Why water is a business issue

[Editor's note: In honor of World Water Day today, GreenBiz is launching Liquid Assets, a monthly column that will explore water as a business issue and the ways in which companies can manage water-related risks in an increasingly constrained world.]

Water has emerged as a prominent business and public sector issue in recent years, driven by the lack of access to clean water and sanitation, interruptions in business operations and food production, climate change and more disclosure of water risks.

A growing number of government agencies, investors, NGOs and other stakeholders are also releasing reports on water risks and the associated business opportunities. We're also seeing more water accounting and water risk evaluation tools being developed by several NGOs.

My goal in forthcoming columns is to provide additional insight into why water is a business issue and discuss approaches to mitigating water-related risks and new business opportunities in "water tech." More importantly, the focus will be on how water is connected to other resource issues, such as energy and agriculture, and integrated (systems thinking) approaches to addressing risks.

I come at the water issue as someone with a technical background -- I started my career as a hydrogeologist -- and a sustainability strategy focus. As such, my goals are to provide a practical view of water stewardship, along with insight and perspective on risks and business opportunities.

I will focus on water primarily as a business issue. However, this is not as straightforward as it sounds. Innovation in partnerships is now referred to as collective action. Technology developments -- the boundaries between private and public sector water issues and responses -- is now blurred. Water is a shared resource and engaging with a wide range of stakeholders is essential in developing solutions.

Many are tempted to brand water as the "new oil" or develop water strategies in the same manner as greenhouse gas strategies. In my experience, however, the comparisons aren't helpful in addressing water risk or identifying business opportunities. Water is fundamentally different and these differences are essential in developing long-term water stewardship strategies.

Next page: Why water is unique