Despite innovation and improved corporate management, water needs are increasing significantly, especially in agriculture and energy sectors. All the while, the global population continues to grow, and climate change is increasing water stress in some parts of the globe. Today, 13 of the 37 largest natural water reservoirs are already overexploited, and this will worsen over time, particularly due to climate change.
By 2050, surface water resources are likely to decrease by 30-40%. To reverse this trend, companies must take massive and urgent measures. In a recent publication, EpE (Enterprises for the Environment) identifies some good practices to better manage water resources.
1. Assess the resource and its impact
Similar to carbon, it is possible to evaluate environmental impacts related to water for a product or site (ISO 1404 standard). This makes it possible to identify and prioritise appropriate action plans and internalise the economic costs. Engie has chosen to evaluate its activities’ water footprint, particularly for its thermal power stations, which consume a lot of water. This dedicated tool allows them to evaluate their impacts on the flora and fauna in rivers, where cooling waters are rejected.
2. Optimise the agricultural use of water
For rice harvesting activities marketed under Mars Food’s Uncle Ben's brand, supply comes from Pakistan, a region that is highly water stressed. To save water during this resource-consuming process, Mars Food has worked with rice farmers to improve ancestral practices. Examples of best practices include: ground levelling, the creation of piping systems to prevent total flooding, and direct seeding in the soil. Result: 30% of water resources preserved, 8% more in returns and 32% increase in revenue for farmers.
3. Improve the quality of water
Club Med now uses a biological solution called "filtering gardens” for its new treatment plants in Mauritius, Morocco and China. These are artificial wetlands that combine the different components of a natural ecosystem, such as peat, micro-organisms, plants, etc. Once treated, water is reused to irrigate the Club’s green spaces. This is a solution that also has the advantage of being economical: the treatment requires less investment than a traditional wastewater treatment plant and reduces operating costs without energy or chemicals.
4. Manage water risks
Due to climate change, drought episodes are expected to multiply and become more severe. This affects many activities, including hydroelectric plants (which supply 17.5% of global electricity). To help companies save some time in compensating drought-related production stoppages, Axa has developed a parametric insurance system. When the level of precipitation reaches a certain threshold, the insurer will provide automatic pay-outs without needing to evaluate the situation on site.
5. Recycle wastewater
With 3.6 million inhabitants, Durban is the second largest urban area in South Africa. The region faces high water stress, conflicting water usage between farmers and industrialists, a growing population, as well as major sanitation problems. With its Durban Water Recycling Plant, Veolia recycles 98% of the city's wastewater for second life use or local industrial use.
This reduction in water abstraction makes it possible to devote an additional 40,000 m3 of drinking water to the inhabitants of the city; the equivalent of 13 Olympic swimming pools. The interest is also economical: by using recycled water, manufacturers pay 40% less than with primary water sources, for an annual savings of €5 million.