Water and Business in Canada Part I: Building A Case For Deeper Commitment
By: Meirav Even-Har, Toronto
In anticipation of March 22nd - International World Water Day - and in Canada March 19th to 25th - Canadian Water Week I will be writing one blog a week on Canadian water issues as they affect and are being affected by business.
Global water issues have been on the rise - terms like "blue gold" have been made popular in both the public sphere and in CSR discourse. In Canada, however, the prevalence of a myth of water abundance is still keeping many companies in the dark about how to sustainably manage their use of the resource. Whether its water in Canada or abroad, understanding a product's water footprint is essential to manage multiple risks. Water shortages and competing user rights are not exclusive to places such as the Middle East or Africa; they are found right here in Canada.
Water CAN discriminate - it's all about location
It may be unfair, but water is not always available in quantities to support growing population intensity. In Canada, the best example can be found in the Prairies - specifically the Southern Alberta region. As the Province's population grow so does the need for water to support people and business, which, unfortunately taxes local resources. In 2006, a moratorium - which is still in effect - on new water licences, was put into place for the Bow River, Oldman River and South Saskatchewan River Basin (SSRB) sub-basin. New developments like CrossIron Mills shopping centre in Balzac (north of Calgary) faced extensive delays in search for a new water permit.
For businesses and cities, stressed water resources can mean limited potential for growth.
It's not just quantity - quality really does count
Ontario faces its own issues. The largest province in Canada, Ontario is blessed to be home to four of the five Great Lakes. The Lakes contain nearly 20% of the world's freshwaters and is an essential part of the local economies in both Canada and the US. Yet having available freshwater is only part of the equation; its how much drinkable, swimmable, fishable waters that is the true account of our collective assets.
Unfortunately, the Great Lakes are in serious trouble and aside from low water levels experienced in Georgian Bay/Lake Huron, water quality is a major issue. Pharmaceuticals, raw sewage and industrial chemicals can all be found in the Lakes, which in turn affect the overall sustainability of the ecosystem.
With limited funds from regional and federal governments on both sides of the border, there is inadequate enforcement of industrial pollution. A 2007 report by The Brookings Institute estimated that "Restoring the lakes will lead to direct economic benefits of $6.5-11.8 billion dollars from tourism, fishing, and recreation alone." Investing in the health of our water resources can be beneficial to businesses, individuals and society as a whole.
Risks and Opportunities
The Water Footprinting Network provides a concise list of water risk for business:
- Physical risk
- Reputational risk
- Regulatory risk
- Financial risk
Understanding the risks is important to help unfold opportunities. Business can both demonstrate leadership as well as become more competitive; and some Canadian companies are integrating water management at home and abroad, into their strategy and operations.
In parts II the blog will explore corporate use of Water Footprinting and the Global Water Tool to address risks and opportunities.
 The Calgary Herald, published December 1, 2007: http://bit.ly/xKqaG6
 "Healthy Waters, Strong Economy: The Benefits of Restoring the Great Lakes Ecosystem" by The Brookings Institute, September 2007: http://bit.ly/AuMDPB
Image: Lake Minnewanka, Banff National Park (Photo by Meirav Even-Har)