The fact that water is running out is not new, but what is becoming increasingly urgent is that without action towards sustainable water practices, companies and investors around the world face imminent and significant risks. Business and investor concern regarding the water crisis is growing:

In 2014, 573 investors, representing $60 trillion in assets, used the Carbon Disclosure Project’s water programme, up 318% from 2010. 68% of 174 global 500 companies stated that water poses a substantive risk to their business with one-third claiming the constraint would be felt in the next 12 months.

Without changes to business-as-usual, the future is grim: by 2030 the global demand for water will be 40% greater than supply. The effects are real and happening right now.

In the last 20 years, 55% of China’s rivers have disappeared due to industrial use. More than 70% of the western United States has been hit by drought resulting in a loss of approximately $2.7billion to California’s economy. In February 2015, São Paulo ran out of water for four days. Within the next 15-20 years, the worsening water security situation risks triggering a global food crisis, with shortfalls of up to 30% in cereal production

To address this and other important sustainability issues, the United Nations has launched the Global Goals for Sustainable Development, a series of ambitious targets to end extreme poverty and tackle climate change for everyone by 2030. On 25 September 2015, 193 world leaders met to commit to these 17 goals; if they are met, they will ensure the health, safety and future of the planet for everyone on it.

The sixth goal addresses the water crisis in ensuring the availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all human beings. As the founder of Thirst, an NPO taking action towards building a world where water is used sustainably, I am encouraged by the UN’s goals. As leaders, it is our responsibility to not only take action with sustainable water processes in operations, but also to impact the entire supply chain all the way to the customer.

Beyond implementing sustainable water operations, companies and individuals need to work together to create a shift in purchasing behaviour helping consumers to favour water-sustainable products. Millennials are one of the most influential consumer groups in the world. They have a combined purchasing power of $2.45 trillion, but 90% of them don’t even know there is a water crisis.

This is where Thirst has stepped in. We are the first international water NPO tackling the demand side of the equation, by engaging and educating the next generation about the world’s water crises. We are pioneering this mission by uniting the general public, non-profits and companies and creating a global movement of water-conscious citizens, ultimately changing the way that we all think about, use and consume water.

Over 300,000 students have graduated from our successful education program, the WE Water Experience, which is sponsored by Inditex and the Foundation for UNESCO. Our commissioned research tells us that each one of our graduates will go home and tell their friends, parents and grandparents, meaning that our messages reach an exponentially growing audience. The research also highlighted that 80% of our graduates change their purchasing decisions on completion of our course. Further to this, 78% consume less water-intensive food and 80% are happy to pay a premium for water-friendly products.

It’s a good start, but we believe it’s not enough. We need global awareness now. In January 2016, I embarked on record breaking solo run covering 1,680km in the harshest climates on the planet – 7 deserts on 7 continents. The reason is simply for water; to raise awareness, to create an ocean of change that can’t be ignored and can only be acted upon.

My plea to you is to join our passionate and growing community of water-conscious citizens. Make small changes to your lifestyle, your community and your organisation and be part of the solution to this global problem.

Guest editor of this series is Owen Gaffney, Director, International Media and Strategy, Stockholm Resilience Centre and Future Earth

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