Blue gold: Why tackling water challenges is a key lever for mitigating impact and risk in the cosmetics and personal care industry

In brief:

  • The world’s water is in a perilous state, with demand outstripping supply.
  • The cosmetics and personal care sector is particularly at risk given the amount of water used in both production and sourcing, and the use phase of products.
  • Prioritizing action to address water quality and quantity issues — both upstream and downstream — is critical for building long-term resilience, protecting human rights to water and sanitation, avoiding reputational risk and maintaining a positive connection with consumers. 
  • Water use can be addressed at the product design and development phase, focusing on product innovation that encourages consumers to use less water.
  • Tackling water challenges demands a new business mindset and ambitious target setting, integrating water stewardship with efforts to address wider environmental impacts. After all, water plays a vital role in mitigating and adapting to the effects of climate change, as well as preventing biodiversity loss.

Freshwater is a precious natural resource: it’s the backbone of life and economic and social stability. But it’s one that we often take for granted. 

Though global water demand already outstrips supply, demand is expected to increase an additional 20-30% above current levels of use in the next two decades. According to a report from BCG and WWF, 46% of global GDP will be coming from high water risk regions by 2050. In the short-term, two-thirds of the world’s population is expected to face water shortages in the next three years. What’s more, humanity is having a profound impact on the water cycle. In April 2022, the world surpassed the planetary boundary for green water (rainfall, soil moisture and evaporation), which is critical to ecological, atmospheric and biogeochemical processes.  

Both highly dependent on water and a major driver of water-related impacts, the cosmetics and personal care industry has a critical role — and a vested interest — in delivering a water secure future. To reduce consumption, limit dependence and curb pollution, while meeting the needs of consumers, cosmetics and personal care businesses need to prioritize sound volumetric water benefit accounting to implement your water stewardship activities, measure their value, and increase the likelihood of generating social, economic, and environmental benefits by solving shared water challenges.

The state of our water has reached a critical point. By deploying new business models, innovations, operational initiatives, and location-relevant strategies that will reduce water use and pollution, you have an opportunity to become the water stewards our world desperately needs. By taking action now, the cosmetics and personal care sector will be better resourced to respond, adapt, and thrive in a rapidly changing world.

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