The United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals state that we shall ensure the availability of water and sustainable water management for all by 2030. The food industry can and should contribute to this.
Water is a necessity in all kinds of production and a very prominent necessity in food production and the food supply chain. During the 20th century, the demand for water multiplied six-fold, while the world’s population doubled. With current water management practices, we will only have enough water to satisfy 60 per cent of the water demand in 2030. The United Nations clearly states that we cannot allow this situation to happen. We must ensure access to enough water and sanitation, as well as sustainable water management, for all.
The industrialization of food production is necessary to ensure that we have enough food for the 7 billion people in the world. Agriculture is one of the major sources of water usage worldwide. Industrialized food production, whether aimed at increasing the yield and quality of crops or manufacturing consumer-ready products, generates water usage and water pollution. We have an obligation to investigate this issue and implement actions to use water more sustainably, thus reducing water usage and water pollution and increasing water recycling in the entire food supply and manufacturing chains.
While water scarcity appears locally, where people may experience a lack of drinking water or a drought and failed crops due to a water shortage, the issue is global. Due to global food chains, a product consumed in North America may be produced and sourced elsewhere, hence impacting the water consumption and scarcity in i.e. South Africa, or any other part of the world for that matter. Water must be sustainably managed all over the world if we are going to reach the UN's Sustainable Development Goals.
We see that several companies in the food industry are taking this seriously, reviewing how they impact the global and local water reserves and quality. But there is a long way to go until everyone manages the issue properly. A report published by DNV GL in 2015 showed that some 70 per cent of companies consider water management issues to be relevant for their business strategies, while 85 per cent of firms using water in their production processes say they are relevant. However, only one-third of companies have a water management policy.
You can't manage what you don’t measure. Water management starts with measuring your water footprint, gaining insights into your water usage, water pollution, recycling and how your operations impact water at a local and global level. You need to have basic information in place to know how to implement your efforts most efficiently and the elements that should form part of a water management policy.
The opportunity to help achieve the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals should be motivation enough to start making efforts. Our 2015 survey showed that companies implementing water management initiatives were most driven by compliance and economic reasons. There is little doubt that water management will result in competitive advantages for companies. As water management rises on the agenda as an environmental issue similar to carbon and pollution, it will be a deciding factor for both consumers and businesses when choosing who to do business with. It is, and will increasingly become, a competitive advantage.
By assessing the water footprint of your corporation and products, setting clear targets to reduce it and paying special attention to those areas where water scarcity and pollution problems are most critical, you can ensure that this essential resource is available now and into the future - for all. The food industry as a whole is a major user of water and contributor to pollution and scarcity. It is our common responsibility to understand this issue better and find systematic ways to handle it.
Sustainable Development Goals