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03/22/2011

The Value of Water

What is the value of water?  March 22nd is World Water Day and a good time to reflect on this question. WorldWaterDay 

For most businesses, the price of water remains relatively inconsequential compared to other operating costs. The real value of water for business is tied to intangibles such as brand, reputation, license to operate, business continuity and as a driver for innovation.

But there is another aspect of the value of water for business -- arguably the most important aspect -- that is tied to the social dimension of water.

Currently, some 1.1 billion people lack access to clean water, and more than 2.5 billion people lack access to safe sanitation.  The implications of these statistics for a steepening scarcity curve are staggering, particularly as demand for water increases globally in many major sectors – industrial, agricultural and domestic.  The business implications are similar to the implications for society:  increased competition for water and a workforce that lacks access to a basic resource.

Based on innovative ideas presented at the Hult Global Case Challenge, solutions can be identified to help solve the water scarcity issue. I participated as a judge a few weeks ago in the second annual Hult International Business School Global Case Challenge (courtesy of Jack Russi and Cathy Benko from Deloitte).

The competition is focused on addressing the global clean water crisis in partnership with Water.org, an organization founded by Gary White and Matt Damon, and The Clinton Global Initiative (CGI). In competitions held in Boston, San Francisco, London, Dubai, and Shanghai, the international competition “crowd-sourced” innovative ideas from some of the world’s top students. The Hult Global Case Challenge, as a CGI member, has committed to working with fellow CGI members to solve one of the world’s most pressing resource issues.

The winners of each Regional competition will compete in the Global Final in New York City on April 30, 2011, co-hosted by the CGI. At the final event, the participating teams will present their refined solutions to a panel of executive judges. Water.org will receive a USD $1 million donation from Hult International Business School, which can be used to help see the winning team’s solution implemented.

The Hult competition draws attention to the alarming and indefensible lack of access to clean water and sanitation among many populations.  It is driven by a global business school competition, and social issues can no longer be artificially divorced from economic and environmental issues. (The cornerstone of sustainability is, in fact, the integration of economic, social and environmental risks and opportunities.) 

Based upon the passion, creativity and commitment of the students participating in the Hult Global Case Challenge, I am confident new pathways to solving the water scarcity challenge will be identified.

William Sarni
Director, Deloitte Consulting LLP

Will Sarni is a Director with Deloitte Consulting LLP and leads Enterprise Water Strategy for Deloitte Sustainability Consulting.  He is an internationally recognized thought leader on sustainability and is the author of the book, Corporate Water Strategies (Earthscan 2011).

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