Posts tagged ‘water strategy’
Today we are kicking off a new series on the Green Tie, featuring the ‘Emerging Leaders’ within our membership. Dania Nasser is a student member of NAEM, pursuing a master’s degree in Environmental Management at Yale University.
In the wake of New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo’s decision to consider lifting the ban on hydrofracking, it seems like the term and the debate have gone mainstream.
As you probably know, hydrofracking (hydraulic fracturing) is a method by which natural gas stored in layers of rock is extracted through the use of chemicals, water and pressure to break through the rock and recover natural gas.
While several states allow the practice, it has become a lightning rod issue for many communities. There is serious concern that disturbing the layers of rock and sediment to recover natural gas can result in drinking water contamination. Currently, the Environmental Protection Agency is studying the general impacts of hydrofracking and looking to release a Federal report and possible guidelines in 2012.
Few things worth doing, however, pose zero risk. Risk should be monitored and tracked closely, but not automatically used as criteria for eliminating viable options.
I was recently discussing the issue of risk surrounding hydrofracking with a neurosurgeon friend, and it occurred to me the extent to which the practice might be compared with brain surgery. Take for example, a brain surgeon undertaking a patient suffering from an aneurysm. The source of the aneurysm is not always clear, and sometimes exploration for the source of the bleeding can cause more harm than good—but this is a major risk that doctors take. Doctors are able to take this risk because of all the risk mitigation that doctors take, such as years of practice and study, the latest equipment and time-tested procedures.
Hydrofracking poses a similar set of risks and obstacles. Just as with surgery, the risks must continue to be vetted and addressed. The same process is necessary to ensure proper practices and procedures set in place for hydrofracking.
If hydrofracking is increasingly seen as a viable option for recovering additional domestic energy, the concerns that have caused the controversy surrounding hydrofracking must be addressed. Areas that must be further addressed to ease anxiety surrounding hydrofracking include readying infrastructure and monitoring technologies, developing best practices, as well as working to carefully plan and manage the impacts of hydrofracking.
How do you weigh the risks of practices such as hydrofracking? How do you address the concerns internally as well as externally?
Dania Nasser is a student member of NAEM, completing a master’s degree in Environmental Management at Yale University. She is currently Director of Environmental Affairs at a New York law firm specializing in environmental and construction law. She is a member of NAEM’s Emerging Leaders group and the Board of the Manhattan Chamber of Commerce Green Finance Committee.
The good news for companies in the early process of embracing a corporate water strategy is that heightened awareness of the issue has resulted in greater availability of data, tools, and best practices.
Although much of the most innovative work continues to be guarded due to competitive advantage, there are many leading companies and/or sector examples to learn from. From my experience, I would point to the beverage industry and most notably the Beverage Industry Environmental Roundtable as a prime example.
Having accepted water as a core business issue, how do companies develop a corporate water strategy given the fact that comprehensive, standardized methodologies may be years away? Successful companies have followed a common process:
Step 1: Know your water sources, use, consumption and discharge for all operations. Benchmark operations, set targets and drive efficiency. “Walking-the-walk” is a prerequisite for a successful corporate water strategy.
Step 2: Establish a cross-functional water team to define a viable three-to-five-year water stewardship vision that is measurable and aligned with overall business goals.
Step 3: Complete a baseline water risk assessment to understand and compare local watershed conditions beyond the four walls of each facility. Examine risks and opportunities including physical, regulatory and reputational.
Step 4: Develop, implement and maintain local water management plans (e.g., location or site specific) based upon Step 3 results. Incorporate performance monitoring systems and issue escalation processes.
Step 5: Engage with supply chain partners to understand your company’s broader water footprint, impact and opportunities.
Step 6: Strategically engage with external stakeholders through partnerships, reporting and other related efforts.
A word of caution: Water issues are highly localized and dynamic. Successful companies have addressed the following types of questions to apply their resources to greatest advantage:
- Are your facilities among the largest water users in a given community? How does your efficiency compare to peers and other local industries?
- Can water issues limit growth aspirations?
- Could individual sites face water restrictions in the next 5, 10, or 15 years? If so, are there viable back-up supply and/or treatment options?
- Can you meet current and future regulatory limits? What level of investment may be required and when?
- How intense is media or political attention to water in communities where you operate?
- Can you justify water-related business expenditures and strategically allocate resources?
Water risks are a reality for every business. What are some of the questions you think companies should ask in developing their water management strategy?
Nick Martin is an Associate with Antea Group. He will discuss ideas for developing a water strategy during NAEM’s webinar on “Water Risk Management” on June 21.
The message from stakeholders and investors is clear: Companies are expected to govern and begin disclosing water-related business risks. Historically, most companies have been able to simply acknowledge water as one of many important business issues. Much has changed in the past few years, with water positioned as a competitive issue and expectations trending towards quantification of water-related financial liability.
However, growing disclosure pressure isn’t the same as providing pragmatic “how to” for characterizing and quantifying water-related business risks. Moreover, characterizing the risk is only the beginning. The real challenge for companies is how to strategically prioritize risks and opportunities, build necessary competencies, and drive local water management plans. Why is water such a challenging, and potentially paralyzing, business issue you ask? Consider these factors:
- Nearly every activity, product, or business transaction uses water in some form – yet, there is no substitute;
- Water is both a local and temporal issue with potentially widely varying conditions (e.g., floods and droughts can occur in nearly the same location);
- Water, in general, is difficult to bound, measure, transport, and define access rights;
- It’s challenging to justify water-related strategic or capital investments based upon traditional ROI calculations;
- Cross-functional participation and solutions are required, including engagement up/down a company’s supply (value) chain; and,
- It is widely considered a human right, placing it in the sweet spot for media, political, and stakeholder attention.
What does this mean for companies that have yet to fully embrace water as a core business issue? There are two basic options:
- Start or accelerate a water strategy soon and possibly stay “ahead of the curve” thus determining your own pace of implementation; or
- Do the Basics – hedge your bets that water will not directly impact your company and expectations will stagnate. Given that water appears to be a resilient issue, companies that hedge could face monumental leaps to catch up to peers and meet stakeholder expectations in the near future, especially given the complexity and location-specific aspects. The cost of inaction could be significantly higher than self-paced implementation.
So, the first question many companies ask is how fast do they need to move? Well, the direct impact of water issues on any given company depends upon a range of variables including sector, size, brand recognition, and public image. First, let’s look at what we are seeing:
- Publications – recently published materials appear to be trending towards standardized buckets of water risk: Physical; Regulatory; Reputation; Investment. This has translated the business risks into simplified, real world concepts for a wide-range of stakeholders and investors to more easily comprehend and formulate inquires.
- Surveys – increasing number of non-governmental and supply chain surveys, including the second annual CDP Water Disclosure Project questionnaire, have significantly increased transparency of existing corporate strategies and knowledge gaps.
- Corporate Reporting – more companies are reporting water metrics, as well as water footprints, product life cycle assessments, and intensity indicators.
- Initiatives – water-focused NGOs and collective action partnerships have increased exponentially in recent years ranging from advocacy to standard development.
Collectively, these actions have provided investors and stakeholders with confirmation that 1) water is in fact a real business and investment risk; 2) a majority of companies are not proactively addressing the issue; and 3) water can be effectively managed, quantified, and reported on as demonstrated by the small number of corporate leaders in this space.
Nick Martin is an Associate with Antea Group. He will present ideas for developing a water strategy during NAEM’s webinar on “Water Risk Management” on June 21.