Murky Waters: Corporate Reporting on Water Risk

This report from Ceres looks at the risks companies across sectors face from water mismanagement, and highlights the companies leading their industries in measuring, managing and reporting their water use.

From the foreword to the report:

Full corporate disclosure of material business issues is a core foundation for smart investment decision-making. Emerging risks and opportunities that will impact corporate bottom-lines -- including those associated with environmental, social, and governance (ESG) issues -- must be included in financial filings. We need to learn from the recent financial meltdown where hidden subprime mortgages and credit default swaps destroyed trillions of dollars of wealth. Material business issues should not be glossed over or ignored.

Global water scarcity is one emerging risk that all companies should be focused on -- and one about which investors need information. The combination of rising global populations, rapid economic growth in developing countries, and climate change is triggering enormous water availability challenges around the world. Electric power generators, food producers, and other water-intensive industries are especially vulnerable, both in their operations and their extensive supply chains.

The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission recently highlighted the water issue in its new "interpretive guidance" that clarifies what public companies need to disclose to investors about the climate-related risks and opportunities that they face. "Changes in the availability or quality of water ... can have material effects on companies," wrote the SEC, which issued the guidance on January 27, 2010 at the request of leading institutional investors.

We're already seeing tangible impacts from this issue. In the past two years, water shortages in California have shuttered new housing developments and forced farmers to abandon or leave unplanted more than 100,000 acres of agricultural land, resulting in more than $1 billion in lost revenue. At the same time, chemical companies like Dow and DuPont see vast opportunities in providing products that can help ensure adequate freshwater supplies globally. Dow, for example, is pushing to achieve a 35 percent reduction in the cost of water reuse and desalination technologies by 2015. This report is the first comprehensive assessment and ranking of water disclosure practices of 100 publicly-traded companies in eight key sectors exposed to water-related risks: beverage, chemicals, electric power, food, homebuilding, mining, oil and gas, and semiconductors.

More details about the report, and more about Ceres' work with companies on water issues, is available online from