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Water Footprinting for a Sustainable Food Supply Chain

By Caroline Carson, Consultant, Salterbaxter MSLGROUP

Risks associated with water – too much, too little and the quality of it – have been one of the biggest and most visible environmental and climate challenges of recent decades. As the Alliance For Water puts it, “Water is the primary medium through which climate change impacts will be felt by humans, society and the environment.” To underline its significance, the World Economic Forum’s 2015 Global Risks Report defined water crises as the top risk facing the planet over the next 10 years.

A risk with a potential financial impact of US$2.5 billion, according to the The Carbon Disclosure Project’s (CDP) Supply chain resilience is threatened as increasingly globalized food value chains drive water extraction, use and discharge at every stage from field to shelf. Similarly, risks are emerging from the demand side with evidence that well-publicized droughts in and are changing consumer purchasing.

Water isn’t just a Corporate Responsibility issue for food and beverage companies – it’s a complex Business Risk

A risk with a potential financial impact of US$2.5 billion, according to the The Carbon Disclosure Project’s (CDP) Global Water Report. Supply chain resilience is threatened as increasingly globalized food value chains drive water extraction, use and discharge at every stage from field to shelf. Similarly, risks are emerging from the demand side with evidence that well-publicized droughts in California and Brazil are changing consumer purchasing.

Water Footprinting 01What’s Cooking?

In their third segment of sustainability reporting, Tyson Foods announced a 2020 goal of reducing water consumption by 12%.

Systems-based approaches to managing water risks is an urgent priority

Mapping water impacts across food supply chains is the first step. However, currently only 24% of companies disclosing water risk to the CDP include suppliers in their risk assessments. Recognizing the particular risk to the food sector, Nestlé’s and Grupo Nutresa are examples of companies embedding best practice water management into their supplier policies.

Momentum to increase water foot-printing in food supply chains will likely be aided by rapidly evolving best-practice guidelines and tool-kits, such as those recommended by the Business Alliance for Water and Climate Change. Launched at the outset of the COP21 Paris negotiations, it includes a number of food companies amongst its founders.

Water Footprinting 02

By demonstrating a statement of intent to analyze and share water risks, support footprinting standards and reduce water impacts across the full value chain, initiatives such as these may provide the business impetus and systems thinking required for food companies and companies from other sectors to identify and manage risk hot spots across their value chains.

This article is a part of MSLGROUP’s report The Future of Food Communications: Winning Share of Mouth in the Conversation Age.

Caroline Carson
Caroline is a trilingual sustainability consultant with a global outlook and a background in consumer and stakeholder research. She helps organisations understand and respond to major global challenges and develop strategies for engaging consumers for a more sustainable future. Connect with her on Twitter @OhCarolineNo.

 

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