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Water: The Rime of Modern Industry

Submitted by: David Connor

Posted: Mar 06, 2015 – 06:00 AM EST

Series: Water - Scarcity and Solutions

Tags: water scarcity, sustainability


This is the most recent article in our series on Water - Scarcity and Solutions. For more articles, go to

“Water, water, every where,

And all the boards did shrink.”

The Rime of the Ancient Mariner describes the story of a journey of a ship first driven south into trouble in Antarctica by a storm until an albatross leads them to safety. The bird is subsequently shot by the Mariner with his crossbow, who then watches all his crew die from thirst whilst he survives in shame.

Samuel Coleridge very probably wasn’t writing about corporate governance challenges, but maybe as World Water Day fast approaches it’s time to refocus on where the water issues are on such a rapidly rising sustainability, economic and political stage.

Draw what numerous analogies you will between this plot and the journey of hopeful enlightenment that industry in particular is still travelling, but when it takes 15,000 litres of water to produce two steaks, or 10 litres for every sheet of paper, we have to question our collective captaincy’s achievements so far.

Global water demand for manufacturing is expected to increase by 400% from 2000 to 2050, and that is from an already high level. Many companies have tackled water management for some time and all will acknowledge its growing shadow.

“We know that without healthy water for land, ecosystems and wildlife, agriculture simply does not work. Businesses languish. Economies falter. People suffer.” said General Mills chairman and CEO Ken Powell sharing his company’s journey in late 2014.

Let us be clear here though. The private sector whilst at the core of creating the products consumers are asking for, isn’t the piñata to take the stick to. On such a massive scale and about a basic requirement for functioning societies governments are at least equally accountable to drive progress by facilitating more robust models of effective collaboration.

It’s just not the direct impacts of water either we have to consider. Every day, I’ll repeat that to make sure it registers, every single day, women spend 200 million hours carrying water in developing nations. That means not generating revenue, or being able to care for their families. Water infrastructure and sanitation are basic human needs the private sector cannot simply ignore or abdicate to governments.

Only last week Heineken announced a new partnership with UNIDO that focuses mostly on water stewardship in countries that are defined as ‘water scarce’, aiming to promote inclusive growth. Another leading example of public-private partnerships working together to meet consumer demand whilst tackling material sustainability challenges.

As needs must, and often at the coal-face, we are also witnessing explosive growth in innovative concepts and entrepreneurial start-ups with laser like targeting on highly specific water related elements or geographic areas such as IDE India, a social enterprise providing affordable drip irrigation technology to smallholder farmers.

“Water, water, every where,

Nor any drop to drink.”

Water is everywhere. In every product, in every supply chain and every tap (for those fortunate to have such a luxury), but how often do we as individual consumers make that connection. How much water is in an iPhone 6 Plus? We couldn’t really care. We don’t ask. We can’t make the connection. It is up to business to know and deliver appropriately on our behalf whether we demand it or not.

Drinking water is such a precious resource we all need see way beyond the tap (or bottle for the less sustainable). It is the not so conspicuous consumption in everybody’s lives driving demand from businesses of varying degrees of sustainability leadership.

I wonder how long it will be before we see low-water credentials or badges appearing alongside low-carbon positioning we’ve begun to see as consciously relevant?

“He went like one that hath been stunned,

And is of sense forlorn:

A sadder and a wiser man,

He rose the morrow morn.”

Every year on March 22nd the United Nations uses #WorldWaterDay to refocus our meandering human attention on what has to be a central consideration to future human survival, and quite specifically so in areas of drought fuelled conflict, never mind aspirational prosperity.

What wisdom will you be sharing? 

Stay with CSRwire’s Talkback throughout March as we further explore ‘Water: Scarcity and Solutions’.


The opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed by CSRwire contributors do not necessarily reflect the opinions, beliefs and viewpoints of CSRwire.

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