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Circular economy mindset can help secure water positive future to benefit people, planet

• BSI and Waterwise insight highlights tackling water scarcity to be as much a priority as climate change.
• Without action, by 2050, 75% of the world’s population could be facing drought.
• South Africa is approaching physical water scarcity in 2025, where it is expected to reach a water deficit of 17% by 2030.

Johannesburg, 07 Sep 2023
SA is expected to reach a water deficit of 17% by 2030.
SA is expected to reach a water deficit of 17% by 2030.

Levels of water scarcity are soaring, including in South Africa, which faces multiple water crises as annual water use has risen by around 3 500 billion m3 globally over the last century. Action to increase water circularity through global collaboration and innovation could help tackle this. Doing so will bring wider benefits – including reducing drought risk, supporting climate goals and advancing social development to meet the UN Sustainable Development Goals – according to new research by BSI and Waterwise.

'Thirst for change: securing a water positive future' notes that water provision and use contribute around 10% of global carbon emissions, while drought could affect as many as 75% of the world’s population by 2050, meaning that inaction now could be as detrimental to the planet as not tackling the climate crisis.

The report sets out the key steps that could have a positive impact to help society meet this challenge, including recognising that tackling water scarcity could be a sustainability opportunity as large as reducing climate change, making it easier for consumers to choose water-saving products and embedding a circular economy mindset.

The study by BSI, the business improvement and standards company, in partnership with Waterwise, a leading voice on the efficient use of water, includes an indicator evaluating water scarcity in 40 locations. While water is abundant on earth, just 0.5% is available as fresh water,(i) and the report finds that a combination of population growth, climate change and economic development is driving demand and putting growing, unsustainable pressure on this supply.

Yet in a positive sign, the findings come amid recognition of the importance of water management. According to polling commissioned by BSI, two-thirds of consumers and 80% of small business leaders identified clean water and sanitation as ‘part of sustainability’,(ii) while half of the former and 44% of the latter placed it in the top five issues to focus global resource and effort on.

Jonathan Chocqueel-Mangan, Chief Strategy & Transformation Officer at BSI, said: "Water is one of the earth’s most fundamental and precious resources. We have launched this partnership to understand more about how we can collaborate to uncover opportunities to improve water availability by providing solutions that will benefit people and planet.

“At BSI, we understand that ensuring a water-secure future could be as big an opportunity as reducing carbon emissions. As an organisation focused on driving business improvement, we hope we can have a significant positive impact on society and organisations alike by advancing this debate.”

The research identifies that using water wisely can bring important benefits, including enabling equitable global access, protecting precious habitats and making us more resilient to climate change and drought. It makes a series of recommendations, including:

  1. Recognise water wastage as a serious challenge – acknowledge the issue and act, with utility companies leading the way to reduce network leakage.
  2. Ensure it is easy to choose water-saving products and make sustainable choices – for example, learning from countries including Australia and Singapore, which apply mandatory product water efficiency labelling systems, aligned with the relevant standard.
  3. Embrace innovation and make better use of data – smart meters have the potential to be a game-changer when it comes to saving water.
  4. Encourage a water-saving culture – prioritise protecting our planet through water management, whether that is at home or in the workplace, and across different sectors.
  5. Close the loop – make water recycling and re-use the norm where possible, using techniques such as water recycling and water re-use in new buildings, or rainwater harvesting.
  6. Partner for impact – collaborative effort across a wide range of players, from government and regulators to the water industry and, ultimately, all of us as water users can help us address the growing challenges around water availability.

Collaboration and a move towards a water-saving culture can accelerate progress. The report sets out affordable and accessible actions by individuals, organisations and society to address water scarcity, including the increased use of smart meters and installing alternative water supply systems (rainwater harvesting, greywater recycling) or sustainable urban drainage solutions (SuDS) into new buildings.

Theuns Kotze, Managing Director, Assurance IMETA at BSI, said: “Water is one of our most fundamental, precious and undervalued resources – it is the blue thread that connects our world – and using it wisely can bring important benefits, helping us to maintain good health and a biodiverse natural environment, ensure we have sufficient food supplies and contributing to economic growth. But it is becoming increasingly clear that it is not sustainable for demand for water to continue to rise without action to ensure we are using it wisely and managing it efficiently.

“Due to the water crisis, South Africa is already highly alert to the impact of water scarcity and the importance of conserving water, but now is the moment to come together as a global population and give this the same attention we give other environmental issues. If we partner, we can turn ambition into action and accelerate progress towards a sustainable water future.”

Nicci Russell, Chief Executive, Waterwise said: “Water is fundamental to life. Yet we face huge challenges across the globe in ensuring water is available for people, organisations and the environment. The United Nations report that a quarter of the world's population already live in countries under water stress. It is increasingly clear that we can't go on as we have been. It is just not sustainable.

“A key part of the solution is making sure that we use the water that we do have wisely in our homes and workplaces, avoiding water wastage. By doing this we can help ensure that we adapt to the impacts of the climate emergency and climate change; reach net zero emissions; secure water supplies for people and businesses; and enhance, protect and improve the environment.”

BSI provides support across several areas of water management, including water safety plans, which is a critical foundation for effective risk management and control for all types of biological, chemical, physical and radiological hazards.

Download a copy of the report here.

(i) While water is abundant on earth, only between 1%-3% is freshwater, of which approximately 0.5% is considered accessible (Water security is a national security issue: What's needed now, World Economic Forum, February 2023)

(ii) Research conducted for BSI in 2023 by Malvern Insight & Yonder in May 2023. Consumers: Data based on 1 020 interviews (514 UK, 506 USA) with nationally representative sample. SMEs: Data based on 223 interviews (120 UK, 103 USA) with decision-makers within SMEs (up to249 employees).

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About the research

BSI commissioned Waterwise to collate credible, referenced, and traceable data related to water availability, water use and water efficiency/wastage data from several target countries. The report covers the UK, USA, Japan, China, Australia, France, and Germany, noting that these are net water consumer countries, while also looking at the role of specific sectors, including retail, health sectors and the built sectors. Where possible the information gathered is comparable between countries.

The research was developed by Waterwise’s expert team, and involved consultation with the NGO’s international partner networks, including the American Water Association, the International Water Association and The Water Conservancy in Australia.

The BSI Water Security Indicator, a tool created in partnership with Waterwise, which sits within the report, assesses 40 countries on seven markers. It rates seven countries to be facing the highest possible risk, and even countries like France, Germany, the UK, and Australia to be facing medium risk. With the urban population expected to increase to 6.7 billion by 2050, the report highlights that using water wisely is critical to support economic development and social needs and meet the UN Sustainable Development Goals.

BSI

BSI is the business improvement and standards company that enables organizations to turn standards of best practice into habits of excellence, ‘inspiring trust for a more resilient world’. For over a century BSI has driven best practice in organizations around the world. Working with over 77,500 clients across 195 countries, it is a truly global business with skills and experience across all sectors including automotive, aerospace, built environment, food and retail and healthcare. Through its expertise in Standards and Knowledge, Assurance Services, Regulatory Services and Consulting Services, BSI helps clients to improve their performance, grow sustainably, manage risk and ultimately become more resilient.

The partnership with Waterwise sits alongside work underway internally at BSI to gather information about the organization’s water impact in terms of consumption and ownership, and to identify what is done currently to preserve water. These data will then be used to set a company-wide strategy for water preservation at BSI.

Waterwise

Waterwise is the leading independent voice in the UK for using water wisely, for the benefit of people and the planet. Our vision is that water is used wisely every day, everywhere, by everyone. We are the UK’s conscience on water efficiency, on behalf of people and the planet, and are experts in water efficiency policy, regulation, research, behaviour, and campaigns. Waterwise is a people-led organisation which prioritises the wellbeing of its staff.