Reflecting on the Importance of Responsible Water Use
Posted on March 22, 2016
A guest blog post by Meghan White, Senior Implementation Consultant at VelocityEHS.
On World Water Day – today – I reflect on a topic that initially peaked my interest years ago, ISO Standard 14046: 2014 “Environmental Management – Water Footprint – Principles, Requirements and Guidelines.”
Almost two years post publication, how relevant is the standard (if at all)? My answer is that it seems ISO Standard 14046 is more relevant now than ever as companies try to stay ahead of water scarcity and quality issues. Water use management has been a hot topic for several years; however, it seems there is an increased awareness of the growing need to take action regarding water conservation. The movement toward more efficient water use and finding ways to ensure access to potable and reliable water sources is gaining some serious traction.
I’ve noticed a spike in articles and blog posts being published that relate to water use management. For example, just in the past couple of weeks there has been increase commentary on managing corporate water risk and how to turn those risks into opportunities. Perhaps this line of thinking is a result of the recent revisions to ISO 14001 and ISO 9001 that solidify the concept of risk-based thinking in environmental and quality management systems.
One of the driving factors for comprehensively considering corporate water risk is the concept of supply chain management. Companies are not only looking for more efficient ways to manage water internally with water efficient technologies, but are also encouraging and often requiring suppliers to show that they are also using water responsibly.
One growing trend is the use of treated wastewater or recycled water in our everyday lives and in industrial operations. A recent article in Environmental Leader presented survey results demonstrating 76% of California residents believe recycled water should be used as a long-term solution for managing water resources. Such a strong public buy-in makes sense in California because it is central to the water scarcity discussion; however the search for long term solutions is certainly becoming more widespread.
Issues such as these make the ISO standard 14046 water footprint assessment an extremely useful tool. Water footprinting is an environmental accounting technique similar to carbon footprinting, but it is used to measure the amount of water consumed to make a product, provide a service or complete an activity. The idea is to allow a company to understand how water use management can be improved by determining the volume of water used and quantifying scarcity and pollution in addition to other related impacts.
The water footprint ISO standard establishes requirements and guidelines on how to conduct water footprint assessments. The idea is to use a life cycle assessment approach to water use. The assessment determines the magnitude of potential environmental impacts related to water where air and soil emissions impacting water quality are key. It is ultimately intended to facilitate water efficiency and optimize water management at product, process and organizational levels.
Reporting on the results of the assessment falls within the scope of the standard; however, communication of the results in the form of labels or declarations is not included. In light of a growing trend towards transparency to stakeholders and corporate social responsibility, I anticipate there will be an amendment providing details on how the results are more widely distributed to interested parties. It will be interesting to see if there is additional discussion on and adoption of ISO 14046 as a useful tool to help companies improve water use management.
With all these recent water use management developments on the minds of so many EHS professionals, what are your primary concerns? Do you track water consumption as a metric? Have you or would you consider conducting a water footprint assessment for a product or process? Do you agree with the notion that suppliers should be required to do water footprinting?
Regardless of your organization’s industry or maturity, you may want to consider conducting water footprint assessments. Finding ways to reduce water consumption and use water more efficiently will not only promote water conservation, but also help cut your operational costs.