Operational Water Consumption

Key takeaways

  1. When surface water is unavailable, groundwater is used. Sustained pumping of the latter can lead to depletion and water quality concerns.

  2. In your analysis, it is important to assess what bodies of water companies are extracting their water from, and where (if they are in very high or high water-stressed regions).

  3. Make sure to include the amount of water recycled or reused, if any, to find out the true consumption.

  4. Report the total water extracted and consumed by the company. Reducing or mitigating water use year-on-year is positive, but only relevant given the context: how much does the company still use despite reductions, recycling and reuse rates?

What is it?

Water is a valuable resource for both humans and ecological systems.

Groundwater is extracted where surface water, including streams, reservoirs, lakes, and other water bodies are scarce or inaccessible. Indeed, groundwater can help meet hydrological needs; for example, in the US, groundwater meets half of the country’s total population water drinking needs, but at a cost. On the long-term, its levels have been declining from continuous pumping, resulting in depletion.

Lowering of the water table is not the sole impact. Sustained groundwater extraction also leads to decreased water quality, as causing contamination by salt water.

Water stress can be defined as “the ratio of freshwater withdrawn to total renewable freshwater resources”. In 2017, Central and Southern Asia and Northern Africa suffered from very high water stress of over 70%. In the same year, Western and Eastern Asia registered high water stress of 54% and 46%.

As of 2018, freshwater bodies covered 2.1% of land, but they are unevenly distributed worldwide. The distribution ranges from 3.5% in developed nations, 1.4% in developing countries, 1.2% in the least developed nations, and 1% in small island developing states. These percentages are expected to decrease as climate change continues, further exacerbating water scarcity and affecting ecosystems and livelihoods.

Found more information about this issue on the United States Geological Survey website and the Groundwater Foundation website.



SDG choice

SDg 6

Impact assessment

In your analysis, you must look at the company’s overall water consumption. Most companies now report this information in their CSR/Sustainability annual report or public CDP Report. Make sure to report the most recent year. Yearly water consumption should be expressed in cubic meters (m3).

You should also mention where the water is coming from (water-stressed areas) and the type of water sources the company is withdrawing its water from (surface water? groundwater?), as this may alter the scale of the impact.

  • What % of the company's consumption came from water-stressed areas? 
  • How many facilities does the company have operating in water-stressed regions & what is their total number of facilities?

If the company does not explicitly state where the water is withdrawn, you can go beyond company reports and assess the impact of water stress by assessing the following:

  • Where are the companies' facilities, towers, or offices located? 
  • Are these regions or cities that suffer from medium-to-high or even extremely high water-stressed areas?
  • Are you able to make deductions of the percentage of water withdrawn that comes from water-stressed areas?  

This Water Risk Indicator is a helpful source to find out this information. You can search by baseline water stress, drought risk, and riverine flood risk for greater granularity.

Make sure to include the percentage of water consumed that is recycled.

You may mention the water efficiency/reduction initiative the company has put in place. However, this should be secondary to the company’s current impact (i.e. total water consumed, where in the world and the percentage of recycled water). Your analysis should not be based on the company’s remediation efforts. To fully understand how to move away from remediation, you should read the dedicated article: Golden Rule 5: Go beyond remediation.

You can compare the company's water use with the annual water consumption of locals. Read our article on how to use comparisons to learn more. 

In your analysis, make sure you add value to your readers and go beyond the company’s CSR report by not merely reporting data from the company’s report, but going the extra mile of providing additional data, studies, and sources to make your analysis robust and the impact value and scale are clear.

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