The expression “canary in a coal mine”, in which miners used nature (birds) to signal risks (air quality) is as relevant today as it was when the term was coined two centuries ago. Water is the lifeblood of our global economy, as virtually every business sector relies on water to irrigate, cool, clean or as an ingredient. But the “water canary” is telling us we’re in trouble.
WWF’s 2018 Living Planet Report released yesterday indicates that since 1970, freshwater species populations have declined by 83% — the most of any set of species. It is a warning sign that must not be ignored by businesses, and thankfully a brand new, upgraded version of the Water Risk Filter is here to help.
Launched in 2012, the Water Risk Filter was developed by WWF in collaboration with the German development finance institution DEG and provides companies and investors with a practical online tool to assess water-related risk in their operations, supply chain and investments.
We have learned a lot over the course of the past six years, not only through seeing how thousands of users employ the tool, but also through engagement with companies and in the field. Many companies that we work with, for example Edeka, Marks and Spencers, and Nestle, have used the Water Risk Filter at the corporate level, but have also taken advantage of the tool at the local level, as they’ve sought to implement the Alliance for Water Stewardship (AWS) standard in their supply chains and operations.
Driven by the increasing shared challenges facing our freshwater systems and a growing number of users seeking to not only assess but also better respond to water risk, WWF has undertaken a major upgrade of the tool over the past two years. And today, we are very excited to launch the new Water Risk Filter 5.0, which will not only help users better explore and assess water risks, but will soon enable them to value and appropriately respond to water risk.
So what have we learned that has shaped the upgraded tool in order to enable the next generation of water stewardship?
- Assessing water risk needs to be rooted in cutting edge data, but easy, fast and layered
The quality of water data is ever improving. While WWF has annually updated data since 2012, version 5.0 significantly expands the scope and quality of the data we harness to better guide companies and sites. Those leading companies and facilities, many of whom are AWS members, wanted more information on future projections, on reputational risk, and to understand how data sets on scarcity differed, so we’ve obliged! We’ve not only expanded from 20 to 32 basin risk indicators, but we’ve worked with new partners, such as RepRisk and Globescan to add unique data sets.
Furthermore, over the years, we’ve learned that to engage in rigorous water stewardship, you need to understand both basin and operation water risk. Recognizing that the existing assessment could be time consuming, now users can opt to either conduct a rapid operational risk assessment (10 quick drop-down questions, applied to all sites), or a more detailed assessment (45 questions, applied site-by-site) depending on their needs. These changes make the upgraded assess section easier, faster, and more relevant than ever before.
2. Assessing water risks requires multiple perspectives
Water is both a global and local challenge. Multinational companies and investors require a globally consistent perspective when assessing water risks across their operations, supply chains and portfolios to allow for comparability. However, sites in the supply chain also need accurate, and locally confirmed data reflecting their realities on the ground.
The upgraded Water Risk Filter has integrated multiple state-of-the-art, robust and peer reviewed global models in order to encourage users to interpret water risks under different lenses. Since many global water data sets are modelled, we have sought to draw upon multiple models — in the same way that the IPCC looks to multiple models. For example, we now offer three different takes on water scarcity alone. Furthermore, a global versus local perspective is also necessary so we were keen to expand the number of local data sets.
Building on the existing high-resolution water risk data sets (which include the UK, South Africa and Brazil), the upgraded Water Risk Filter now features new high-resolution data sets for another 10 million km2, including the Lower Mekong countries, Spain, Colombia and Hungary. The detailed higher resolution data sets allow users to conduct assessments at a secondary, finer scale to better understand local basin risks. This basin risk assessment forms the basis of understanding context, which is also at the heart of Step 1 of the updated AWS Standard (v. 2.0).
In short, not only can the Water Risk Filter support global corporate water stewardship, but it can also support local, site-based water stewardship, which makes it an invaluable tool to support AWS members and AWS Standard implementers. For example, the new high-resolution dataset for Spain, developed by WWF and Good Stuff International, helped Edeka better identify risks and shared challenges to support their project with Spanish Citrus farmers and implementation of AWS Standard.
3. To scale up water risk assessment, we need to work more collaboratively and go beyond assessment to respond to water risks
Perhaps the most exciting aspect of the tool is what is about to arrive next: the new Respond section will be a game changer. No longer will risk assessments sit divorced from response. By the end of 2018, the Water Risk Filter will enable users to dynamically link risk assessment results for any given site (or a portfolio of sites) to provide a customized set of mitigation response actions. In short: it will not only automate the basin water risk assessment, but give users a massive head start on crafting a water stewardship response plan (or AWS Criterion 3.2 for all those version 1.0 AWS Standard wonks out there!)
But that’s not all. Having listened to our corporate partners, WWF is committed to minimizing redundancy and collaborating with our NGO partners. We recognize that there are numerous established water stewardship frameworks and tools that collectively provide a rich source of potential contextual actions and resources. Accordingly, we’ve not only aligned response actions to leading water frameworks, such as the AWS Standard (currently version 1.0), and Ceres Aqua Gauge, but we’ve also hyperlinked to the CEO Water Mandate’s Water Stewardship toolkit in an effort to create coherence for companies. Highlighting these linkages will help users better understand how these frameworks link, and how their proposed response actions are compliant with various frameworks.
Add to these more than 30 WWF reports on water risk & stewardship, country profile data, and much, much more, the upgraded Water Risk Filter distills our applied learning into an easy-to-use tool for leading water stewards.
Freshwater biodiversity is telling us that there is a problem: isn’t it time you understood your water risk and took action?