Walking beneath the iconic columns of the New York Stock Exchange in Lower Manhattan, one only has to glance up Wall Street to spot the spire of Trinity Church. Despite being within one block of each other, these two spheres of influence can seem miles apart. Yet on this year’s World Water Day, these divergent institutions were aligned on the importance of tackling one of our society’s greatest challenges – the water crisis.
A renewed sense of urgency for better understanding water risks and doubling down on solutions flowed amongst both the NYSE crowd and the pews of Trinity Church. If water consumption continues without reform or regulation, the stark reality is that by 2030, forty percent of global demand for water will not be met. Closing the gap requires the awareness and innovation of investors, companies and communities.
Speaking on different panels at these institutions, what struck me was just how interconnected the opportunities are for solving water challenges. What investors and companies choose to implement ripples throughout society – from business bottom lines and investment portfolios, to communities affected first-hand on the ground.
NYSE forum panelist Emilio Tenuta, Vice President of Corporate Sustainability at Ecolab said “We know that water is an increasingly real risk to communities and a material risk to businesses. Therefore, businesses need to play a critical role in transforming the way we work to help solve this global challenge.”
Momentum is indeed building among companies and investors for applying innovative solutions to curb this thirst. At the NYSE forum, Ecolab, along with partners Trucost and Microsoft, launched the Water Risk Monetizer. This newly refreshed corporate tool provides site-specific data intelligence on water availability and quality designed to help companies conserve water and predict water expenses.
The Water Risk Monetizer is just one of the many tools – including WRI’s Aqueduct, Ceres’ Aqua Gauge and WWF’s Water Risk Filter – that both businesses and shareholders can use to map their water related risks, set appropriate goals and put water stewardship actions into place.
And investors are increasingly taking notice at which companies are addressing freshwater risks and making smart water management a business imperative.
As Reid Steadman, Managing Director of Equity Indices at S&P Dow Jones who also spoke at the NYSE forum put it, “Every company needs to have a water strategy. We would find it odd if major companies aren’t engaged in these types of activities. I would expect in five years’ time you will see billions of dollars tracked to strategies that somehow take water into account.”
The thirst for solutions, evident at Ecolab’s World Water Day panel, is echoing across mainstream investors. ACTIAM just announced a goal to achieve a water-neutral investment portfolio by 2030, and here at Ceres, membership in our Investor Network water-focused working group is climbing. Nearly ninety global funds have joined this working group to combat this modern crisis – with members ranging from the largest pension funds, to large asset managers, to foundations and savoy faith-based institutions.
It’s heartening that investors and companies are stepping up to address water risks because the impact of water, whether through pollution or scarcity, can be felt tenfold on the ground, according to the speakers at Trinity Institute’s Water Justice conference.
Powerful stories were heard from community members in Flint, Michigan and Standing Rock, North Dakota – two cities right here in The States who are grappling with water pollution and contamination issues. And Winston Halapua, Archbishop and Primate of the Diocese of Polynesia and Aotearoa New Zealand, took us across the globe to Fiji, where the effects of climate change have left locals facing sea level rise flooding vital farmlands, impacting local livelihoods and erasing their sense of “home.”
Maude Barlow, a former United Nations senior advisor on water, reaffirmed the urgency for a shared search for solutions, “What we do right now matters. We need a new water ethic that puts water protection and justice at the heart of policy and practice. Every policy we create must ask, ‘What is the impact on water?’”
Each story underlined the human right to water and the urgent need for action through the convergence of locals and higher institutions. The tools and opportunities presented at Ecolab could prove to have direct, positive effects on the communities currently facing strife and prevent further disruption.
So what’s next? One offer is Ceres Investor Network members can begin to navigate the tides by joining the Investor Water Hub working group - where investors meet monthly to share best practices and other innovations for elevating water issues in their decision-making. Collectively, the working group will be launching an Investor Water Toolkit this fall, an online portal filled with resources, best practices and ideas to help investors make sound water analysis part of their portfolios.
What we choose to do – or not do – trickles down and has an impact everywhere. But last week in Lower Manhattan, the NYSE’s Closing Bell and the tolling of Trinity Church’s bells resounded in harmony, like flowing waters.