Visions of a dry future: Experts predict global water crisis is worse than anticipated; businesses face sweeping transformation

Population growth, urban development, farm production, and climate change are increasing competition for fresh water and creating shortages so acute that virtually every industry in the world anticipates sweeping transformation over the next decade in strategic planning, production practices, and business models.

That's the conclusion published here today of a new global opinion poll of more than 1,200 sustainability experts conducted by GlobeScan, an international public opinion polling firm based in Toronto, and SustainAbility, the London-based think tank and business strategy consultancy.

The key points:

  • Experts project that the depletion of global water resources will be more rapid, severe, and complex than previously anticipated;
  • Changes across nearly all sectors of the global economy are expected as a result of water shortages;
  • Companies should be prepared to address increasing pressure for responsible water consumption practices - expect greater regulatory action and stakeholder activism.

It's rare that we have this kind of collective intelligence, an oracle of sorts. It's also unique that most sustainability experts agree on one thing: that water issues will have dramatic impact on how companies do business around the world.

This parallels our recent Circle of Blue Globescan WaterViews public opinion survey six months ago that found that people around the world view water issues as the planet's top environmental problem, greater than air pollution, depletion of natural resources, loss of habitat and even climate change.

"These findings should sound the alarm for companies that haven't yet established robust water strategies," Chris Coulter, senior vice president at Globescan, told us. "This is about literally retaining license to operate in many parts of the world."

While climate change has held the spotlight, experts and the public believe and understand that global warming will be most visible through its impact on water.