Last month, the World Resources Institute (WRI) released the Aqueduct Water Risk Atlas, an online tool offering users real-time data to create customizable and high-resolution maps of water risk. Partners of WRI include GE, Goldman Sachs, Shell, Bloomberg and the governments of the Netherlands and Sweden. Companies such as McDonald’s and Bank of America are already using Aqueduct to evaluate local water scarcity challenges and to inform investors about risks and opportunities related to water.
Such a tool is critically important because water has emerged as a leading supply chain risk for companies worldwide. At least 1.2 billion people confront water scarcity daily, often in regions where companies are investing in factories and farmland. According to the UN, much of the global water crisis is behavioral: during the 20th century, water use surged at twice the rate of population growth.
Aqueduct is intuitive to use and, quite bluntly, is a glorious, yet disturbing, time-suck for those interested in learning about the various factors affecting water scarcity. Users simply choose amongst 12 various water risk factors, from flood occurrence to groundwater stress to even threatened amphibians. An option to gauge risk by nine various industry descriptions is available as well. If you want your concern to shift from worry to depression, check out the projected change in water stress scenarios, which offer chilling outlooks for 2025, 2050 and 2095.
For sustainability professionals actively engaged in water risk assessment, Aqueduct also offers news stories detailing challenges across the world. Users can also download the data they need into Excel and in a nod towards transparency, access to data sources and methodology are readily available. WRI also complements Aqueduct with a bevy of reports covering water scarcity and risks across the globe.
Watch for more companies to turn to tools such as Aqueduct and others to learn more about market risk. As WRI’s Betsy Otto points out, water is a stubbornly complicated problem. Obviously, water scarcity has a huge impact on food production and pricing; but water risk is not just affecting arid regions, and some regions such as the American West and northern China are gobsmacked by a high variability in water supply year after year–which causes volatility in a variety of sectors from farming to technology manufacturing. Water risk also involves many dimensions, and factors such as groundwater depletion and flooding are increasing in scope across the world. Add the fact that we still do not price water fairly and effectively, and the problem will only worsen for companies, their supply chains and of course, people. So forget the phrase, “water is the next oil”…because we have already arrived. There is too much red on these maps to think otherwise.
Leon Kaye, based in Fresno, California, is a sustainability consultant and the editor of GreenGoPost.com. He also contributes to Guardian Sustainable Business; his work has also appeared on Sustainable Brands, Inhabitat and Earth911. You can follow Leon and ask him questions on Twitter or Instagram (greengopost). He will explore children’s health issues in India February 16-27 with the International Reporting Project.
[Image credit: WRI]