This year, the World Economic Forum named the water crisis as the third most worrisome risk facing the planet. Changing climate conditions have caused unexpected droughts that ravage local economies, and send shock waves through larger regions.
Examples abound. In 2010, Russia suffered through its worst drought in 50 years, with rainfall as low as 10 percent of the long-term average. As a result, the price of wheat skyrocketed both locally and internationally. In 2011, the Department of Agriculture declared that all 254 counties in Texas were natural disaster zones as a result of prolonged drought. In California, Gov. Jerry Brown has instructed residents to decrease water use by 20 percent, and officials are still struggling to identify viable solutions. And today, large parts of the western U.S. are still experiencing severe dry conditions.
There is no doubt that we have entered an age of water scarcity — and governments don’t hold sole responsibility for responding. Corporations have a key role to play. Rather than waiting for conditions to worsen, businesses should look for proactive solutions.
Between 2000 and 2012, Ford Motor Company reduced total water use by 10.6 billion gallons, or enough to fill 16,000 Olympic pools — and it continues to make strides. In its 2014 Sustainability Report (to be released Wednesday), Ford lays out a strategy for addressing water use at every level of manufacturing globally.
Based on the report, here are four key areas that every business should consider as it plans for future water resource availability:
1. Direct operations
First, analyze how your business uses water. Do the materials you purchase use excessive amounts of water in manufacturing processes? What technologies might increase the amount of water you recycle? Are you adequately assessing your water use at a product level? For example, Ford is working to quantify the water consumed during the lifestyle of a light-duty vehicle, such as the Focus.
2. Supply and value chains
Engage with your network to assess water use at a broad scale. Start by educating yourself about raw materials. Ask your suppliers to provide information about water-intensive materials, and then work with them to achieve reductions. These changes have the potential to cause a ripple effect as suppliers begin to implement improvements in their work with other partners.
3. Collective action and public policy
Identity and mobilize key stakeholders in the areas that your company operates, and then strive to be as involved as possible in their conversations related to water use. Help public officials learn more about your company’s needs, goals and processes, so that you can reach mutually beneficial agreements about governance.
4. Community engagement
Identify opportunities for reaching out and involving citizens to support water stewardship, realizing that your business never functions in a silo. In 2013, Ford supported 23 water-related projects in countries ranging from Brazil to Germany and India.
The path to sustainability won’t happen immediately, which is why businesses must practice transparency at every stage of the process. Creating and then accurately reporting standards is an important first step to addressing these fives areas.
To learn more, join Ford, Deloitte and GreenBiz in a GreenBiz Webcast on at 1 p.m. PST June 18. Ford will discuss its progress and share more details about the results it has achieved to date. You can register here.
Photo courtesy Ford Motor Company