Sustainable water management
An introductory guide for companies

1 Why using water sustainably?

Water: The basis of all life on Earth

The planetary boundary of “freshwater change” has now been exceeded 1. Water scarcity is increasing globally, and the risk of water stress is already extremely high in many regions of the world 2 3. Given the strong interconnection of nations and regions through the water cycle the emerging water crisis is systemic in nature 4.

“We will fail on climate change if we do not find a solution for water” 5

Collective Responsibility towards water

Water is a crucial factor for the growth and profitability of your business 6More and more companies are recognizing the value of water and the impact that water scarcity and poor water management can have on their business. To secure water availability worldwide, you need to rethink your strategies and change your business models.

Responsibility towards the access to clean water. Water first and foremost belongs to nations and its people 7. Therefore, companies have a responsibility when using the common resource of water. The recognition of access to water as a human right underlines this responsibility 8. Companies, including their entire supply chain, have an obligation not to harm freshwater resources and to ensure equitable access to water for all. – Do you already take this responsibility?

2 How can your company use water sustainably?

Understand the status quo of your company

Identify water usage in operations. First, determine where water is used within your operations, such as at production sites and administrative buildings. This step involves understanding the specific economic activities that consume water.

Understand the context of water useAnalyze the stress level of the water basins from which your company withdraws water. This can be done using tools like the WWF Water Risk Filter or by consulting local authorities.

Assess and document water use. Once you've identified the locations and their respective stress levels, measure the volume of water used (in m³/year) in each economic activity. This data will establish the baseline of your company’s annual water consumption and partly covers your reporting requirements for ESRS E3-4.

Set an ambition level – threshold-based 

Determine maximum allowable water withdrawal.Determine the maximum allowable level of water withdrawals in a specific basin to maintain the desired state of nature. You can collaborate with local authorities to understand the desired state of nature and use the SBTN Freshwater Guidance to calculate allowable withdrawals.  

Set freshwater quantity targets. Based on the allowable withdrawal calculated in the previous step, you can now set specific targets for each basin. Here's an example of what a target might look like: “Company X will reduce its water withdrawal in the ____ basin to ____ ML/year by the year ____”. With this target you cover ESRS E3-3 as well.

Validate targets and monitor progress and plan reductionSoon, you will be able to validate your water quantity targets through SBTN Regularly monitor your progress and reassess the stress levels of the basins to prevent potential water shortages. Then develop a strategy to systematically reduce your company´s water withdrawal. And at last, initiate action: 

Seven strategies for implementing sustainable water management  

To implement your targets, there are various possibilities, which can be summarized in the R4DCS model. This model is divided into three stages.

Stage 1: Decreasing water supply. In a first step you should reduce your total water supply. As water becomes scarce it is just a matter of time before the price of water will rise and become a competitive advantage so better be prepared. Furthermore, diversify  your water sources are another effective way to secure your water supply. You can do this by building many individual abstractions points with a lower abstraction rate or using different abstraction sources.

Figure 1: Own Illustration (based on Morseletto et al. 2022).

Stage 2: Optimize internal operations. After reducing, you should optimize the processes in your operation. Firstly, you can check where it is possible to reuse  von water multiple times. In addition, it can make sense to operate process steps one after the other as cascade use. Cascade use can make sense both in terms of the quality and the temperature of the water. At one point water cannot be reused and must be treated. Instead of discharging the water, recycled water can be partly or totally returned into the operations, which means less water is required overall.

Stage 3: Retaining water. Since global warming leads to an increase in the average amount of precipitation, and, at the same time, more droughts: to store water will be relevant in future. You can use storage tanks or even better nature-based solutions, e.g., wetlands to filter and store water. In addition, the recover process can be used to recover organic substances, chemical elements and water itself. Nutrients (e.g. nitrogen and phosphorus), precious metals (e.g. gold, palladium) and gas (e.g. methane) can be extracted from wastewater and sewage sludge. In this process water is recovered as a valuable by-product.

Act collectively to avert the water crisis

All of these strategies can be used both internally and in cooperation with other stakeholders. Synergies can be exploited, for example between companies that require different qualities of water. As we face a looming water crisis, collective action by all stakeholders is needed.

3 How can you start immediately?

Sustainable water management is crucial to ensure water availability. Familiarize yourself with the various Water Stewardship programs offered by NGOs, and/or reach out for guidance. Let us all embrace the role of water stewards, securing the availability of water – the lifeblood of our planet.

  1. Richardson, K., Steffen, W., Lucht, W., Bendtsen, J., Cornell, S. E., Donges, J. F., Rockström, J. (2023). Earth beyond six of nine planetary boundaries. Science advances, 9(37), eadh2458. ↩︎
  2. Boretti, A.; Rosa, L. (2019): Reassessment the projections of the World Water Development Report. In: NPJ Clean Water, 2. (2019), Nr. 1, S. 1-6. (https://www.nature.com/articles/ s41545-019-0039-9). ↩︎
  3. World Resource Institute (2023). Water Risk Atlas (https://www.wri.org/applications/ aqueduct/water-risk-atlas). ↩︎
  4. Mazzucato, M.; Okonjo-Iewala, N.; Rockström, J.; Shanmugaratnam, T. (2023): Turning the Tide: A call to collective action. GCEW: Global Commission on the Economics of Water. ↩︎
  5. Mazzucato, M.; Okonjo-Iewala, N.; Rockström, J.; Shanmugaratnam, T. (2023): Turning the Tide: A call to collective action. GCEW: Global Commission on the Economics of Water ↩︎
  6. WWF [World Wide Fund for Nature] (2023): Corporate Water Stewardship (https://www.worldwildlife.org/initiatives/corporate-water-stewardship). ↩︎
  7. Smith, B. W. (2009): Water as a Public Good: The Status of Water Under the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade. ↩︎
  8. UN General Assembly A/RES/64/292 [The human right to water and sanitation] of 2010. ↩︎
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remotly GmbH

Culture change through scalable remote team coaching

Why we work together:

Many people in large organizations want to act more sustainably. However, they often do not know how to translate this enthusiasm into daily decisions. Clear goals, guardrails, and incentive schemes help, but they need to go hand in hand with lasting enablement of teams and individuals. Together with Remotly, we offer this enablement in a way that avoids the common and often expensive “flash in the pan.” We deliver effective, cost-conscious, and thus scalable support.

About remotly:

remotly systematically and measurably shifts business areas with 20 to 100+ teams to new levels of purpose-orientation, empowerment, and sustainability competency in 3-9 months through remote team coaching on the job.

Why we work together:

Many people in large organizations want to act more sustainably. However, they often do not know how to translate this enthusiasm into daily decisions. Clear goals, guardrails, and incentive schemes help, but they need to go hand in hand with lasting enablement of teams and individuals. Together with Remotly, we offer this enablement in a way that avoids the common and often expensive “flash in the pan.” We deliver effective, cost-conscious, and thus scalable support.

About remotly:

remotly systematically and measurably shifts business areas with 20 to 100+ teams to new levels of purpose-orientation, empowerment, and sustainability competency in 3-9 months through remote team coaching on the job.