Increasing global demand and the impacts of climate change are placing unprecedented strain on freshwater resources. In order to ensure a viable business future, companies are calling for collective management and collaboration at the watershed level to ensure continued access to water supplies among competing demands.

One of the leading business organizations in this area is the World Business Council for Sustainable Development, whose member companies convene to share their collective expertise and experience to develop and “road test” outputs. We spoke with Joppe Cramwinckel, director of the WBCSD’s water program, to learn more about how the membership is tackling corporate water risk.

Joppe Cramwinckel.

Why did the WBCSD begin a water program?

Post-Kyoto, we began to ask ourselves what was needed to make the business community aware that water issues are important ones for them to consider. We decided to develop water and business scenarios. These scenarios unfolded potential business risk and opportunities for the next 20 to 30 years.

It appears those scenarios were successful. Once you got their attention, what was the next step?

We started to develop the Global Water Tool, which allows companies to map the coordinates of their locations and see whether those locations are at risk of water scarcity in the near future. Once they learn about sites that are facing risk, we can start to determine what to do about that risk.

Things are changing more rapidly than we imagined in our original scenarios. About three years ago, we offered a session on water at our annual meeting. The room filled with representatives from 60 companies. It seems to me that because of our work and events globally, the penny had dropped in the business community.

Now we’re looking at how to accelerate the program. We put together a water leadership group of more progressive companies with an enhanced water program. We estimated that 10 companies would step up to join. Surprisingly, 26 companies showed interest from different industrial spaces, including oil and gas, and chemicals. They all thought it was necessary to shape a program about water. By doing so, they believed they could better manage their issues and risk.

You’re tackling the challenges through a collaborative approach. What are the benefits and limits to such an approach?

The challenge is to find activities that benefit all 26 companies and more. The benefit is that they all get something out of the exercise that they wouldn’t have gotten out of doing the work within their own organizations. If companies focus on one or two of the main drivers, actively engage in the process, and drive the outcomes, they’ll be on the receiving end of some of the other work, too.

Is there a focus on water in WBCSD’s Vision 2050?

In Vision 2050, there are nine pathways going toward a vision, but none are specifically water focused. What’s important to note, however, is water is an important proponent in achieving all of these goals. If you start digging into the document, you’ll unearth water-related drivers, but they’re not as prominent as the challenges merit.

The vision document was written four years ago, but recognition of water as a global risk has risen significantly since that time. If we’d written it today, Vision 2050 would have been more water-specific. That’s why, in our current efforts, we’re translating Vision 2050 to Action 2020. Can we better articulate what we have to do in the coming eight years in order to achieve the vision? Water has a much more prominent position driving the actions in order to achieve the long-term vision [of a sustainable planet and business community].

What impression do you have of the water situation in Canada?

Canada has abundant water resources. Businesses and others have designed the economy as if resources can be abundantly used. The conclusion is that this doesn’t always work. Take the oilsands, for example. The economy was based on abundant resources, but if it continues on the same track, the processes have to be redesigned. Do I still design in this way if water is priced higher or is not as readily available? You come to a conflict and have to address it.

Joppe Cramwinckel is the scheduled luncheon keynote speaker at the upcoming Canadian Water Summit on June 27 in Calgary. Learn more and register at


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