Anglian Water is one of just four companies to be invited to contribute to a leading academic journal in a special analysis of the risks posed to business by predicted future water scarcity.

In a series of papers published by Nature Climate Change, Peter Simpson, Anglian Water’s chief executive, argues that increasing populations and the demand for high living standards has led to the overuse of water resources, and suggests that consumers also have a role to play in addressing water scarcity. Nature Climate Change is a monthly journal dedicated to publishing the most significant and cutting-edge research on the science of climate change, its impacts and wider implications for the economy, society and policy.

The series of articles suggest that the unsustainable management of water resources, together with rising water demands and the impacts of climate change, pose significant risks to water companies and businesses reliant on agriculture (agribusinesses).

The collection of articles, which forms a Focus in the May issue of Nature Climate Change, suggests that, in light of these pressures, companies need new water strategies to succeed in the market.

Water is essential to agribusinesses, such as retailers. A Commentary by Asda’s External Affairs and Corporate Responsibility Director Paul Kelly highlights that the inefficient use of watersheds, combined with the impacts of extreme weather on water resources, affects agricultural production and the resilience of the food supply chain. He concludes by discussing how much retailers can gain by helping growers to improve irrigation practices.

In another Commentary, SABMiller’s Senior Vice President for Sustainable Development Andy Wales details the possibility of developing water-efficient local food supply chains that reduce other environmental impacts, including carbon emissions from electricity use, and boost the income of local farmers. This suggestion is inspired by current beer-manufacturing processes in India.

Arjen Y. Hoekstra, Chair of the Department of Water Engineering and Management at The University of Twente (The Netherlands) argues that the private sector’s commitment alone will not be enough to achieve the management shift required to sustainably meet the needs of millions of water consumers around the world and calls for a strengthening of the role of governments in regulating water use.

An Editorial provides an overview of the issue and reflects on the extent to which sustainable development and climate adaptation are connected, proposing that initiatives bringing together academia, the private sector, government and civil society are necessary to move the sustainability debate from theory to action.

The commentaries in this Focus are the result of a water collaboration facilitated by the University of Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership (CISL). CISL convenes business, government and academics to address the opportunities and challenges of natural capital management. CISL’s Natural Capital Platform runs a number of projects, including a water sector collaboration, and puts forward business strategies for coping with limited natural resources and climate change impacts through improved collaboration and understanding.

All of the articles can be found on the Nature Climate Change website.