Water Woes — And Winners

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Courtesy of Courtesy of Ensia

Businesses can barely use the word “water” today without also adding “risk,” “crisis,” “shortage” or another similarly miserable modifier. With a 40 percent shortfall predicted by 2030, it’s no wonder the World Economic Forum has pegged increasing water stress as a top global trend.

What’s up? And what can we do about it?

With support from the Rockefeller Foundation, sustainable business promoter SustainAbility recently took a stab at answering both questions, exploring what’s behind growing global demand for water as well as innovative approaches to meeting it.

In its subsequent report, “Evaporating Asset: Water Scarcity and Innovative Solutions,” the company begins by characterizing current and projected global demand for water by sector (agriculture, industry, municipal); identifying regions at particular risk; and delineating key factors — including system failures — contributing to growing water scarcity.

After describing water challenges, the report describes and applauds signs that businesses are starting to take water supply and demand issues seriously and gives a shout-out to innovative approaches to reducing water risk. In particular, it describes four promising tools that are drawing increasing attention: watershed payments; natural capital valuation; markets for water benefits, rights and quality; and water-resource-protecting bonds.

Finally, the report calls on the private sector to take the lead in implementing novel solutions, noting that it “is in a unique position to leverage its financial capacity and unique ability to test and scale new solutions.”

“By more accurately evaluating the economic costs and benefits of water use and taking a systems-level approach to water management,” the report concludes,”countries and companies have the ability to successfully navigate the water scarcity challenge.”

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