The energy-water-food nexus commonly refers to the complex relationship between these tightly linked and interdependent systems. Water is needed for almost all forms of energy production and power generation, energy is required to treat and transport water, and both water and energy are needed to produce food.
With global population increasing 80 million people per year (with 9 billion people expected by 2050), it has been estimated by 2030 we will need 40% more energy, 30% more water and 50% more food, escalating the demand and scarcity for these resources. Added to this mix is global climate change which exacerbates the stresses even further, particularly in water scarce regions.
A nexus approach is critical to building healthy sustainable societies in which economic growth and protection of the Earth’s natural capital — the air, water, land, and living organisms that provide the goods and services critical for supporting all life on Earth — is equally valued. Ensuring energy, water and food security on a global level requires equal consideration of the interdependency among all three systems and the underlying natural capital that supports them.
To better understand the nexus and the role for CI and its corporate partners, we brought together members of our Business and Sustainability Council
for our annual meeting March 6-7 in San Francisco. BSC members are global leaders in business and sustainability and represent a variety of industry sectors with global revenues greater than $2.3 trillion.
Hosted by Chevron
, the event provided an important opportunity to share lessons learned and successes, and to identify practical, scalable and collaborative actions the private sector can take with partners like CI to help address the world’s energy, water and food challenges.
During our welcome dinner, attendees heard from William K. Reilly, former EPA Administrator; Wes Lohec, Chevron’s Vice President of Health, Environment and Safety; and Peter Seligmann, CI’s CEO and Chairman, who discussed global nexus challenges. Key to the discussion was the need and rationale for government, NGOs and the private sector to move beyond the silos around energy, water and food and work collaboratively to advance a variety of solutions.
Over the course of the next day we heard from thought leaders and industry experts, including Peter Seligmann and Chevron’s Georgia Callahan, General Manager, Environment and Climate Change, who kicked off the meeting, the first under the re-designed BSC program
Dr. Ram Nidumolu, CEO of InnovaStrat
, outlined a “Recognition-Evaluation-Adoption-Leadership” approach for companies to address nexus issues in a systemic way in their models and operations. Nexus management is also about natural capital management. Nature has an important role to play in building cost effective, synergistic solutions around nexus issues. Investing to secure, improve and manage natural capital is an effective way to provide food and energy, conserve water, sustain livelihoods and contribute to healthy, sustainable economies.
, a leading expert on sustainable business, delivered keynote remarks on hurdles, solutions and the future of corporate sustainability. For business, the nexus exacerbates the urgency of managing risks such as sourcing of key commodities, reducing power outages and price volatility. Nexus solutions will need to encompass radical efficiency, resilience planning, valuation of externalities, a shift away from short-term planning, open innovation, data sharing and dialogue.
Through interactive panel sessions and breakouts, attendees more deeply discussed risks and opportunities in addressing the interconnected issues of energy, water and food, including strategies and approaches, how the case was made internally to focus on the nexus and how their businesses may have changed as a result.
Representatives from Monsanto
and Veolia Water
agreed that while they do not specifically call their approach a “nexus” one, the interconnected issues are very real and solutions must include radical thinking for productivity and efficiency, emerging technologies and information exchange. A representative from Shell
illustrated their approach to tackling the nexus through scenario planning
that asks “what if?” questions to alternative views of the future. This has helped Shell inform internal thinking and decision making to in part be able to better respond to natural resource challenges like those associated with the nexus.
Critical obstacles around the nexus were also further defined – there is a need for more data, science and modeling, decision-making tools, as well as education and capacity building at all steps of the value chain. A representative from Coca-Cola
and CI scientists shared approaches and new models for success on nexus issues in the field.
Coca-Cola has set an ambitious goal
of safely returning to nature and communities an amount of water equal to what the company uses in their finished beverages and production by 2020. To do this, Coca-Cola has implemented a series of technical and natural solutions in nearly 400 community water projects in more than 90 countries that include rainwater harvesting, drip irrigation supporting agricultural water efficiency improvements and protecting watersheds.
CI recognizes that the nexus is already having an impact in areas such as the Atlantic Rainforest and Cerrado in Brazil. In partnership with agricultural giant Monsanto
, CI has been driving positive changes for habitats and biodiversity in these hotspots by engaging with local farmers to implement concrete conservation actions focused on preventing illegal deforestation and local species extinction and ensuring compliance with legislation in the livestock and agriculture supply chain.
In recognizing the need for informed decision making through data, CI has developed a new business model called Vital Signs
to help calculate the value of nature. Vital Signs is a monitoring system that provides real time ecological and social data to help guide agricultural development decisions and monitor their outcomes. Initially launching in Ghana, Ethiopia and Tanzania, there are plans for rapid expansion to other parts of Africa and the globe.
The meeting concluded with a group discussion on actions needed to make meaningful progress on nexus issues over the next few years, including taking a landscape level approach to assessing the nexus vulnerabilities and forming public-private partnerships to scale solutions.
CI will be further exploring these and other ideas with the BSC members in the coming year, such as through sharing of best practices, generating case studies and white papers, creating demonstration projects and piloting tools in priority geographies.
This event served as a strong foundation and launching pad to move from conversation to action to even more effectively address energy-water-food challenges from the global to local level.