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Measuring progress, drop by drop

12 October 2017

Water is consumed by everyone, but perhaps because it is so commonplace for most of us, it has historically been undervalued. But with population growth, agriculture, and industry relentlessly increasing demand for water, it is becoming recognised for what it is: a scarce and precious resource, writes ICMM's Nicky Black.

UN Water estimates that by 2025 - in just eight years’ time - two thirds of the world’s population could be living in water-stressed areas.

Mining companies were early adopters of the concept of water stewardship – the use of water that is socially equitable, environmentally sustainable and economically beneficial. This could only be achieved through an inclusive process that involves all water users looking at both local and catchment-based actions.

Earlier this year, the International Council for Mining and Metals (ICMM) 24 member companies adopted a new water position statement which set out our vision of water stewardship and committed our members to apply strong and transparent water stewardship, manage water at operations effectively and collaborate to achieve responsible and sustainable water use.

Collectively, we’ve done a lot to improve the way the industry uses and manages water but we recognise that there is some way to go to ensure that the whole of the mining sector uses comparable, consistent data and is transparent on its disclosure on water performance.

If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it

Effective decision making on the management of any resource requires sound, science-based data. The management of our shared and finite freshwater resources is no exception. In fact, when you consider that experts predict water demand outstripping supply by 40% by 2030 the case for accurate, transparent, comparable data disclosure by all water users is very clear.

This is especially true for the mining and metals industry considering its high water dependency and potential to impact water. That’s why ICMM has been working with its members to develop a standardised method of reporting water use and performance against appropriate industry metrics. This is all in our A practical guide to consistent water reporting

These metrics speak to how much water the industry withdraws, consumes and discharges to the environment.  Along with water recycling and reuse measures, and contextual statements, this approach allows readers further insight into how companies perform in terms of managing risks and opportunities around water management. This information is in line with expectations from civil society, investor groups and disclosure platforms like the Global Reporting Initiative and CDP who we worked closely with, in developing our guidance.

Making waves

Our mission at ICMM is to strengthen the social and environmental performance of the mining and metals industry. So, we want to encourage the adoption of this approach to water reporting by the broader industry as a way to provide meaningful information that supports better water use, effective catchment management and to contribute to improved water security and sanitation for all.

To help achieve this we’ve made our guidance publically available, are running a number of training webinars and reaching out to other sector like oil and gas and agriculture to share our work on water reporting.

We have also been part of GRI’s project working group to revamp their water disclosure standard and have worked closely with CDP in developing their mining and metals sector water questionnaire. We continue to have a number of conversations with investors to help provide further insight into the work we’re doing and to look for opportunities to work together to further support their information needs. 

Collaboration is key to ensuring the work that we do as an industry supports more transparent, effective, efficient water management for the industry and for all those water users with whom we share our precious and finite freshwater resources.