As one of the worst U.S. droughts since the 1950s continues to batter farms and the economy, recent reports deliver a silver lining: As water gains value, those who conserve it, keep it clean, and re-use it stand to profit. Yes, there are likely to be more water shortages as climate change and overpopulation intensify, but the slightly less bad news is that we currently waste so much water that there’s a lot of low-hanging fruit.
The Carbon Disclosure Project and General Electric both released reports on water this week. While the focus of the reports varied—CDP looked at how many companies are tracking, reporting and doing something about their impact on water while GE surveyed the general public to gauge consumer attitudes about water usage—the conclusions were roughly the same: Everyone knows we need to do something about water consumption, and there are plenty of opportunities to do so profitably. Those opportunities break down generally into three categories: reducing usage, reusing water and improving infrastructure.
The CDP’s Global Water Report-- compiled from information received from 470 investors representing $50 trillion in assets, and 318 companies listed on the FTSE Global Equity Index Series (Global 500) that operate in sectors which are water-intensive or exposed to water-related risks—cited a general lack of movement on water from the world’s 500 largest companies.
Yet water was also identified as a strategic opportunity to improve financial and brand performance, with 71 percent of respondents reporting a total of 319 related opportunities such as the sale of new products or services. According to CDP’s Karina de Souza, 25 percent of those opportunities were related to cost savings as a result of water efficiency.
De Souza cites Cisco Systems as an example. The company worked with its printed circuit board assembly partners to reduce water use in processes for Cisco products. “Up to 20 million gallons of water were being used each year to wash their printed circuit boards after they were soldered,” de Souza says. “By implementing a new soldering practice, the wash stage of the process became unnecessary. This led to a significant reduction in the amount of wastewater produced requiring treatment and disposal. The result is less water use and increased assembly efficiency.” Cisco Systems also saves over $1 million per year through the practice.
In some cases companies have seized on the public’s interest in conserving water and released new products to help them do just that. “Unilever set a target to reduce water in their consumer facing products—their Comfort one-rinse, for example, saves 30 liters of water per wash,” de Souza says. “These products are now used in 12.5 million households worldwide, delivering a 60 percent increase on 2010 sales figures.”
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