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Blue Economy: Challenges & Opportunities                           

Tick Tok Tick Tok: Corporates share in Water Crisis

By: Aradhya Kapoor

  • Water, a shared resource, has varied users that lead to multidimensional issues associated with its quality and quantity.
  • India, despite using only 4% of the available global freshwater, has over 1.63 crore people lacking access to clean water and sanitation.
  • Amidst the water shortage, companies with high water consumption can experience disruption in their manufacturing, supply chains and finances.
  • Forward going corporations have taken charge of building a sustainable ecosystem by focusing on Environment, Social and Governance (ESG) pillars.
  • Further, by leveraging the Underwater Domain Awareness (UDA) framework, corporations can identify human activities’ impact and mitigate them to drive a sustainable change.

As doctors say drinking 7-8 liters is essential for mankind’s health, however, will leaky taps and long showers help us to maintain this habit? How long is it before we start paying for water or guard it in locks? Are we taking water, as a resource, for granted? Are we ready to pay the price for our actions? Water, a shared resource, has multiple users as well as its issues are multidimensional ranging from quality, quantity, and is dynamic through space and time (varies across geographical regions).

India is the second most populated country with 138 crore people, using one quarter of available global freshwater. However, 16.3 crore of them lack access to clean water, 21 crore lack access to sanitation and 21% communicable diseases are linked to unsafe water as per World Bank reports, thereby increasing the economic burden.

India, like any other nation, faces mismanagement of water, climatic change vagaries, lack of technology, corruption, and political pressure to end the water crisis.

Further, available water resources are facing a breakpoint as following:

  1. Surface water: It is getting depleted as well as polluted owing to poor management and lack of regulation.
  2. Groundwater: It is being replenished due to excessive pumping supplying to communities and industries. However, climate change has exacerbated the stress with droughts and floods.

Our gluttonous desires have taken a toll on water as a commodity. Water crisis seems too daunting for the sustenance of people’s lives and the terrestrial ecosystem. Is not it time to wake up and look around what is happening?

Corporates contribution towards water crisis

Ever since the days of industrialization, nature is constantly burning to meet the increasing demands of the population. The environmental and economic impacts of industry’s inefficiencies are becoming real and horrifying.

“As the Government of India bolsters micro, small and medium enterprises (MSME) industries, the corporate world gains significant power hence their impact on the economic landscape of the nation is revolutionizing. But, with great power, corporations should also act responsibly for community and planet benefits.”

Industries like agriculture, pharmaceuticals, power generation, mining, food and beverage, textile are highly water dependent, while others are indirectly dependent on it for cooling, heating, transport and so on. A surge in water consumption with rapid industrialization and urbanization has been exacerbated with climatic changes. While water is becoming scarce, companies with high water consumption can experience manufacturing, supply chain, distribution, and financial turbulence. Water risks are spanning across industries ranging from physical, reputational, and regulatory. So, let us understand how corporate actions are driving water scarcity:

  1. The major driver for water stress is urbanization, as more people rise, food demand shall rise too resulting in increased water demand in the agriculture industry. climate change with frequent droughts and floods would exacerbate the stress. Government would prioritize food bowls as a result corporations’ water dependent operations would be stranded with financial losses.
  2. Availability of low-cost water resources coupled with its exorbitant usage and poor management in industries like agriculture, power generation underpins a horrific water crisis for the future.
  3. Industries that are highly dependent on clean water do not have a control over their operational runoffs leading to clean water wastage, why is it so? This could be attributed to the lack of operational regulation.
  4. Corporates invade smaller communities by setting up factories and using local people’s available water resources. For example: Coca Cola, which uses sugar in soda, relies on the agricultural industry for gallons of water for their production process. But the company in India had faced legal battles with residents in India due to their setup in local hallways hence had to shut down several factories.
  5. Another gigantic issue that requires intervention is that water bodies are being polluted owing to unregulated discharge of low-quality wastewater by Industries. Moreover, as per reports “India is facing an acute water crisis with 70% households receiving contaminated water.”

Henceforth, ensuring safe access to high quality water becomes the utmost priority more than ever. Such inefficiencies are bound to impact water’s availability whilst wrecking industries supply chain and production process.

Corporates gaining sustainable momentum

An array of increasing industry activities is creating underwater noise affecting the water’s acoustic ecosystem with bilateral effects on human health and economy. According to (Carbon Disclosure Project) CDP’s report, the water crisis is an imminent threat to the business economy. It is imperative for industries to take sustainable actions and recover ecological flow of water for the environment as well as local communities that share common watersheds with them.

Forward going corporations have taken charge of building a sustainable ecosystem using Environment, Social and Governance (ESG) pillars. Lately, the positive shift towards sustainability has gained recognition post CSR law enforcement by the Government in alignment with UNESCO’s sustainable development goals (SDG). Hence, companies’ water risks exposure and sustainability measures are evaluated through ESG metrics. Currently, water metrics reported by companies are as follows: water footprint (consumption by company, water intensity), water risks and total water withdrawal (from groundwater, surface water, aquifers, etc.).

Certain companies demonstrating steps to drive water sustainability such as:

  • As per Lupin Limited’s Integrated 2021-2022 report, the Indian pharmaceutical company reported a Zero Liquid discharge at 50% of Indian sites, thereby managing antibiotic releases from their operations. Further, they reduce their water risks through installation of water recycling plants, adoption of water efficient mechanisms along with raising awareness among stakeholders about water conservation.
  • Indian Steel giant Tata Steel announced a new target of reducing its freshwater consumption by 50% by 2030 with more investment in Sewage Treatment Plants and new rainwater harvest structures.

These developments highlight the growing focus on sustainable water management among Indian corporations and the steps they are taking to reduce their water consumption and contribute to a more sustainable future. As water scarcity and quality continue to be major challenges in India, companies that prioritize water management can contribute to the country’s water security and improve their own sustainability performance.

To stay Afloat: Adopt UDA driven approach:

Oceans are the next economic frontier. Increasing threats along with political push to end the water crisis has created an urgent need for sustainable water management. It is time for companies to rampantly shift gears from their traditional business practice and advance towards sustainability with cohesive actions to gain a competitive advantage.

“In this transformative era, it’s time to focus not only on Reduce, Reuse and Recycle, but to start working towards the fourth pillar- “Recharge.””

The UDA framework, prepared by the Maritime Research Centre, Pune has been consolidated into horizontal and vertical constructs with four stakeholders: blue economy, maritime security, environment regulators and science and technology. Horizontal level would assist stakeholders in terms of technology and capacity building. Vertical level is to identify water risks, extract data to propose sustainable strategies to be incorporated by policy makers in regulatory frameworks.

UDA with its nuanced approach of water stewardship, freshwater management, acoustic capacity and capability building, four stakeholder engagement for policy intervention would assist corporates to overcome a set of water challenges and progress towards sustainable goals in alignment with United Nations SDG. For the purpose, it would proactively understand their business models, identify, track, and report their water usage (its withdrawal and discharge) and associated water (and underwater) risks for community and planet benefits.

UDA’s science and technology arm will assist specific industries to understand underwater noise they generate, its impact on marine species, devise new sensors and tools to track and improve their water risks accounting and management.  Further, Digital Ocean driven by the UDA framework will assess, predict weather conditions, and take appropriate actions in time to minimize losses. 

A Multi- model approach driven by the UDA framework to address water scarcity and its associated climate change along with socio economic features would be adopted. Not only water scarcity but also water- borne diseases, freshwater biodiversity like pertinent issues would be addressed. This model would also raise awareness amidst communities about water management too. Henceforth, freshwater availability for communities as well as corporations would gain competitive edge to sustain their business operations amidst the growing tension between supply and demand.

“It is time to wake up and call for a collaboration between private and government organizations to strategize for our Blue Planet’s well-being!”

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About The Author

Aradhya Kapoor

Aradhya works in the communications and advocacy team of the Maritime Research Centre (MRC), Pune. She completed her post-graduation in Life Sciences at St. Xavier’s College, Mumbai.