Water sustainability, a key element of the climate change strategy

Carbon emissions from water use are a neglected element in the global effort to fight climate change. Major global organizations could save 86 billion cubic meters of water (Japan’s annual water consumption) and cut greenhouse gas emissions by 12 million tons by now, according to a new report from PA Consulting 2030 – about a quarter of the annual GHG reductions required to meet the Paris Agreement target of 1.5 degrees Celsius. The survey interviewed 73 large companies in the beverage, fast-moving consumer goods, high-tech manufacturing, traditional manufacturing and pharmaceutical industries.

PA Consulting research attempts to broaden the narrative of water scarcity to the carbon-related impacts of water use. Many industries use fresh, clean water to develop and manage products, and there are carbon costs when water is moved, treated, and heated. A computer chip factory in three months, for example, will consume 927 million gallons of fresh water, produce 15,000 tonnes of waste and use 561 million kilowatt-hours of energy.

A cup of coffee, on the other hand, requires 14 liters of water to produce and generates up to 60 kg of carbon. The production of jeans and a t-shirt will typically consume 20,000 to 40,000 liters of water and have a lifetime carbon output of 48 kg of carbon.

According to PA, an innovation specialist, organizations have significant opportunities to access water in a more environmentally friendly way – through reuse or desalination – and with a simple reduction. Almost all of the companies surveyed said they could improve water efficiency by at least 5%, while 36% said they could improve efficiency by 10-19%.

However, companies are not very aware of the water-carbon link, with only 22% of them extremely aware of the relationship between water and carbon. Thus, only 60% monitor carbon emissions from water use and only 66% have policies to reduce carbon emissions from water use. Meanwhile, 68% have yet to understand the importance of their water use by region and 39% do not know where the water use is highest in their supply chain.

Poor technology use and data gaps are the main obstacles to monitoring water use and its link to carbon emissions. Thirty-five percent of executives cited a lack of technology and a lack of resources. They also highlighted the inability to share data, poor data quality, and incompatibility of data sets. A lack of incentives and support from the government were also reported as obstacles.

“To progress further, faster, it is imperative that leaders see water as a high priority area of ​​opportunity and think about the water-carbon relationship holistically across the entire supply chain,” said Jonquil Hackenberg, head of climate response at PA Consulting. “But this will require special attention on sustainable development strategy and focus areas, in improving data, implementing and scaling up new technologies such as green desalination, and research opportunities for partnership and collaboration to achieve greater value and impact. “

Obstacles to reducing water consumption and associated carbon emissions

To make progress in greening their water use, organizations need to take four bold steps, according to the report:

1. Understand your challenges and opportunities related to water and decarbonisation.
2. Identify greener ways to access water.
3. Innovate for water and energy efficiency.
4. Green your primary business strategy and partner for everything else.

“Organizations can start small by looking for new and existing solutions that could easily fit into their water and carbon strategy, or they could take inspiration from the consumer sector that is at the forefront. when it comes to optimizing the use of water in design and product, ”Hackenberg added. “The big carbon drop will only come through cleaner, greener and smarter water use and advancements. “

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