Businesses and governments must tackle energy and water use in tandem or risk major disruption, according to research released this week by sustainability specialists Anthesis in association with the Water Footprint Network. And 15 leading businesses from 11 different sectors, including Sainsbury’s, Boots UK, GlaxoSmithKline, Nestlé and Nokia have committed to looking at their carbon-water management holistically.
The white paper Energising the drops: Towards a Holistic Approach to Carbon and Water Footprint Assessments provides the first-ever guidance for governments and businesses on how to manage their climate and water impacts simultaneously, both locally and globally.
“Until today, water and energy use has been tackled separately,” said Paul McNeillis, Director of Anthesis and co-author of the report. “By considering them holistically, we are starting to clear the path towards sustainability.”
The research was conducted by sustainability consultants Best Foot Forward, part of the Anthesis Group, and the Water Footprint Network, and was released as the Nexus 2104: Water, Food Climate and Energy conference is set to convene at the University of North Carolina.
The white paper highlights the danger of considering water and carbon footprints in isolation as increasing demand for water places pressure on energy usage. Population increase, varying levels of precipitation and energy-intensive urbanization are all placing strain on water supplies. However, according to separate recent research by the CDP, only 63 percent of major companies have taken steps to manage the business risks.
Current solutions, including pumping water from lower groundwater tables and desalination, require vast amounts of energy. With their use likely to increase in the coming decades, managing the dynamic between carbon and water use will be essential.
15 leading businesses, representing 11 different sectors, have committed to looking at their carbon-water management holistically, including Baxter Healthcare, Buro Happold, Sainsbury’s, Boots UK, Crown Paints, C&A, CLS Holdings Plc, GlaxoSmithKline, Nestlé, Nokia and Tata Cleantech Capital Ltd.
Ruth Mathews, executive director of the Water Footprint Network, said: “This invaluable research is a win for the environment and a win for the economy. For the first time, businesses and governments can prioritise where to focus their investments in order to reduce their impacts and derive maximum returns.”
Pascal Gréverath of Nestlé commented: “This more holistic approach combining climate change and water impacts enhances the quality of the assessment and provides a more robust basis for decision-making; biodiversity impacts will have to be considered, too, in the future.
Art Gibson, Baxter’s vice president of environment, health and safety and sustainability said: “Baxter recognizes the strong connection between water consumption and energy use, and works to reduce both. Implementing projects that consider these elements holistically results in greater conservation of natural resources and improved operational performance.”
Managing carbon and water in tandem is part of a context-based approach to sustainability, which companies from GE and Autodesk to Biogen and Cabot Creamery have embraced by measuring their performance “in the context of the limits and demands placed on environmental or social resources at the sectoral, local, regional, or global level,” as defined by the Global Reporting Initiative.