Advancing Water Security at Food & Beverage Companies

Advancing Water Security: 5 Tips to Help Food & Beverage Companies Power Up

December 19th, 2017

It’s certainly no secret that water is the foundation of all food and beverage businesses. It’s an essential product ingredient and production resource.

But water access, availability, and quality are diminishing. In fact, according to the United Nations, 1.8 billion people will be living in countries or regions with absolute water scarcity by 2025, and two-thirds of the world’s population could be living under water stressed conditions. In addition, as the world’s population grows, globalization accelerates, and climate change continues to present new challenges, demand and competition for this precious resource are rising.

With that said, since the food, beverage, and agricultural sector is the largest global water user — accounting for 70% of all freshwater withdrawals — your company has a duty and a business opportunity to protect this vital resource.

Where do you start? You’ve already begun through your water stewardship efforts.

The food and beverage sector has been instrumental in advancing water stewardship around the globe. But traditional practices are no longer enough if you want to bolster the future of your business, as well as the communities and ecosystems in which you operate. It’s time to consider shifting your thinking and strategy from water stewardship to water security.

To do that, you’ll have to think more holistically about water. Below we highlight five tips you can use to take your water strategy to the next level.

1. Don’t risk-rank facilities without local watershed context

Sustainability leaders at food and beverage companies are often tasked with managing water stewardship across global operations. With multiple, diverse facilities falling under their purview, many often risk-rank facilities at a relatively high-level.

“Risk-ranking can certainly be useful as it can help you focus your efforts on high-priority risks across all facilities,” Nick Martin, Antea Group Senior Consultant and Sustainability Practice Leader, says. “But in our experience, we often find there are more immediately-important risks based on local watershed conditions such as size, structure, demographics, and urban development.”

To steal an example from our recent post covering data-driven water stewardship insights, the local watershed context for a facility in a waterfront city like Vancouver is wildly different from that of a facility in Nairobi, Kenya. But each facility faces unique water-related challenges that could greatly impact your business.

The bottom line? Local context matters, and it’s critical for developing a holistic water strategy and advancing water security.

2. Don’t ignore facilities located in “water-rich” areas

Unsurprisingly, most food and beverage companies tend to focus most of their strategic water efforts on facilities located in water-stressed areas. After all, water-stressed areas present immediate short-term as well as long-term business risks.

However, you cannot neglect your other facilities — even those located in water-rich areas. There needs to be a balance. Just because there isn’t a water availability issue now doesn’t mean there won’t be in the future. And this all comes back to local watershed context.

For example, the once plentiful Nile River and Egypt’s Nile Delta are under threat. According to the Geological Society of America (GSA), over the past 200 years, rapidly increasing human activity has seriously altered flow conditions of the Nile. In addition, a recent multi-year study shows the “much-decreased” fresh-water supply means a looming crisis.

“This down-river decrease of Nile fresh water will produce grave conditions,” a GSA release states. “The pre-GERD Nile flow now barely supplies 97% of Egypt's present water needs with only 660 cubic meters per person, one of the world's lowest annual per capita water shares. With a population expected to double in the next 50 years, Egypt is projected to have critical countrywide fresh water and food shortages by 2025.”

As you can see, even if your operations are located in areas of “abundant” water supply, that can most certainly change.

3. Don’t only tackle water risk and strategy from the global level

My previous two points culminate in this section. Simply put, if you want to advance water security, it’s critical to have a cascading water strategy that works at the global, regional, and local level. Period.

4. Don’t forget to account for extreme weather

As the realities of climate change continue to reveal themselves, extreme weather events such as landslides, droughts, and floods are increasing in frequency — all of which can impact water availability, access, and quality for all, not to mention disrupt your entire supply chain.

“Let’s take floods as an example,” Martin begins. “Flooding has a direct-damage impact on facilities, growing areas, distribution routes, and an area’s infrastructure. But it also has several causal impacts on water supply. For example, damage to water systems and sewage infrastructure can lead to an insufficient supply of drinking-water and serious water quality issues such as waterborne infections like E.coli.”

As you can imagine, a scenario like this has wide-spread business, social, economic, and political implications — and further illustrates the importance of making water security a sustainability and business priority.

5. Don’t use “lack of data” as an excuse for not taking more action

We know companies want to make informed decisions that promote water stewardship and security. However, access to data — especially when it comes to local watersheds — is commonly cited as a barrier to action.

However, if you want to advance water security, this data challenge needs to be looked at as an opportunity. This means actively sharing and seeking data, engaging in partnerships with organization inside and outside the industry, and working and communicating with the communities you operate in to find, collect, and make data more accessible.

Are You Ready for the Next Level?

Shifting your water strategy from stewardship to security doesn’t happen overnight. After all, every organization’s water strategy is at a different level of maturity. So, where do you start?

From our perspective, every organization should be striving to create a holistic water strategy if it wants to future-proof its business and drive water security. Start by reading our post on five strategic considerations for a holistic approach to water stewardship.

Contact Antea Group's dynamic team of water experts today!

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