Jul 10, 2014

Watering Down Business Issues

Elisabeth Lisican

When it comes to planning for the future, companies have a whole host of issues likely keeping them up at night. They may worry about staying competitive and innovative in their respective markets; they may fear an inadequate talent pipeline once their best and brightest retire. According to a recent survey released by the Pacific Institute and VOX Global, they also have added water to that list of worries ... but it is not yet clear what they plan to do about it.

The survey, titled, “Bridging Concern with Action: Are U.S. Companies Prepared for Looming Water Challenges?,” revealed that most companies believe water challenges will significantly worsen in the next five years. The majority of companies surveyed, however, are not planning to expand water risk management practices anytime soon: Almost 70% of responding companies said their current level of investment in water management is sufficient, although 80% of companies said water will affect their decisions on where to locate facilities, and almost 60% of respondents said water likely will negatively affect business growth and profitability within five years.

The survey reached 50 companies (most of them Fortune 500 and publicly traded) representing various industry sectors. Interviews were conducted with senior officials who have direct responsibility for water issues from companies including AT&T, Cummins Inc. and The Hershey Co.

Some respondents cited internal obstacles such as lack of time to raise awareness and buy-in on water issues, and the priority of other risks to business. 

Additional key findings included the following:

  • “Water is a key U.S. business challenge, now and in the future.” Seventy-nine percent of responding companies said they currently face water challenges; 84% believe they will face water challenges in the next five years.
  • “Meaningful data drive strategic responses.” Respondents said monitoring- and assessment-related activities provide the information critical to developing water management strategies.
  • “A ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach does not work.” Water stress that is considered a risk to business spans the nation; therefore, companies’ water management strategies must be multipronged in order to work, the survey reasoned.

The researchers concluded that water is becoming crucial to business strategy; however, it is not yet fully integrated into core strategic decisions. 

It will be interesting to see if the gap between concern and response begins to close in the coming years as water issues approach center stage.

About the author

Elisabeth Lisican is managing editor of Water & Wastes Digest. Lisican can be reached at [email protected] or 847.391.1012.