Australia is the driest inhabited continent in the world and faces a wide range of environmental challenges. A vast section of the country is in the midst of drought thanks to limited freshwater sources and extremely low rainfall, with some towns going months without a drop of rain.

Despite this, we have some of highest water consumption rates of any country and are currently ranked seventh globally for water usage per capita. There are several reasons for this: population growth, industrialisation, and declining cost and higher availability of water.

While the topic of water might be a far cry from typical boardroom discussion, it needs to be brought into the conversation. Water is integral to life. What’s more, water sits at the centre of the economy and is fundamental to the success of Australia’s economy, contributing to key industries including agriculture and mining.

With experts predicting that Australia will be one of 33 countries to face a water crisis by 2040, this issue needs to be a priority for business leaders to tackle.

Where is all the water?

Securing a sustainable way of life for an increasing global population is the biggest challenge mankind has ever faced. The effects of water, or lack thereof, are being felt strongly across the country and bring into question our collective approach to water use. The current droughts across Western Australia, New South Wales and south-east Queensland are devastating communities, industries and the environment, with farmers’ hardships making the daily national news. Business leaders cannot ignore the issue.

Water quality and availability is vital to Australia’s prosperity, strong global position, and unique exports market. It’s therefore up to everyone – businesses and individuals – to think twice about the water they are using, and how that use can be reduced.

The need for change

The accessibility of water for city dwellers makes it easy to forget the complex system supporting its collection, treatment, delivery, and eventually its consumption. Consider for a moment, how an organisation would be affected if suddenly there was no water.

Without water, organisations face a systematic business risk that requires considerable mitigation. This may include alterations to products and services, changes to supply chains and the movement of operations. And this would impact organisations large and small, from manufacturers to technology companies.

The growth, protection and sustainability of our planet is not a task to take on solo. Business leaders across Australia, and the world, must think about how they use water to best mitigate the risks associated with its decline.

The role of water management

As the world’s population grows, so too does the pressure to solve the problems that it brings. The challenges of more people, climate change impacts, a shifting population, growing global affluence, changing diets and evolving health issues, all compete to grab a share of finite resources. Yet at the core of all of this is the need for water.

We know effective water management is critical to the health and wellbeing of Australia’s people, its businesses and the wider economy. But where to begin?

Strong leadership and pragmatic collaboration are needed to overcome the challenges facing water. Leaders in business and government will need to work with counterparts across academia and civil society, to prepare for shortages while urgently working to improve water efficiency through targeted water management programs.

In addition, business leaders must combat the issue head-on with effective water management. This starts with the development of a water strategy that centres around understanding the full value of water to an organisation. Key attributes of a successful water strategy include:

  1. The establishment of a water management plan and goals that are aligned with overarching business and sustainability strategies
  2.   

  3. An assessment of business risks based on a holistic understanding of what water means to your business. This Water Risk Monetiser is a good place to start, as is the Water Maturity Curve assessment.
  4.   

  5. Identification of opportunities to minimise water risk, maximise performance results and optimise costs (reduce, reuse and recycle).
  6.   

  7. Execution using a ‘Plan, Do, Check, Act’ cycle, following a roadmap like the one provided by the Smart Water Navigator.
  8.   

Where next?

Water scarcity needs to be addressed with long-term approaches to water management across every industry. From protecting businesses from risk, to improving operational efficiency and sustainability – water management significantly impacts the bottom line for Australian organisations. What’s more, the value of sustainability extends beyond the financial.

Better water management can also impact other business areas, such as health and safety, which ultimately enable growth. It also ties into the changing expectations for businesses to be making positive environmental decisions that contribute to wider CSR programs and reduce our reliance on natural resources.