Guest opinion: What Oregon Businesses Should Know About the CEO Water Mandate

Natural resources are always on the mind of Oregon’s business community. Water in particular is in the headlines in relation to the booming cannabis industry’s deep thirst and the recent Nestle ballot measure in Hood River County.

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In June, the Oregon Water Resources Department conducted seven open house events across the state to gather public input to help in preparing the 2017 update of the State’s Integrated Water Resources Strategy. 

As of June 1st, Oregon’s streamflow forecasts are below normal to well below normal for the June through September period and water shortages are possible in some locations. At the same time, over the next few decades, Oregon’s statewide water diversion demands are expected to grow by approximately 1.3 million acre-feet/year.

This is an opportune moment to educate Oregon business about the CEO Water Mandate.

The CEO Water Mandate is an initiative involving more than 100 private multi-national companies in cooperation with the United Nations Global Compact. But this does not mean that the commitments are hollow.  At the very least, the UN Global Compact entity can “delist” a company that fails to file an annual report, or otherwise fails to comply with Compact obligations. 

The CEO Water Mandate rests on two key premises.  One premise is that corporate water stewardship is good for business.  A company does not need to be a large multinational corporation to make the “business case” for good water management. 

Every Oregon business uses water, and that use affects the bottom line, whether you are a food processor, a melon grower, a meatpacker, a winery, a computer chip manufacturer, or a coffee shop.  The costs may be directly visible, such as in water and sewer bills — or they may be less obvious, such as in energy costs associated with pumping, heating, treating, or transporting water.  Reducing water use can thus produce immediate financial benefits. 

Additional savings are likely possible by examining and reducing the “virtual” water use hidden in a company’s supply chain.  All Oregon businesses want to improve their bottom line, and a good, close look at their own water usage—both direct and indirect—would likely turn up cost-savings opportunities. 

The second premise of the CEO Water Mandate is that the business community can play a positive role in helping to address growing water crises and stresses.  In the international context, such crises and stresses are of considerable magnitude — including the lack of safe drinking water and sanitation for billions of people, widespread drought, and international or internal conflicts affecting shared water bodies. 

Multinational corporations and international entities are obviously best positioned to exert influence on those issues.  But even in Oregon, water stress does and will affect a wide range of local companies — agricultural enterprises, food processors, and hydroelectricity-consuming industries, just to name a few.  Oregon businesses that anticipate water shortages can manage their own risk better, and in so doing, can also contribute to community solutions. 

In other words, the CEO Water Mandate is not just for the CEOs of multinational corporations. The premises underlying the mandate make good business sense, for any size business in any location. 

Jan Neuman is a Tonkon Torp attorney and a nationally-recognized water lawyer and scholar.