How businesses can respond to the need for better water management


    By 2050, the United Nations Environment Programme estimates that 70 per cent of the world’s GDP will be produced in water-scarce areas. Indeed, the World Economic Forum’s Global Risk Report last year identified water shortages as the biggest threat on the planet in the next 10 years, with urbanisation as the key cause of this threat.

    How can businesses respond to this urgent need for better water management?

    Speakers at Resources 2050, a roundtable discussion hosted by French service and utility company Veolia earlier last month, sought to outline some responses that companies need to consider.

    The dialogue, featuring speakers from non-profit World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD), Danone and Veolia, held on July 11 was on the sidelines of Singapore International Water Week 2016.

    Philippe Joubert, special envoy for climate change and energy for WBCSD, a network of CEOs collaborating on solutions that drive sustainable development, voiced the challenge facing business leaders today.

    “The way we were doing business is finished. A new business model is coming,” he said. Consumers will increasingly be asking how businesses are adapting to a new landscape in which we all have to meet climate targets agreed at the recently-inked Paris Agreement last year, he explained.

    The discussion about water resource management, however, cannot be divorced from energy, Joubert said, citing the shutdown of coal power plants in Farakka, India, earlier this year. The plants had to shut down due to a lack of water from surrounding areas to cool it, hence disrupting energy supply to five states for 13 days.

    Companies will almost surely have to impose carbon pricing—the cost applied to carbon pollution to encourage reductions in greenhouse gases—on their products and services in the future, Joubert said.

    In addition to carbon pricing, organisations will also have to factor in the true cost of water to derive the cost of any product or service due to the inherent relationship between water and energy, he added.

    Veolia has been striving to determine the true cost of water within its company and has been helping others to do the same.

    The French company’s vice president and global director of food, beverage and biofuels market, Laurent Panzani, gave several examples of how Veolia had managed to address water risks with its food and beverage industry partners.

    The first was of a Nestlé dairy plant in Mexico, which reclaims water from condensed- and powdered-milk production. The plant now relies solely on the recycled effluent, which is channelled into plant processes and operations. In the past, it was drawing 1.6 million litres of water per day from groundwater reservoirs.

    Another project that Veolia worked on with Dutch coffee roaster Douwe Egberts Master Blenders (DEMB) used spent coffee grounds—reducing the amount of natural gas required—to generate steam for its processes.

    By reusing the 33,000 tonnes of the by-product it generated each year, the plant in Joure in the Netherlands offset its carbon dioxide emissions by 14,000 tonnes per year. Its investment, which should last for 10 years, has led to savings of about 1-2 million euros, said DEMB’s technology manager Weibe Jongsma.