Businesses Need Systems Thinking, Innovation to Address Water-Energy-Food Nexus Challenges

WASHINGTON, DC, United States

The energy-water-food nexus requires businesses to adopt innovative “systems thinking” to address systemic challenges worldwide, participants heard at a roundtable discussion on “The Energy-Water-Food Nexus: Risks and Opportunities for the Private Sector,” held in Washington, DC last week.

Speaking at the event, which was hosted by the US Chamber of Commerce Foundation Corporate Citizenship Center (USCCF) in partnership with Lockheed Martin and the Bipartisan Policy Center, Lockheed Martin Director for Corporate Responsibility Matthew Swibel said one way his company was putting that “systems thinking” into practice by developing tidal power turbine systems that will use the power of ocean tides to produce clean, safe and renewable energy.

Gary Naumick, senior director of engineering at American Water, described other systems approaches that can improve water resource stewardship such as acoustic monitoring to detect leaks, smart meters, smart irrigation, and water reuse technologies. He also cited a project to install solar arrays at water supply reservoirs, which can generate power for the water treatment plant and thereby save on energy costs.

Dr. Ashley Nixon, Manager for NGO & Stakeholder Relations at oil giant Shell, said her company viewed the need to manage demand and supply of energy, water, and food resources more intelligently by working together across sectors to design and implement solutions.

Marielle Canter Weikel, Senior Director for Responsible Mining and Energy at environmental NGO Conservation International (CI), described how her organization has formed partnerships with private sector companies such as Starbucks Coffee and Chevron for programs to build energy and water resource resilience. In the case of Chevron, CI worked with the company to develop an Integrated Biodiversity Assessment Tool that allows businesses to leverage biodiversity information in their decision-making.

The roundtable event on April 17th also marked the launch of the “Energy-Water Nexus Toolkit: Resources and Best Practices for Using Energy and Water More Efficiently,” produced by the USCCF and the International Association of Plumbing and Mechanical Officials (IAPMO Group).

The toolkit was designed to help all businesses develop and improve their resilience to nexus resources.

“Finding a way to execute nexus projects, both internally and externally, is an essential aspect of multiple parts of a company’s goals. It is necessary to both share best practices for these types of projects and figure out how different parts of a company can work together to execute them,” according to the toolkit document.

It offers practical and mechanical solutions to energy-water nexus challenges, including measures like installing better meters, working with local utilities, reusing water, and finding more efficient ways to control interior climate.

The toolkit includes over 30 case studies and other resources to demonstrate how businesses can incorporate these solutions, and to help the corporate social responsibility, sustainability and operations departments of a company work together for more efficient resource management.

“Successful projects that address nexus issues depend on support from multiple stakeholders in the company,” it says. “Through presenting a number of different ways that businesses can address the Energy-Water Nexus, this report also shows some of the ways that CSR and Operations personnel can speak the same language, identify opportunities for savings, advance industry best practices, and effectively reach their energy and water sustainability goals.”

“By not undertaking projects that address Energy-Water Nexus vulnerabilities, a company is left with a number of risks, ranging from impacting long-term resiliency to local reputation,” it adds. “It is likely that energy, and certainly water, are not getting any less expensive in the long term. Increased efficiencies and better management of those resources and how they intersect are going to be crucial for all end users, especially companies, to predict and manage costs. Taking steps now to improve energy and water efficiency can be key to future profitability.”

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