The most complex component of corporate water accounting is the assessment of the actual impacts to watersheds, ecosystems, and communities caused by corporate water use and wastewater discharge. In this context, “impacts” refer to the extent to which the volume of water used/discharged by a company in a specific watershed actually affects the availability of that water for other uses or threatens human health or ecosystems.
Identifying and measuring water-related impacts (both quantitatively and qualitatively) is critical to enabling companies to make effective management decisions. Impact assessments allow companies to more accurately compare the sustainability of water use in different watersheds, across different products, or in different components of the value chain or product life cycle. They are also crucial to understanding which facilities or products pose the greatest threat to nearby communities and ecosystems, and consequently present the most concerning business risks that must be managed.
Some of the key questions companies ask in order to manage their water impacts include:
- Which of my facilities or products pose the greatest social and environmental impacts?
- Which components of my value chain or product life cycle result in the greatest impacts?
- How do my operations in a specific watershed affect ecosystem functions and/or in-stream flows?
- How do my operations in a specific watershed affect the ability of communities to access or afford adequate water services?
- How do my operations in a specific watershed affect human health?
- How might these various impacts expose us to business risks?
The following tools may be particularly helpful for companies wishing to understand and manage water-related impacts: