A review of water valuation metrics: Supporting sustainable water use in manufacturing
In the manufacturing sector, water has been often considered too cheap to conserve. Such thinking relies on water valuations that limit the value of water to the price paid. Using such simple methods, the share of water cost to total manufacturing cost is significantly small, < 3%. As a result, conserving water and enabling technology uptake is difficult to justify economically and slow to advance, hindering progress toward sustainable water use.
However, the value of water to a manufacturer is far greater than the price paid. Valuations such as the true cost of water consider the additional in-plant treatment and energy costs and have been gaining greater traction in the manufacturing sector. However, true cost alone still undervalues water by not accounting for economic and social costs related to scarcity and environmental externalities.
This paper makes the case and presents a framework for valuing manufacturing water beyond the price paid and the true cost. The proposed fuller valuation of manufacturing water takes into account the internal and opportunity costs associated with the realization of water risks. The paper follows with a review of a wide range of water valuation metrics, both at the specific industry level and regional/economy-wide level. The use of various valuation metrics incorporating the relationship between the change in value with change in water use, such as marginal value of water, shadow price, and elasticity at the specific industry level, has been limited in the U.S. manufacturing sector. Further, a limited number of studies exist on data-intensive subjective evaluation techniques such as computable general equilibrium modeling and input-output modeling for regional water valuation.
After reviewing water value metrics, several recent case studies from manufacturers from the literature are presented to illustrate both the promise and challenges of a fuller valuation of water as proposed here. Some large multinational corporations have moved toward assessing the value of water via supply chain sustainability initiatives, environmental profit and loss accounting, estimating risk-adjusted values of water, hydro-economic modeling, natural capital asset valuation, and developing value chain indices. This paper provides policymakers and technology developers a framework for monetizing water value beyond its true cost and current metrics. If adopted, such fuller water valuations can help make the business case for the development and deployment of cost-effective water-conserving technologies, thereby improving the sustainability of the manufacturing sector with respect to water.