While 70 percent of the world's surface is covered by water, it is estimated that only 1 percent of those total water resources is available for human use. Currently, between 500 million and 2 billion people are living in conditions of water stress. It is estimated that this number will rise to about 5.5 billion people by 2025.
Meanwhile, experts expect water use to increase by 22 percent over the next two decades.
These numbers should scare us all.
The business community has a responsibility to address the growing global challenges posed by water scarcity and water quality—both because water-related risks are significant for business and because we take our social responsibility seriously. Eight percent of U.S. energy demand is used to treat, pump and heat water. American businesses help confront the worldwide water crisis in the same ways we address energy efficiency: by bringing innovation and management discipline to reduce each company's water footprint and to maximize business opportunities to deliver enhanced quality and quantity of water.
Water is emerging as a key strategic issue for businesses for three fundamental reasons:
- Increasing freshwater scarcity and threats to water quality are making water one of the leading social, environmental, and economic challenges of the 21st Century.
- Water presents both a major business risk and an increasingly important corporate social responsibility issue.
- Businesses can make a big difference in achieving sustainable use of water resources while adding business value.
Through S.E.E. Change: Water Brief For Business, Business Roundtable is raising awareness of member CEOs and motivating them to address how their companies use water resources and what role they can play to address water challenges. The S.E.E. Change Web site provides the tools necessary for American businesses to design and implement a sustainable water initiative and also makes the case for business engagement on the critical issue of water sustainability, so that we can all commit to better business in a better world.
More and more member companies are "walking the walk" by conducting audits, monitoring their water use and setting performance goals and reporting progress. This process provides companies a benchmark for self-assessment, as well as a transparent means of informing shareholders, consumers, and the public.
For example, The Coca-Cola Company is helping to change the way companies think and act about water stewardship and increase global partnerships. Because water is the main ingredient in every beverage it makes, the company has a vested interest in protecting and conserving water resources and enabling greater access to water and sanitation. To do this, the company works hand-in-hand with bottlers, supply chain partners, governments and other stakeholders to address global water challenges and opportunities in nearly 1,000 operation sites around the world.
In 2007, Coca-Cola announced a goal to return the water used in its beverages and their production back to nature. The goal has three core components:
- Reduce: The company will set water use efficiency targets for global operations in 2008. By setting these goals in bottling plant operations, employing new technologies and improving water use and reuse practices, Coca-Cola has already increased its water use efficiency by more than 19 percent since 2002.
- Recycle: The company will return all water used for manufacturing processes to the environment at a level that supports aquatic life by the end of 2010.
- Replenish: The company will expand support of healthy watersheds and sustainable community water programs to balance the water used in its finished beverages.
To meet these goals, The Coca-Cola Company's water stewardship strategy incorporates four core focus areas into its stewardship: Plant Performance, Watershed Protection, Community Water Initiatives and Global Awareness and Action.
As part of its "replenish" goal, the company recently released The Coca-Cola Company "Replenish" Report, which focuses on the commitment to give back on a global scale by supporting healthy watersheds and sustainable community water programs.
This is just one example of how our member companies are tackling the world's global water challenges and sustainability initiatives. Featured member company initiatives can be found on our Web site and will be highlighted in our first S.E.E. Change progress report, to be released this spring.
Clean water is both indispensable to business growth and increasingly scarce across the globe — including here in the United States. Water availability and quality will play a critical role in defining the broader economic, environmental, and social context within which we live and do business.