Guest Column | July 2, 2021

Moving From Intentions To Positive Water Action

By Emilio Tenuta


How monitoring facility water use can help corporations bridge the gap between water intentions and results

When it comes to risks, organizations have no shortage of options to consider. From climate change to increasing scrutiny and expectations from consumers to complications from the COVID-19 pandemic, businesses are balancing a lot. So, why should they make the time to focus on water?

Water stress and the impacts of climate change are some of today’s most pressing
issues for individuals and organizations alike. And while our world’s water supply is finite, human need and use continues to increase. The World Resources Institute projects that if we continue on our current path, demand for freshwater will outstrip supply by 56 percent by 2030. That’s an increase from the United Nations’ initial projection of a 40 percent gap by that time.

Industry has a pivotal role to play in trying to reduce rampant water use. The UN predicts that over the course of 50 years, from 2000 to 2050, the global manufacturing demand for water will increase by 400 percent. Improving the ways businesses manage water can have significant ramifications on how much freshwater is available for individuals, communities, organizations, and the environment.

And there are significant risks to businesses for not adopting smart water practices. We’ve recently seen the impacts of water scarcity play out across major manufacturers reliant on computer chips. Taiwan, a global hub for the manufacturing of semiconductor materials, has pared back its production in the face of the region’s worst drought in over 50 years. This event has far reaching consequences on the supply of highly demanded chips across industries and has forced major automakers to shut down plants as a direct result.

Organizations are beginning to understand that something must change. A 2021 survey conducted by Ecolab and GreenBiz saw that 92 percent of respondents said their organization intended to take active steps to better manage water over the next two years. But only 38 percent of respondents said that water was a strategic initiative that was being proactively managed across their organizations and supply chain. So clearly, we need to help businesses get to the stage where the rubber meets the road.

A great place to get started is to consider how we can drive progress at the facility level. When our survey asked which teams are responsible for driving water goals and targets, nearly all of the respondents — a whopping 95 percent — said that this is driven by operations, facility, manufacturing, and production teams.

And an issue that we often see is that these teams are given one-size-fits-all targets from corporate teams that don’t account for the unique challenges or circumstances at their local site. Consider if a facility in freshwater-rich Minnesota that produced a relatively water-efficient product was given the same targets as a facility in drought-ridden California.

In addition to setting context-based goals, teams need to have access to tools that allow them to monitor the health of their systems and track progress against targets.

Ecolab’s publicly available, free online Smart Water Navigator tool is one resource teams could use to put such a framework in place. The tool walks users through four smart water management steps to help drive water goals, whether you’re just starting your water management journey, or you’re looking to track progress on a more advanced program. The steps and tool features are:

  1. Identify the cost of water risk in your organizations, to gain a more holistic understanding of how water is being managed across facilities and at specific facility sites.
  2. Set meaningful targets based on local conditions that enable a specific facility to meet its operational needs without contributing to water stress in the surrounding community.
  3. Implement the actions needed to deliver reduction targets that align with industry recommendations.
  4. Track performance over time to document progress against goals and continuously reassess operations for new risks and growth opportunities.

Other tools, like Ecolab’s digital Water Flow Intelligence service, give businesses real-time visibility into water usage at the enterprise, site, and asset levels. Because manual data collection and analysis to track water use is often tedious, resource-intensive, and difficult to execute consistently across sites, it can be hard for organizations to have a clear sense of their enterprise-wide performance or to preventatively spot potential issues. Water performance monitoring solutions provide organizations the opportunity to optimize their operations and make real progress on their water-related sustainability goals, from the enterprise level to individual facilities.

Solutions like this can also help users protect facilities against operational disruption due to water quality and quantity risks — not to mention positioning organizations as responsible members of their communities by reducing the risk of conflict over resources in a water-scarce region.

Water scarcity represents a growing risk. By equipping local teams with resources to set and make progress on context-based targets, we can help ensure organizations are empowered to step up sustainability commitments to build resilience and drive action to protect their operations and communities for years to come.

Emilio Tenuta is Senior Vice President and Chief Sustainability Officer at Ecolab. Tenuta’s 36-year tenure at Ecolab includes 25 years of technical, marketing, and business management experience in various industries including food & beverage, pharmaceutical, lodging, healthcare, primary metals, and automotive. In the past 11 years, Tenuta has led Ecolab’s strategic sustainability journey focused on corporate responsibility, internal environmental stewardship, and helping customers operate more sustainably.