Thursday, 04 June 2015 10:43

Nearly half UK's imports from countries with high water risk, business told

Environmental campaign group WWF UK are urging UK businesses to face up to their responsibility in the global water crisis, because nearly half of UK imports are from countries with a high risk of water scarcity.

WATER imports riskExperts from the organisation made this point at the launch of WWF-UK’s report ‘From Risk to Resilience: Does your business know its water risk?’.

UK industry is being urged to assess supply chains both within the UK and internationally to discover where they might be at risk of water scarcity, poor water quality or reputational damage associated with their use of water. They can also play a prominent role in addressing the challenges and improving management of the rivers, lakes and aquifers upon which their businesses, and other water users, depend.

Industries affected are numerous and varied, from textiles to beverages, food to pharmaceuticals.  About 40 per cent of UK imports, by value, come from countries that have hot spots of high water risk, with some industries such as textiles more exposed than others. In fact, 80 per cent of all UK imports, by value, face at least a moderate level of water risk.

Water is used in the supply chains of many everyday products, and two thirds of the UK’s virtual water consumption is from other nations. The most significant countries for the UK in terms of import value with hot spots of high water risk are China, the USA and Spain.

water import risk reportTaking the UK’s import of clothing as an example, WWF-UK found that 60 per cent of the UK’s imports, worth £9.7 billion, come from areas with high risks.

Closer to home, latest Environment Agency figures show that just 17 per cent of England’s rivers are in good ecological health – with a third of the pressures causing failure attributed to agricultural impacts, closely associated with the production of food and drink.

Lucy Lee, WWF-UK’s Water Stewardship manager said: “Businesses must wake up to their exposure to water related risks, and also realise the potential benefits of assessing and responding to them. UK plc has an important role to play in safeguarding the rivers, lakes and aquifers which are under such serious threat and which provide water for people, nature and business.”

Managing water is now recognised as one of the key challenges of the 21st century, with the World Economic Forum 2015 Global Risk Report ranking water crises as the top risk to the global economy, rising from third position in 2014.

One of the case studies of good practise on water stewardship cited in the report is SABMiller. David Grant, SABMiller’s Water Risk and Partnerships Manager said: “Once we understood our risks in detail, we moved to engage with others across a number of river basins where we operate. We were able to make a much stronger business case for action within SABMiller using detailed local assessments, and quantifying the risk exposure to our facilities.

“I imagine that many other businesses would find the same once they have the right information in front of them. I’d encourage businesses to understand the risks, and then move to minimize them, and their impact on the freshwater environment.”

The WWF report outlines steps that businesses can take to address their water risks and sets out 10 ‘golden rules’ they should follow. These include using WWF’s Water Risk Filter to map supply chains against exposure to water risk. Businesses can also work with catchment neighbours, NGOs, and those in their supply chain to reduce risk. They could also use their influence to advocate for improved management of rivers, lakes and aquifers, and shouldn’t be afraid to create innovative solutions, the report states.

Report: From Risk to Resilience: Does your business know its water risk?