This article is sponsored by Ecolab.
Each year, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to view climate change and water scarcity as abstract, distant threats. Records continue to break for average global temperatures even as chronic water stress worsens. And many people are noticing.
Nearly three out of four consumers view access to clean and safe water as a paramount environmental concern, according to new data from the 2023 Ecolab Watermark Study on consumer attitudes toward water issues. For many consumers, those fears are immediate. Imminent concern over access to clean and safe water was highest in Latin America and the United States — at 68 percent and 53 percent of consumers respectively — and every region indicated high levels of concern for the next one to five years.
As evidenced by these results, around the world, the realities of a climate-constrained future are beginning to set in. And not only are people looking for answers, but they’re also looking for who’s responsible.
Consumers blame government and industry
Consumers hold governments and industry most responsible for water conservation, the Ecolab study says. Currently, however, they don’t see those groups as poised to deliver. In fact, most consumers believe that industry doesn’t have clear guidance or plans to combat water scarcity. What’s more, their outlook on whether business leaders cared about water conservation in the first place was mixed. More than half of consumers in the United States, Europe, Latin America and Asia Pacific did not believe business leaders cared about water conservation, while those in China, India, the Middle East and Africa (IMEA) were more optimistic, according to the study.
These results should serve as a galvanizing force for business leaders, encouraging them to ramp up their organization’s water conservation efforts. As I’ve written previously, the private sector has a vital role to play in addressing the global water crisis, and the opportunity is there for the taking. As many as 150 companies can positively affect one-third of the world’s water use. With consumers raising their hands to register concerns regarding the world’s water trajectory, the urgency only builds for businesses to act.
Today’s technology build water resilience
There is good news. We don’t have to go to the moon to solve the problem. Businesses could make a significant difference in shoring up water resilience, if thorough plans built on today’s technologies are put in place and followed with resolve. By doubling down on efforts to better use water in their operations, businesses can do their part to help close the freshwater gap that, according to the World Resources Institute, is on track to reach a 56 percent shortfall by 2030.
The impacts of the water crisis on businesses extend beyond reputational pressures to encompass physical risks to assets as well. As water scarcity worsens, businesses are facing challenges in ensuring a reliable and consistent water supply for their operations. This can lead to disruptions in production, increased costs and potential damage to equipment and infrastructure. For industries that rely on water resources, the physical risks posed by the water crisis can have an even more significant impact on their operations and bottom line. These physical risks, when considered alongside reputational risks, further underscore the importance of businesses working quickly to not only secure their own resilience, but also contributing to global efforts to address water scarcity.
Water’s role in climate
The benefits of swift action don’t stop at water. By implementing water reduction, reuse and recycling strategies, businesses can help curb global warming as well, due to reductions in greenhouse gas emissions that can be achieved in tandem.
Water must be moved, treated, heated and cooled to be fit for commercial use. All of this requires energy, meaning that moving the needle on water can do the same for climate. This "water-energy nexus" presents a ripe opportunity for businesses to help address climate change and water scarcity all at once — leading to water savings, emissions reductions and lower overall costs. It is truly a win-win-win.
I remain optimistic that a climate- and water-resilient future is within reach. And in an encouraging sign, the most of the world’s consumers are retaining hope as well. The Ecolab Watermark Study found that three out of four consumers believe that water scarcity can be effectively addressed. Armed with a collective belief that we can solve this global crisis, we are able to move more confidently to meet the demands ahead.
While the journey won’t be easy, success is possible if we take proper and immediate action. And as the world declared recently at Climate Week NYC, “We can. We will.”