COMMENTARY: the business of water: shrinking water supplies and growing energy demands--an emerging strategic headache.

Author:Hampton, David

The links between energy and water have significant strategic implications for many businesses and will affect companies outside the energy and utility sectors. The future development of these interrelationships begs the question: Do businesses fully recognize the wider strategic risks posed by water scarcity, the impact of climate change and the implications for energy production and availability? In most cases, the answer is no.


Water availability presents a potent mix of economic, social and environmental issues. We will undoubtedly see both businesses and governments increasingly come into conflict over this scarce resource as many organizations face a future of increasing costs and limits on the amount of water available to them. The potential for major damage to corporate reputations also exists if companies are, or are perceived to be, having a negative impact on public water supplies. In 2003 Coca Cola's image suffered significantly when it was court-ordered to stop extracting ground water from one of its Indian properties following accusations by villagers that it was depleting their water supply. Operations were suspended in that state, and the flow on effect saw bans of varying severity on Coca-Cola products across the whole of India attracting international media attention.

Those major companies that have identified water as a priority concern recognize the strategic risks presented by increasing global water scarcity and decreasing access to clean water. However, the complexities and uncertainties involved mean that a lot of companies are either ignoring the issue or believe it to be long term--a dangerous position to take. Especially as some businesses, (like TVA who during 2007 had to briefly shut one of its nuclear reactors) are beginning to experience operational challenges due to water scarcity.

Drought already affects over a third of the continental U.S., and the government projected that at least 36 states would face water shortages due to a combination of rising temperatures, drought, population growth, urban sprawl, waste and excess. Many other regions across the globe are also experiencing high levels of water stress--where water consumption is more than 25% of the renewable freshwater supply. The situation is likely to get worse with rising populations, increased energy demand and the effects of climate change resulting in dangerous implications for global water resources. While companies can...

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