Water: why it isn’t a ‘wet’ issue and how it could impact on your bottom line

Posted: Friday 25th November 2011

CSR expert Amanda Long explains how water usage is ‘the next carbon’ and why sustainable stewardship is no longer just a ‘nice to have’.

Water usage is ‘the next carbon’ as an issue businesses, especially in the food and agriculture sector, need to sit up and take notice of, according to Amanda Long, chief executive, Corporate Culture and former Head of Corporate Responsibility at Anglian Water.

In a presentation given to The Chartered Institute of Marketing’s Food, Drink and Agriculture Group (CIM FDA Group), Long explained how the CSR debate has started to move into sustainable business and how water usage could and should be a core issue on everyone’s agenda.

Water usage is a more serious issue than we may first think. Take our average morning usage – adding up both the water we use, and the water used in manufacturing the products we use, in first 15 minutes of every day we each have a global water footprint of 10,000 litres. With these sobering statistics in mind, it is clear that thinking about water isn’t ‘wet’ but is in fact imperative from a financial and a marketing perspective, not to mention an environmental one.

Long explained how water is a prime candidate for social marketing, whereby it is used to effect behavioural change, and how it is a pressing environmental concern that the food, drink and agriculture industry can use to drive forward sustainability as part of their core business strategy.

“Behavioural change”, she explained, “is the bit that makes sustainability happen. Imagine if we could do with water what has been done with recycling where a major social marketing programme has had a meaningful impact not just on the environment, but also on society as a whole.”

Long identified three consumer ‘mega trends’ which have primed the ground for water to be the next big thing in sustainability with the potential to transform the CSR agenda:

· The end of age of abundance: we understand our resources are finite

· Global citizenship: we have an increasingly sophisticated understanding of the global domino effect’ of our behaviour

· The rise of the ‘citizen consumer’: we are more willing to engage ‘for’ or ‘against’ issues, the recent BP backlash being a case in point

Long said, ‘the reality is, once business gets that we are all in the business of helping consumers live more sustainable lives, then brands, products and services will be increasingly targeted at meeting those needs – that will contribute to building a more sustainable future for society and more sustainable marketplaces for business’. Long demonstrated how companies like Pepsico, whom she suggests are leading the way in water issues, or Unilever, are taking their stewardship roles seriously. Companies like Anglian Water, or global brand giants like Uniliever understand that sustainable business and effecting consumer change has a demonstrable impact on the bottom line.

John Giles, chair of the CIM Food Drink and Agriculture Group, said: “As more and more businesses are shifting from viewing CSR as a ‘nice to have’ to increasingly integrating it into their core strategy, there is a real opportunity for the issue of water usage to be seen as a major part of their overall environmental platform. The food, drink and agriculture industry is leading the way in terms of big brands addressing the the issue – further evidence that stewardship in this area makes as much financial sense as environmental.”

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