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By Tejashree Joshi

Water is a paradoxical commodity: it seems free and plentiful, yet its supply is under tremendous strain. The planet is thirsty. Globally, we have in the recent past seen many local conflicts happening over access to dwindling supplies. The use of potable water has more than doubled over the past 50 years and many fear that we are already close to a frightening breaking point – a world where chronic water shortages for farmers, businesses, and people will be the norm. Access to clean water has emerged as one of the most critical issues affecting economic activity, development, and businesses around the world. The World Economic Forum’s Global Risks Report 2020 has categorized the water crisis as a societal risk, placing it as one of the top ten risks in terms of likelihood. Frequent droughts and floods are leading to yearly mass migration, uprooting communities from their native lands. Increasing regulatory pressures, climate change, aging and failing infrastructure, growing focus on social responsibility, and concern for the environment are forcing organizations to reassess the impact of water management for ensuring their economic well-being. This is not just for a drop to drink, but for having the know-how to manage it smarter in the first place.

Every time we interact with water, we change it, redirect it, or otherwise alter its state. As a result, the nature of the water we receive is continually changing. The composition of water around us is fluctuating and these risky changes are forcing us to ask some difficult questions about how we live and conduct business.

Irrigation by far is the largest user of India’s water reserve with 78-82% use, followed by industries and the domestic sector. Also, according to Water Use in Indian Industry Survey by FICCI Water Mission, Surface water is the major source of water for the industries (41%) followed by groundwater (35%) and municipal water (24%).

Though the water consumption patterns differ from sector to sector, the fact remains that businesses and industries cannot survive without adequate water supply. But with communities themselves receiving lesser and lesser water, industries or corporates are much lower on the authorities’ priority lists in resource distribution. Despite the lower percentage of water used for industrial purposes, it can still make a huge positive impact because any additional savings could be channelized to water-starved agricultural and domestic segments.

Recognizing these concerns, companies are undertaking focused programs to realign their water use with core business and humanitarian interests. But while objectives like “water footprinting” – tracking the use of water throughout the supply chain -and being “water neutral or positive” are ambitiously adopted, what is really being done to achieve them?

Corporates have the inherent advantage of appropriate in-house expertise, resources, and structured planning that are normally lacking in most citizen-level community initiatives. If corporates initiate water conservation and replenishment techniques – it not only aids in reducing the strain on water sources but also benefits nearby communities. Godrej & Boyce first achieved water positivity in 2016 and by 2020 had successfully offset more than its cumulative water footprint for the past decade. Water use efficiency has also been doubled over the decade through a 50% reduction in specific water use. A recent example of water positivity in a high footfall area is demonstrated by Kempegowda International Airport, Bengaluru – where thousands of liters of water have been conserved – reducing dependence on supply from the municipal corporation.

Noteworthy are various initiatives, both mandatory and optional, on water conservation and rainwater harvesting within the fence, which many corporations have taken up. Water recycling can be extremely beneficial across industry sectors as a large part of their water footprint is needed for non-potable uses which require lower water quality vis-à-vis potable water. Any disruption in the water supply can disastrously affect business continuity, therefore, lowering external dependency is always a smart business decision. Offsetting freshwater use by recycled water reduces the withdrawal of water from natural sources. It also ensures their sustainability as untreated water does not flow into water bodies or on land, thereby preventing source contamination. Effluent Treatment Plants (ETP) augmented with advanced molecular sieve filtration systems like Reverse Osmosis (RO) have enabled Godrej & Boyceto to enhance the recovery of wastewater for reuse at times to over 90%.

Many corporates are now going further than the traditional mandate of ensuring adequate water supply for themselves, by embarking on conservation and replenishment initiatives beyond their fence. A community needs assessment study invariably throws out ‘water scarcity as one of the essential intervention areas. Corporates through their CSR programs are working on water sustainability through community action; water conservation, rainwater harvesting, and rural communities’ awareness. They also undertake work on reviving traditional water sources like ponds and lakes. In addition, some are actively undertaking initiatives such as the recharging of groundwater levels through integrated watershed management initiatives. Companies’ CSR teams along with CBOs/ NGOs work on institutionalizing these initiatives within the community through SHGs and local water committees to monitor and maintain village-based water conservation structures.

The need of the hour is to recognize the water problems as pressing and urgent, instead of a potential threat in the future, and to act upon that recognition. Unless solutions are found at the micro and macro levels simultaneously, in a populous country the size of India, it is unlikely that this serious and looming threat will be resolved. We at Godrej & Boyce have turned this threat into an opportunity for discovering and implementing innovative ideas for the management of this most critical resource in the most efficient way. With our in-house experience and expertise, as we have embarked on this journey of water efficiency, we think, we are positioned to offer the benefit of this knowledge aided by our technical expertise to all future developments.

Finally, it would be apt to conclude with a beautiful message from Ban Ki-Moon, former Secretary-General, United Nations, in his speech at The World Economic Forum in 2008, “As the global economy grows, so will its thirst. This is not an issue of rich or poor, north, or south. All regions are experiencing the problem of water stress. There is still enough water for all of us, but only so long as we keep it clean, use it more wisely and share it fairly.”

About the Author
Tejashree Joshi heads Environmental Sustainability at Godrej & Boyce Mfg. Co. Ltd. With 18 years of experience she has facilitated strategic target setting and achievement under Godrej Group’s Sustainability initiative of Good & Green Vision 2020, which includes Achieving ‘Zero waste to landfill’, ‘Carbon neutrality’, ‘Positive water balance’, ‘Reducing specific energy and water consumption and increasing ‘Renewable energy portfolio’.

Tejashree leads programs like Environmental studies and planning for new establishments and projects, design and development of environmental management systems, and is also responsible for Managing Environmental legal compliance performance across all businesses of Godrej & Boyce Mfg. Co Ltd and ensuring Extended Producers Responsibility (EPR) conformance for E-waste and Plastic waste. She supports the facilitation of Green Buildings and Products certification, Life cycle assessment, and Sustainability reporting for Environmental indicators under the GRI Standards framework for the organization.

She is incharge of Godrej Wetlands management (Mangroves) and biodiversity enhancement. Under her leadership, Godrej has undertaken many first of its kinds Biodiversity initiatives like Estimation of Carbon Sequestration Capacity of Godrej Mangroves and Terrestrial Green cover, Development of Biodiversity Index for Godrej Vikhroli campus, ideating for creation and enhancement of biodiversity hotspots and theme gardens, Mangroves, and other terrestrial afforestation projects, Development of Mangroves App (first by any corporate in the world) and Mangroves Children’s storybook. She represents the company’s participation in the India Business and Biodiversity Initiative (IBBI) a flagship program by the Confederation of Indian Industries (CII) for mainstreaming Biodiversity consciousness in Indian Businesses.

Ms. Joshi holds a Bachelor of Engineering degree in Environmental stream and a Master’s diploma in Business Management.

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