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Measuring the water crisis with ESG data

Elena Philipova
Elena Philipova
Global Head ESG Proposition, Refinitiv

ESG data can be a powerful tool in tackling the global water crisis. To mark World Water Week, we’ve examined seven key metrics to help sustainable investors measure corporate progress on areas including water efficiency and pollutant emissions.


  1. A Refinitiv report examines the global water crisis using ESG data on seven key metrics, including the percentage of companies reporting water efficiency targets.
  2. Pollutant emissions are a major risk for global water supplies, with Asia needing to do a lot of work to improve the quality of water in the region.
  3. Tackling the global water crisis through sustainable investing is addressed in our Environmental Metrics report, which also explores trends in corporate emissions.

We are facing a global water crisis. And a tremendous blue business opportunity.

While experts say this water crisis reflects significant economic growth in recent decades, it also reflects poor water and waste management practices. This creates opportunities for business and financial professionals as the ocean is valued at more than USD 24 trillion (1). The good news is that there are many emerging examples of change leadership and innovation, including regulators, businesses and the investment industry.

To mark World Water Week, we have examined the water metrics in our ESG database in order to highlight the areas where investors should be taking note.

The six water metrics we consider within the report are:

  1. Water efficiency policy
  2. Water efficiency targets
  3. Water pollutant emissions
  4. Water pollutant emissions/revenue
  5. Water recycled
  6. Water withdrawal total

View the full report: Environmental metrics and preserving capital

Water efficiency

The latest figures from our ESG database show that 56 percent of companies have a water efficiency policy, a 25 percent increase from one year ago.

However, only 19 percent have set targets for water efficiency. The bright spot here is that targets have increased by 34 percent over the last five years.

Number of companies with water efficiency. Measuring the water crisis with ESG data

Although the number of companies focused on monitoring and reporting on water efficiency targets and policies needs to increase, momentum is building.

Top countries with companies disclosing water efficiency policies. Measuring the water crisis with ESG data

Top countries with the highest number of companies reporting on water efficiency policies are spread across the globe with France, Germany and the UK having some of the highest rates on targets. This is unsurprising due to the EU Water Framework Directive.

Pollution and the water crisis

There has been a flux in the amount of water pollutants emitted over the last five years.

Water pollutant emissions. Measuring the water crisis with ESG data

When we look at the regional view of countries and water pollution, we can see that Asia (ex-Japan) is by far the worst polluting region in terms of water.

Asia (ex-Japan) produces over ten times more water pollutants than the rest of the world combined. A shocking figure and one which needs to be addressed.

When we drill down into the country view of water pollutants, a few questions arise:

  • Will India get on top of its water pollution problems?
  • Will China innovate to minimize water pollution?
  • What more can South Africa do to protect itself against developing water problems?

Water metrics – country view. Measuring the water crisis with ESG data

Water withdrawal and recycling

When looking at the total volume of water withdrawn, we see that water withdrawal has decreased by 28 percent over the last five years.

Water withdrawal. Measuring the water crisis with ESG data

The three regions withdrawing the most water (North America, LATAM and Europe) are some of the worst regions for recycling water.

This leads us to wonder if this will be an area of focus for future regulation as the world steps up efforts to tackle the water crisis.

Find out how ESG data from Refinitiv can help you to make sound and sustainable investment decisions.

(1) https://ec.europa.eu/maritimeaffairs/sites/maritimeaffairs/files/introducing-sustainable-blue-economy-finance-principles_en.pdf