This piece was co-written with Dr. Larry Brilliant, president of the Skoll Global Threats Fund.
We know less about one of world's most pressing challenges today than we did 10 years ago. It's no secret that water - or the lack thereof - will be one of the defining issues of the 21st century. And yet, the United Nations World Water Report, in 2009, stated that when it comes to water, "less is known with each passing decade."
The World Economic Forum recently named the water supply crises as one of the top risks facing the planet - edging out issues like terrorism and systemic financial failure. Water risks permeate almost every aspect of global society. We got a taste last year with crops scorched by drought, shipping lanes threatened and energy plants shut down by low water levels, and coastlines devastated by flooding. Exacerbated by climate change and population growth, such crises will become more common and costly. Yet, the world largely lacks the data we need to monitor, understand, and respond to these water challenges. We are flying blind when it comes to global water issues.
Today marks the 20th anniversary of the first World Water Day, an international celebration designed to draw attention to the importance of freshwater resources. However, for a large and growing proportion of the world’s population, every day is a World Water Day. Difficult, complex water challenges including drought, groundwater depletion, pollution, and clean drinking water availability are growing in urgency and seriousness all around the world. Some even argue that we should boycott World Water Day – that our water problems are too serious to try and confine to a single day.
Although it’s true that we must keep water in mind during the other 364 days of the year, World Water Day can be useful. It helps raise awareness and serves as an annual reminder of the water problems we must collectively solve. Plus, picking a single theme – this year’s is cooperation – helps break down a very complex topic into more accessible, comprehensible pieces.
In keeping with the theme of helping make complex issues more approachable and understandable, WRI is marking this year’s World Water Day by launching the first in a new series of videos we’re calling “What’s the Big Idea?” These brief videos will feature WRI staff members explaining some of the complex, global challenges we are working to understand and solve. Our first “What’s the Big Idea?” video explains the concept of water risk and the array of challenges it poses. We also highlight a potential solution: WRI’s Aqueduct mapping tool, which helps companies, investors, governments, and others better understand and manage their water risks.
This is Part Three of a five-part blog series, Aligning Profit and Environmental Sustainability. Each installment explores solutions to help businesses overcome barriers that prevent them from integrating environmental sustainability into their everyday operations. Look for these posts every Thursday.
This post also appears on Greenbiz.com.
A large, multi-national company likely spends hundreds of millions of dollars every year on new projects. How these projects are designed, constructed, and operated clearly impacts costs in the short-term, but also poses huge implications for a company’s “sustainability footprint” in the long-term.
A major challenge is that most corporate sustainability experts within a business are not involved in capital budget requests at the outset. A company’s financial leaders make investment decisions with upfront costs and projected revenues in the front of their minds. They are far less likely to take into account a project’s potential environmental risks and benefits. Not coordinating financial and sustainability decisions can lead to projects that are cost-efficient to build today, but may not hold up to sustainability pressures over their lifetime. For example, a company might invest in a factory that is inexpensive to build, but then realize that it’s in a location that locks them into buying only fossil fuel-based energy sources.
The lack of integration between financial and sustainability-related decision-making is a main barrier to scaling truly impactful corporate environmental sustainability. But as WRI found in its new working paper, Aligning Profit and Environmental Sustainability: Stories from Industry, there are companies who are starting to show us ways of overcoming this challenge.
This post also appears on Greenbiz.com
This is Part Two of a five-part blog series, Aligning Profit and Environmental Sustainability. Each installment explores solutions to help businesses overcome barriers that prevent them from integrating environmental sustainability into their everyday operations. Look for these posts every Thursday for the next four weeks.
As companies tackle environmental sustainability initiatives—such as developing a climate change strategy—early steps involve getting the CEO on board and committing to public goals. But the process doesn’t stop there. In fact, that’s only the beginning. Companies also need to find the money to implement projects and make good on the promised goals—all while delivering financial results.
Finding the Money: A Case Study from Johnson & Johnson
Finding the funds for environmental sustainability initiatives can be a tall order, especially since many companies’ sustainability decisions are made separately from its financial ones. Johnson & Johnson experienced this conundrum firsthand. Back in 2004, the company had a public greenhouse gas reduction target, but was not on track to reach it. Although the emission-reduction projects it identified could save energy and operating costs, managers were having difficulty getting approval for the capital they needed. Core business priorities like new product development were competing with the money the company had earmarked for its sustainability efforts.
Managers, therefore, decided to re-think the way the company allocates internal capital. Johnson & Johnson started putting aside $40 million each year for “win-win” projects—greenhouse gas (GHG)-reduction initiatives that also reduce operating expenses, such as solar photovoltaics. Projects like these sometimes require more upfront capital, but benefit from more predictable returns and lower operating costs than conventional energy systems. The strategy reduces the company’s risk exposure over time and lowers its operating budget.
Fast forward to today and this approach has enabled Johnson & Johnson to reduce its GHG emissions by more than 138,000 metric tons through projects that have an average return of 19 percent. This emissions-reduction is equivalent to the electricity use of approximately 21,000 homes. The company met its initial GHG-reduction target in 2010 and renewed its commitment with a new 20 percent absolute reduction target by 2015.
This post also appears on Greenbiz.com.
This is Part One of a five-part blog series, “Aligning Profit and Environmental Sustainability.” Each installment will offer solutions for businesses to better integrate environmental sustainability into their everyday operations. Look for these posts every Thursday for the next four weeks.
Implementing corporate environmental sustainability strategies is increasingly becoming standard practice. For example, more than 300 of the S&P 500 report their greenhouse gas (GHG) inventories each year to the Carbon Disclosure Project, and companies from the Fortune 100 and S&P Global 100 are investing billions of dollars to reach renewable energy procurement targets. Some companies are going further and taking steps to reduce the environmental impact of their products, services, and supply chains.
Despite this encouraging progress, a confluence of global environmental challenges is putting more pressure on corporate environmental sustainability strategies to get to scale quickly. Not enough global businesses have integrated environmental sustainability into their long-term decision making. And, as it stands today, existing practices are not enough to protect the natural resources that society and businesses depend on.
WRI examines this gap between existing corporate sustainability practices and the environmental protection needed for the 21st century in our new report, Aligning Profit and Environmental Sustainability: Stories from Industry. We interviewed sustainability managers from AkzoNobel, Alcoa, Citi, Greif, Johnson & Johnson, Mars, Natura, and Siemens to better understand why strategies that are good for both business and the planet are not getting to scale.
We identified four barriers in these discussions, as well as ways companies can overcome them:
On February 20, WRI President Andrew Steer participated in event with GreenBiz CEO Joel Makower at the annual GreenBiz summit in New York City. This post builds off that discussion.
Sustainability has become a major business buzzword in recent years. For many, though, it’s still viewed as a philanthropic initiative, disconnected from a company’s core goals, or even a burden that competes with other strategic priorities. That must change.
Fortunately, more leaders are recognizing sustainability risks. At the World Economic Forum in Davos last month, leaders in business, government, academia, and civil society named climate change and water supply as two of the top five global risks facing companies today—and with good reason.
Extreme weather and climate impacts are becoming increasingly common and carrying a significant economic toll. According to the insurance group Munich Re, the number of weather-related loss events over the past three decades has quintupled in North America, quadrupled in Asia, and increased in Africa, Europe, and South America. In the United States alone, 11 events crossed the $1 billion mark in losses in 2012. Hurricane Sandy cost U.S. taxpayers more than $60 billion, striking at the heart of a heavily populated business and financial zone. And, drought in the United States is expected to cost 1 percent of the annual GDP, making it one of the most expensive natural disasters in the country’s history.
Likewise, water risks are increasingly on companies’ radars. More than 1.2 billion people are already facing water scarcity. By 2025, two-thirds of the world’s population will likely experience water stress. According to a 2012 report by the Carbon Disclosure Project, the associated costs of water events for some companies reached $200 million, up 38 percent from the previous year.
So, how can companies link these risks to corporate strategy? How can they push the management of sustainability issues into the center of businesses’ strategic decision-making?
At the World Economic Forum in Davos two weeks ago, I was struck by how often the issue of water risk was raised by business executives. As the global economic turmoil is receding, many CEOs and global leaders are turning to other threats—and water is high on the list. For the second year in a row, water crises were named among the top four global risks at the WEF.
It’s easy to see why. More than 1.2 billion people already face water scarcity. By 2025, two-thirds of the world population will experience water stress. That’s largely due to population increase and climate change, but also behavior patterns: Water use grew twice as fast as population growth in the 20th century. The “food-water-energy nexus” was one of the top four megatrends to watch in the recently released Global Trends 2030 report by the U.S. National Intelligence Council.
CEOs increasingly recognize that water is essential for their business models and economic growth. Disrupted availability of affordable, clean water leads to business interruptions, increased commodity costs, and reduced earnings. The extreme drought gripping much of the United States is likely to cost up to one percent of GDP, potentially making it the costliest natural disaster in U.S. history.
In a little more than one generation—by the time your grade-schoolers will be seeing their own kids off to school—our planet will be home to 9 billion people. This will create an unprecedented demand for water, food, and energy--and stress the supporting infrastructure required for life in the 21st century. How are we to meet this demand while respecting planetary boundaries? And importantly, how will we pay for it?
A recent publication by the Green Growth Action Alliance (G2A2), aims to provide some answers. WRI and others provided guidance, case studies, research, and data to the publication, The Green Investment Report: The ways and means to unlock private finance for green growth. The findings were discussed widely at the recent World Economic Forum meeting in Davos.
Under current OECD growth projections, the world will need to invest $5 trillion annually until 2020 in the water, agriculture, telecommunications, power, transport, buildings, industrial, and forestry sectors. However, solely delivering this investment to maintain “business-as-usual” economic growth will not lead the world onto a sustainable growth path. We need to find ways to “green” our growth to cope with resource scarcity and alleviate risks from climate change and environmental degradation. Greening this investment will require a mix of appropriate policies and capital. The lion’s share will need to come from the private sector, given the scale required.
The “Green Investment Report” estimates that an additional $700 billion will be needed annually to green the business-as-usual investment in the global economy. This is a large sum, but relatively insignificant compared to the cost of inaction as negative environmental impacts increasingly take their economic toll.
Some people say that water is the oil of the 21st Century. If only water were that simple.
Water is very complicated. It’s affected by large-scale issues like climate change and globalization. International commerce moves virtual water (the water it takes to grow or produce a product) from farms in Brazil to grocery stores in China and Egypt.
But water is also inherently local, impacted by site-specific weather, geography, and other environmental and land use conditions. Managing and using water, then, requires understanding it in its full geographic context.
Today, WRI is launching its new Aqueduct mapping tool to do just that. Aqueduct provides businesses, governments, and other decision makers with the highest-resolution, most up-to-date data on water risk across the globe. Armed with this information, these decision-makers can better understand how water risk impacts them—and hopefully, take actions to improve water security.
This post originally appeared on Bloomberg.com.
As we enter 2013, there are signs of growth and economic advancement around the world. The global middle class is booming. More people are moving into cities. And the quality of life for millions is improving at an unprecedented pace.
Yet, there are also stark warnings of mounting pressures on natural resources and the climate. Consider: 2012 was the hottest year on recordfor the continental United States. There have been 36 consecutive years in which global temperatures have been above normal. Carbon dioxide emissions are on the rise – last year the world added about 3 percent more carbon emissions to the atmosphere. All of these pressures are bringing more climate impacts: droughts, wildfires, rising seas, and intense storms.
All is not lost, but the window for action is rapidly closing. This decade--and this year--will be critical.
Against that backdrop, experts at WRI have analyzed trends, observations, and data to highlight six key environmental and development stories we’ll be watching in 2013.
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