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Massive Carbon Disclosure Project Report: Saving Money Starts With Water

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The Carbon Disclosure Project, a U.K.-based nonprofit, houses the world's largest database of information about how corporations are affecting climate change. Now the organization is expanding its reach to include water, perhaps the world's most undervalued major resource.

The CDP Water Disclosure project, first announced last spring, surveyed 302 of the world's largest companies about their water use on behalf of 137 financial institutions that signed a request for information. The result: 122 of the surveyed companies responded publicly (a 50% response rate), and another 25 large companies responded who weren't even asked. Respondents include heavy hitters like Colgate-Palmolive, Molson Coors, GE, and Ford.

Responses were highest among the chemical, food and beverage, and pharmaceutical industries, and for good reason. "These industries are acutely aware of water as an input and output," says Marcus Norton, head of CDP Water Disclosure.

Gregory Wade, global chief supply chain officer for Molson Coors, agrees. Water is a major part of the beer supply chain, he explains—and it's the number one ingredient in beer. "We're actively looking at setting [water use] goals for the longer term and determining risks around water issues that we might have in the long run."

Some industries—namely oil and gas, construction, infrastructure, and real estate—are conspicuously absent from the report. "This is potentially because they haven't yet felt the impacts of water," Norton says. "We suspect that we'll see stronger response rates from these companies in future years. Our experience with carbon is a steady increase in response rate."

Companies that haven't yet responded to the Water Disclosure project can at least find inspiration from the survey, which offers case studies and best practices from a variety of industries. The survey tells us, for example, that pharmaceutical companies should consider installing closed-loop cooling towers and condensate capture and polish systems to recapture and recondition boiler condensation.

Overall, the results are heartening, with most respondents at least partially aware of the issues facing their industries. "Companies are seeing opportunities everywhere," Norton says. And they had better—if the corporations surveyed don't pay attention to water, they'll face resource issues down the line.

Ariel Schwartz can be reached on Twitter or by email.

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