Water resilience for UK business

Responsible business network Business in the Community has been working with its members in a multi-sector water taskforce, chaired by United Utilities, to explore the question: ‘How can we make sure that the UK has the right quantity and quality of water, now and into the future.’

Focusing on resilience, stewardship and innovation, the taskforce has created a six-step framework to help businesses manage water risks and opportunities. Over the past 18 months, the group has brought together water companies and major retailers on approaches that divert fat from sewers; worked with the Environment Agency and Lloyds Bank on new ways to address flood risk and resilience with SMEs; explored opportunities for new funding for sustainable urban drainage through a project in Manchester led by Costain; supported the development of an international standard for unflushable products, and, with funding from Defra, helped the food and drink industry with water stewardship, including in the farming community. All of this has resulted in a three-year commitment to scale up this work.

Key issues to emerge from the work of the taskforce are that:

  1. Water is becoming an increasingly important risk factor and businesses are keen to take action.

With the World Economic Forum 2015 Risk Report putting water high on the list of priorities, there is an increasing awareness of the need for action. While most of the focus is on too little, too much water can be hugely destructive as we witness during severe flooding. We need to be better prepared for these events as climate change kicks in. We also need to understand the impact we have on the water cycle, rivers, lakes and oceans and take action to reduce the pollution and detritus that wash up on our river banks and beaches and undermine nature’s ability to provide for us.

However, it can be difficult to make a strong business case as water is relatively cheap compared, say, with energy, which can make it difficult for investments to stack up financially within a short payback period. This makes it hard for companies to take action on issues that are not quickly profitable, but are critical for resilient success.

  1. Managing water is complex and systemic

With significant variation in risks and opportunities depending on location, time of year, weather and the actions of others, up and downstream, managing water is challenging for a national, let alone a global company.

How do you understand the key risks and opportunities for your business and where to prioritise action? How do you develop a consistent approach that flexes for local needs? How do you work with multiple water companies, each with their own priorities, pricing structures and offers? Where are the opportunities with the industry reform in 2017 to help businesses trade more effectively?

  1. Water challenges affect us all

Only by effective collaboration will we secure access to the right quality and quantity of water to enable business and the communities they serve to flourish.

The Water Taskforce
Members of the Water Taskforce (2015)

Water is a great example of how we are all interconnected and how the prosperity of business and communities is inextricably linked. That our prosperity is entirely dependent on the ability of our planet, through living ecosystems and lifecycles, to provide the resources we need and process the waste we produce. Beyond the need for clean water to drink in order to stay alive for more than a few days, water underpins almost everything else we rely on or hold dear. Food, energy, medicine, clothing, buildings and infrastructure, electronic goods – the list could go on and on. Without water, we are high and dry.

Collaborating to find ways to value, protect and preserve our access to water and build our resilience to flooding, drought and other severe weather events, being made more frequent by climate change, is a vitally important task – right now. At Business in the Community we are playing a small part in helping to support that collaboration. We would welcome the opportunity to collaborate with you, too.