In South Africa, water scarcity is a reality, and while residents are urged to adhere to restrictions, companies also have a role to play by managing their water footprint. A water footprint refers to the litres of freshwater used to produce and move a product through the Supply Chain, from producing raw material right up to the point of consumption. Without a doubt, many businesses are either suffering from, or at risk of water wastage in their operation and greater supply chains. From small but insidious water leaks to the overuse of water in manufacturing, some companies may be surprised to discover the extent of a product's water footprint.Given that recurring drought and water shortages seem to be the new normal, it is an area that deserves far closer scrutiny and investment - particularly for companies whose operations are not heavily water dependent. With South Africa facing an estimated 17% gap between water supply and demand by 2030, the private sector needs to step up to the bigger context. So how can businesses identify water wastage in their supply chains, and become more water savvy?
Time for Action
The first step is for every business to look internally, and to understand its water impact and weaknesses. In this regard, better water metering and monitoring are needed, for businesses to understand what the primary drivers of their water usage are. An assessment of water dependencies within a supply chain may often reveal surprising points of wastage. Solutions can range from the relatively simple, for example, taps that automatically shut off after use within warehouse bathrooms, to the complex such as, the use of grey-water within manufacturing processes or zero-chemical-discharge policies.
These steps will invariably require investment into innovative solutions, expertise and technology. For example, savvy companies are partnering with experts who use infrared technology to identify water leaks. Beyond the identification factor, businesses should also be exploring solutions that enable them to use water more responsibly, as well as to collect and save water. In this regard, solutions such as rainwater harvesting mechanisms and rainwater storage on site are effective. Another important element is to ensure that businesses are engaged in responsible water recycling, and are only sending clean water back into the system. Again, this might require new solutions and investments, but it is critical for long-term sustainability.
Supply Chains no longer operate in geographic isolation and thanks to globalisation, water consumption can no longer be regarded as a localised issue. Take South Africa as an example; our water footprint has been significantly outsourced to other parts of the world thanks to the origins of the products consumed in the local market. Imported products such as cotton, sugar and soya are grown through water-thirsty agricultural processes in various parts of the world, and therefore the domestic consumption of such imported products relies on water resources far beyond our control. It then becomes the responsibility of local organisations who use imported products within their own manufacturing processes to view water usage in their global supply chain holistically, and partner with those producers, and service providers, who are incorporating water saving techniques at every step of the chain.
Although water might appear to be a lesser and more abstract concern in a business environment fraught with uncertainty, water scarcity is already starting to hinder business growth. If this resource is not protected, water prices may soon go up dramatically – and both businesses and consumers will feel the pinch. Partnering with an ethical, economical and environmentally conscious supply chain partners goes a long way to improving the water foot print of your product along its journey to the consumer.