Up to 80 per cent of all UK imports have water-related risks, according to a new report, while lack of adequate water management within the UK is also leading to reputational and regulatory risks.
The report from WWF, From Risk to Resilience: Does your business know its water risk?, warns that importers must assess their overseas supply chains and sets out a step-by-step guide to help companies take action at home and abroad.
According to the report, 80 per cent of imports come from countries that are under moderate or high ‘water stress’, with the problem particularly severe for the food and drink, metals, pharmaceuticals and textiles industries. 60 per cent of textiles imports alone – worth £9.7 billion – are estimated to fit into the ‘high risk’ category.
Supply chains in China, the USA and Spain are singled out as facing the most risk in terms of import value.
Lucy Lee, water stewardship manager at WWF-UK, said: “Businesses must wake up to their exposure to water-related risks, and also realise the potential benefits of assessing and responding to them.
“UK plc has an important role to play in safeguarding the rivers, lakes and aquifers which are under such serious threat and which provide the water for people, nature and business.”
However, the problem is not just overseas. The report states that only 17 per cent of England’s rivers are in good ecological condition, with domestic food and drink production identified as a key driver of water pollution.
The need to improve water stewardship and efficiency at home was highlighted by Dr. Stuart Ballinger, project director for the Government’s Water Technology List, in a recent interview with Resource Efficient Scotland.
“It would be difficult for most, if not all, businesses to continue functioning effectively with a limited water supply”, he said.
“It’s not possible to control water availability, but businesses can control their own water use. The more efficient they are, the less water they use, and therefore they will be less exposed to water risks.
“The first action any business should take is to discover how much water they use, and how it is used. Areas where water is given additional treatment (e.g. heating), should be sought out in particular; becoming more efficient in these areas will reduce water use and the amount of treatment costs incurred.”
Ballinger added that a failure to implement effective water stewardship can also affect a company’s success in winning contracts.
“There is an increasing scrutiny on businesses to reduce their impact on the environment – from employees and the public”, he said.
“For example, there is a move towards sustainable procurement, particularly amongst public sector contracts, requiring businesses to show how they are reducing their impact on the environment. Businesses that do not consider their water use will find their sales decrease.”
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