More firms are citing water shortage as a monetary danger in regulatory filings

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As local weather change stokes excessive climate occasions like droughts, flooding and wildfire, one other concern is rising for firms and their traders: the fee and dwindling provide of water.

More firms are itemizing water safety and shortage amongst danger components in regulatory filings and investor calls. Globally, corporations cited water 43% extra in 2020 than in 2019, a June report from funding financial institution Barclays discovered, citing feedback gleaned from hundreds of transcripts.

“It’s a concern that is becoming an area of focus for many of our clients,” stated Michael Littenberg, a accomplice on the regulation agency Ropes & Gray who advises firms on Environmental, Social and Governance points, often called ESG. 

“Certainly, many of them monitor water usage, and try to reduce water usage. But focusing on water scarcity is a newer area of focus at many companies,” Littenberg stated.

Water shortage and danger are tougher to trace than different climate-related points, like carbon emissions. In the U.S., native legal guidelines govern use and entry rights, generally all the way down to town, county and city degree. It’s typically even tougher to observe who’s withdrawing water, and in what portions, from sources corresponding to lakes and aquifers, consultants stated.


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“True cost” of water typically larger than reported

“Companies routinely disclose their utility bills. But it is likely that they are understating the all-in costs of their water consumption,” Barclays stated.

Most firms underestimate their water consumption by three to 5 instances its “true cost,” Barclays analysts wrote. They typically overlook the price of insurance coverage, bills after droughts and flooding, public relations harm from perceived “irresponsible” water use and the necessity to transfer or construct new amenities close to recent water. 

A evaluation of firm annual reviews, often called 10-Okay filings, which can be required by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, discovered 58 firms that talked about “water risk” of their 2020 filings, up from 41 the earlier yr, Littenberg famous.

Which firms face essentially the most water danger? Those within the shopper staples trade, which incorporates meals, tobacco, beverage and shopper items like shampoo, Barclays discovered. Barclays pegs the fee if these firms do not take motion at about $200 billion. With adjustments together with reducing water consumption and dangers to suppliers, that determine drops to $11 billion. 


The shortage of fresh water

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Take beer. Molson Coors, within the danger part of its 2020 annual report to the SEC, stated clear water is “a limited resource in many parts of the world and climate change may increase water scarcity and cause a deterioration of water quality in areas where we maintain brewing operations.” The submitting additionally notes rising competitors for water-related assets in locations the place Molson Coors or its suppliers additionally make different merchandise. 

Water in all places — however not sufficient purification

“Even where water is widely available, water purification and waste treatment infrastructure limitations could increase costs or constrain our operations,” the beer firm stated. It would not count on water entry issues within the “near term.”

Less apparent segments of the financial system additionally depend upon water. Energy and energy era firms use water for cooling. Clothing manufacturing suppliers use water to create fabric. Other firms fear that rising sea ranges will minimize off water provides to places of work and manufacturing vegetation.


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Lululemon, the clothes maker, mentions “water scarcity and poor water quality” in its annual SEC report for 2020 amongst a string of different climate-change associated dangers. There have been no such mentions in its 2019 submitting.

Ride-share operator Lyft says in its 2020 submitting that its “San Francisco, California headquarters are projected to be vulnerable to future water scarcity and sea level rise due to climate change.” There’s no such point out in its 2019 report

Medical-device maker Medtronic in its submitting for the fiscal yr resulted in April 2021 notes that “the impacts of climate change on global water resources may result in water scarcity, which could in the future impact our ability to access sufficient quantities of water in certain locations and result in increased costs.” The medical system maker had no such point out in its earlier yr’s submitting.

Threats to produce chain

Indirect prices from water shortage, corresponding to dry riverbeds or low water ranges, can maintain up provide chains — specifically the community of barges and trains that carry uncooked supplies and elements to producers and distributors.

A break in that chain can price everybody concerned — together with transportation and logistics firms, Beth Burks, who analyzes credit score for S&P Global, instructed CBS MoneyWatch. While water shortage hardly ever has had a “material” impression on credit score rankings in industries exterior agriculture, it may be a hidden price, she stated.

The disclosure system run by the nonprofit CDP and instruments like these on the World Resource Institute’s Aqueduct Water Risk Atlas helps shed some mild on water danger for some firms.

CDP tracks local weather, water and forest data for traders from roughly 9,600 firms worldwide — although not all firms disclose data in all three classes. CDP awards letter grades from “A” to “F” for every class. In 2020, 106 companies earned an A for water data, up from 79 the prior yr. 

For water, CDP asks firms for data together with withdrawals from sources like aquifers and lakes, recycling charges, and water “intensity,” or how a lot water it takes to fabricate a product corresponding to a automobile half or a shirt, and the actions an organization is taking to cut back its water consumption.

U.S.-based firms that scored an A within the water class embrace Colgate-Palmolive, General Mills, Microsoft and HP. 

The concept is to check the water use of firms of various sizes throughout completely different industries, stated CDP’s Simon Fischweicher, who oversees firms and provide chains for North America.

“There’s still an opportunity for companies and their suppliers, and investors who fund these entities, to deal with the problem by reducing their use of water, by reducing pollution, to secure the fresh water that we still have,” Fischweicher stated.

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