Treating wastewater so it can be reused safely within or outside the company and its energy content recovered. Veolia Water has implemented a 100 percent energy self-sufficient wastewater treatment plant in Germany. The waste sludge treatment provides 60 percent of the plant’s electricity. The digested sludge and treated wastewater are used for irrigation and fertilizer in nearby fields.
  • Collaborating to protect the watersheds that companies share with local communities. In South Africa, Mondi’s forest plantations and processing plants depend on healthy wetlands and riparian zones. The company has therefore taken a leading role in promoting the awareness, better management, and protection of the wetlands and, more importantly, their rehabilitation to secure its license to operate and benefit local communities.
  • Valuing ecosystems. Valuation of ecosystems and the services they contribute to the watershed can provide incentives for protection and restoration. Puma has launched a first-of-its-kind Environmental Profit and Loss Account, placing a monetary value on environmental impacts across its entire supply chain.
  • Raising consumers’ awareness. In response to water scarcity risks in Spain, Kimberly-Clark’s community water saving program encouraged customers to use a water-saving plastic device that displaced water in cisterns. The initiative reduced the draw on the watershed by up to 250 million liters annually.

The WBCSD’s 2010 cornerstone Vision 2050 report calls for a new agenda for business, laying out a pathway to a world in which 9 billion people can live well, and within the planet’s resources, by mid-century. This clearly requires a radical transformation towards sustainable, equitable, and efficient management of freshwater resources worldwide. Leading companies are taking bold actions. Increasingly, engaged investors are playing an important role by challenging companies to take the necessary steps. We need more widespread adoption of effective water management practices and increased collaboration to achieve solutions at the scale and speed required by today’s pressing challenges.

For more information on WBCSD, visit