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Five Continual Improvement Process Areas

GEMI's Water Sustainability Tool contains a matrix tool to help companies develop a water strategy based on a continual improvement approach. GEMI encourages companies to consider water issues in the context of environmental management systems and other continual improvement approaches. Since a business' relationship to water can change over time, it is important to establish systems and strategies that enable the organization to identify and address emerging water opportunities and risks while learning from past performance.

The matrix tool provides suggestions for ways that various business functions can support continual improvement-based water sustainability strategies. Suggestions are grouped into five continual improvement process areas:

Awareness Building. To effectively identify emerging water trends, as well as water-related business opportunities and risks, it is important to build awareness of the ways water trends affect the business and its critical customers. Awareness building activities can focus on enhancing employee understanding of water issues and needs, and educating them on steps they can take to address opportunities and challenges. Awareness building activities can also focus on educating customers, neighbors, regulators, political leaders, financial markets, and other external critical customers about water trends, needs, and their implications for business and society. Awareness building often involves making the general "business case" for why an individual or group should focus attention and/or resources on water opportunities or challenges.

Issue Identification. While raising awareness can ensure that organizations are attentive to water-related opportunities and risks, organizations must identify specific issues in order to focus action. Issue identification focuses on determining specific water uses, impacts, and source vulnerabilities, as well as the resulting opportunities and risks that they create. The Current State Assessment (Modules 1 and 2) in GEMI's Water Sustainability Tool provides guidance for issue identification. The matrix tool and Module 3 provide additional guidance on how to both identify issues and translate them into opportunities for business.

Business Evaluation. Businesses must evaluate water-related opportunities to establish the business case. Even when potential initiatives or projects are anticipated to have a positive return on investment, they must often compete against a range of other initiatives for organizational attention and resources. Business evaluation activities help to ensure that water-related opportunities are considered, and that indirect and less tangible benefits are included in these efforts to determine the business case for action.

Action Planning and Implementation. Strategies come to life through action planning and implementation. Some actions are intended to directly address water risks and opportunities, such as the implementation of water conservation measures. Module 3 in GEMI's Water Sustainability Tool addresses these types of actions. Other actions can establish continual improvement-based management systems that enable the organization to identify and address water risks and opportunities into the future. The matrix tool highlights actions that various business functions can take to incorporate continual improvement systems targeting water issues.

Performance Measurement. Measuring performance enables organizations to learn from experience and to find opportunities for improvement. Quantitative and qualitative metrics can provide critical feedback on water use, impacts, and risk, as well as on progress towards meeting the organization's water sustainability goals. The matrix suggests performance measurement activities that may be appropriate for various business functions in the organization.

Additional Resources

In recent years, a large body of literature and resources has been developed to assist organizations in implementing environmental management systems (EMSs) and related continual improvement based management systems. Organizations should consider ways in which to apply EMS and continual improvement concepts to address water risks and opportunities.

ISO 14000 Series Standards

The International Standards Organization (ISO) 14000 Series Standards on Environmental Management provide a common framework for applying continual improvement-based management systems to businesses' environmental activities. Many concepts in the ISO 14001 standard can be applied specifically to address water management issues. See for additional information.

GEMI. 1996. ISO 14001 Environmental Management System Self-Assessment Checklist. Washington, DC.

GEMI. 1993. Total Quality Environmental Management: The Primer. Washington, DC.


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