Until recently there hasn’t been a thorough understanding of water’s value.

Crumbling infrastructure, the dis flow of water and an increasing limited accessibility to fresh water are all reasons why people are beginning to understand the liquid’s value. People, both those apart of the commercial business and social aspect alike, have always understood that water is a necessity for life, but until recently there hasn’t been a thorough understanding of it’s value.

We spoke with Nelson Switzer, who joined Nestlé Waters North America (NWNA) in January 2016 as Vice President and Chief Sustainability Officer. In this role, Switzer is responsible for the continued growth and implementation of multi-faceted sustainability strategies and programs. He reports to the company’s Chief Executive Officer and is a member of the Executive Team.

Switzer brings more than 15 years of experience working in the public and private sectors at both the local and international level, specializing in sustainable development and management. In his current position at NWNA, he focuses primarily on identifying issues and developing solutions to complex environmental, social and governance challenges by facilitating constructive engagement and collaboration.

Christopher P. Skroupa: Water is important to everyone, but not everyone values it. Can you explain this idea further?

Nelson Switzer: When we turn on the faucet and the water flows – for a shower, a healthy drink or washing our hands – we get what need done, and move on to the next task. Because of this accessibility, it is so easy to forget the complexity of the system that is needed to collect, monitor, deliver and, eventually, treat this water before sending it back to the natural environment. However, when the water does not flow, people recognize the value of water precisely at that time – when it is not available.

I think all people value water, rather it is the recognition of this value that is in short supply. But I do think that more people recognize the value of water now than they did in the past. As water infrastructure in our communities fail, as we feel the real impacts of severe weather events and as utility bills escalate, people are taking notice.

Skroupa: What effect does water have on a company’s environmental, social and economic value? 

Switzer: It may be wise to first define business “value” as it relates to the environment, society and the economy. Environmental value refers to the ecosystem services that we all rely on to support our needs; Social value refers to the wellbeing of the community; and Economic value refers to the overall financial benefit derived from an activity. What we know for sure is, for each of these values, the abundance of water, and the availability of water is the factor that can either enable or limit the ability of a company to create value. 

Without sufficient supply from a sustainable source, a company faces a systematic business risk that often requires considerable mitigation. For some, this may require moving entire factories or reworking the supply chain, while for others it may require changing a product, products or processes. 

Skroupa: How does NWNA make the most value of water? How did the company develop this strategy?

Switzer: Water is our business, so our business strategy is our water strategy. This approach has allowed us to deliver one of the most environmentally efficient packaged beverages, while helping sustain the spring water sources on which we depend, while also enhancing people’s quality of life and contributing to a healthier future. Because we carefully manage water throughout all the aspects of our value chain – from source to sip – we maximize the potential of water to create and sustain environmental, social and economic value.

Skroupa: The value of water has increased tremendously in the past decade. What caused the change, and where is it heading from current trends?

Switzer: If you are referring to the cost of water, that is a very important question often mired in complication, but let me see if I can simplify the answer. We often confuse the value of water with the cost to deliver water. While the value of water is a reflection of the ability of water to contribute to shared prosperity and a sustainable environment, the cost to deliver water is associated only with the economic resources needed to ensure people have access to water, mainly through the built environment.

The value of water has increased because there is increasing demand for water and the scarcity in some regions. However, the cost to deliver water is rising because we have failed to maintain water infrastructure and we are living the consequences. For instance, obsolete systems are in need of repair, but the technology no longer exists requiring wholesale replacements. 

Before joining NWNA, Switzer was Director and Leader of Sustainable Business Solutions at PwC where he designed and led a premium sustainability and stakeholder engagement management advisory practice. Prior to that, he was an officer at the consulting firm asherleaf where he designed and managed sustainability programs across a wide range of industries.

Switzer also has served as Head of Corporate Responsibility at Centrica plc NA, Senior Manager of Environmental Affairs at the Royal Bank of Canada and has held adjunct positions and executive in residence status at leading universities including the University of Waterloo and Ivey School of Business.

Switzer will be a panelist for From Plan to Action: Implementing Robust and Comprehensive Water Plans at the Water & Long-Term Value conference in San Francisco, CA on October 24-25.

Originally published on More articles by Christopher Skroupa on his Forbes column.