Relevant Issues (7 of 26)
The SASB Standards vary by industry based on the different sustainability risks and opportunities within an industry. The issues in grey were not identified during the standard-setting process as the most likely to impact enterprise value, so they are not included in the Standard. Over time, as the SASB Standards Board continues to receive market feedback, some issues may be added or removed from the Standard. Each company makes their own determination about whether or not a sustainability issue may impact its ability to create enterprise value. The Standard is designed for the typical company in an industry, but individual companies may choose to report on different sustainability issues based on their unique business model. Why are some issues greyed out?
- GHG Emissions
- Air Quality
- Energy Management The category addresses environmental impacts associated with energy consumption. It addresses the company’s management of energy in manufacturing and/or for provision of products and services derived from utility providers (grid energy) not owned or controlled by the company. More specifically, it includes management of energy efficiency and intensity, energy mix, as well as grid reliance. Upstream (e.g., suppliers) and downstream (e.g., product use) energy use is not included in the scope.
- Water & Wastewater Management The category addresses a company’s water use, water consumption, wastewater generation, and other impacts of operations on water resources, which may be influenced by regional differences in the availability and quality of and competition for water resources. More specifically, it addresses management strategies including, but not limited to, water efficiency, intensity, and recycling. Lastly, the category also addresses management of wastewater treatment and discharge, including groundwater and aquifer pollution.
- Waste & Hazardous Materials Management
- Ecological Impacts
- Human Rights & Community Relations
- Customer Privacy
- Data Security
- Access & Affordability The category addresses a company’s ability to ensure broad access to its products and services, specifically in the context of underserved markets and/or population groups. It includes the management of issues related to universal needs, such as the accessibility and affordability of health care, financial services, utilities, education, and telecommunications.
- Product Quality & Safety The category addresses issues involving unintended characteristics of products sold or services provided that may create health or safety risks to end-users. It addresses a company’s ability to offer manufactured products and/or services that meet customer expectations with respect to their health and safety characteristics. It includes, but is not limited to, issues involving liability, management of recalls and market withdrawals, product testing, and chemicals/content/ingredient management in products.
- Customer Welfare
- Selling Practices & Product Labeling
- Labor Practices
- Employee Health & Safety
- Employee Engagement, Diversity & Inclusion
Business Model & Innovation
- Product Design & Lifecycle Management
- Business Model Resilience The category addresses an industry’s capacity to manage risks and opportunities associated with incorporating social, environmental, and political transitions into long-term business model planning. This includes responsiveness to the transition to a low-carbon and climate-constrained economy, as well as growth and creation of new markets among unserved and underserved socio-economic populations. The category highlights industries in which evolving environmental and social realities may challenge companies to fundamentally adapt or may put their business models at risk.
- Supply Chain Management
- Materials Sourcing & Efficiency The category addresses issues related to the resilience of materials supply chains to impacts of climate change and other external environmental and social factors. It captures the impacts of such external factors on operational activity of suppliers, which can further affect availability and pricing of key resources. It addresses a company’s ability to manage these risks through product design, manufacturing, and end-of-life management, such as by using of recycled and renewable materials, reducing the use of key materials (dematerialization), maximizing resource efficiency in manufacturing, and making R&D investments in substitute materials. Additionally, companies can manage these issues by screening, selection, monitoring, and engagement with suppliers to ensure their resilience to external risks. It does not address issues associated with environmental and social externalities created by operational activity of individual suppliers, which is covered in a separate category.
- Physical Impacts of Climate Change The category addresses the company’s ability to manage risks and opportunities associated with direct exposure of its owned or controlled assets and operations to actual or potential physical impacts of climate change. It captures environmental and social issues that may arise from operational disruptions due to physical impacts of climate change. It further captures socio-economic issues resulting from companies failing to incorporate climate change consideration in products and services sold, such as insurance policies and mortgages. The category relates to the company's ability to adapt to increased frequency and severity of extreme weather, shifting climate, sea level risk, and other expected physical impacts of climate change. Management may involve enhancing resiliency of physical assets and/or surrounding infrastructure as well as incorporation of climate change-related considerations into key business activities (e.g., mortgage and insurance underwriting, planning and development of real estate projects).
Leadership & Governance
- Business Ethics
- Competitive Behavior
- Management of the Legal & Regulatory Environment
- Critical Incident Risk Management
- Systemic Risk Management
The General Issue Category is an industry-agnostic version of the Disclosure Topics that appear in each SASB Standard. Disclosure topics represent the industry-specific impacts of General Issue Categories. The industry-specific Disclosure Topics ensure each SASB Standard is tailored to the industry, while the General Issue Categories enable comparability across industries. For example, Health & Nutrition is a disclosure topic in the Non-Alcoholic Beverages industry, representing an industry-specific measure of the general issue of Customer Welfare. The issue of Customer Welfare, however, manifests as the Counterfeit Drugs disclosure topic in the Biotechnology & Pharmaceuticals industry. What is the relationship between General Issue Category and Disclosure Topics?
Disclosure Topics (Industry specific) for:
Water Utilities & Services
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Companies in the Water Utilities & Services industry require significant energy inputs for the withdrawal, conveyance, treatment, and distribution or discharge of potable water and wastewater. Utility operating costs are directly related to energy use, which is typically a company’s largest operating cost after purchased water, chemicals, and labor. Purchased grid electricity is the most common energy input. In more remote locations, on-site generation is used to power equipment. The inefficient use of purchased grid electricity creates environmental externalities, such as Scope 2 greenhouse gas emissions. Regulations that address environmental concerns are likely to affect the future grid energy mix, leading to increases in prices. Additionally, climate change is also expected to impact grid reliability, and affect the availability of water resources. As a result, the energy intensity of water utilities is likely to increase in the future as water sources become more difficult to access. Alternative water treatment, such as recycling and desalination, can also require more energy. Together with decisions about the use of alternative fuels, renewable energy, and on-site electricity generation, energy efficiency can play an important role in influencing both the cost and the reliability of the energy supply.
Water & Wastewater Management
Distribution Network Efficiency
Water utilities develop, maintain, and operate complex interconnected infrastructure networks that include extensive pipelines, canals, reservoirs, and pump stations. Significant volumes of water are lost in the distribution network (called "non-revenue water," as it is a distributed volume of water that is not reflected in customer billings). This water is lost primarily because of infrastructure failures and inefficiencies, such as leaking pipes and service connections. Non-revenue real water losses may negatively impact financial performance, raise customer rates, and squander water and other resources such as energy and treatment chemicals. Conversely, improvements to infrastructure and operating processes can limit non-revenue losses, positively impacting revenues and possibly reducing costs. Efficiently directing operational and maintenance expenses or capital expenditures to distribution systems—primarily pipeline and service connection repair, refurbishment, or replacement—can improve company value and provide strong investment returns.
Effluent Quality Management
Water and wastewater treatment facilities produce effluent that poses potential environmental and human health risks. Effluent includes residuals and solids that consist of chemicals used in the treatment process and contaminants removed from raw water or wastewater inputs. Treated effluent is discharged from facilities into surface water or pumped into groundwater. Potential environmental impacts vary depending on the treatment and disposal process. Additionally, consumers and regulators are becoming increasingly concerned by substances including endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs), which wastewater treatment facilities do not typically address. As a result of the environmental risks associated with effluent, treatment facilities are subject to extensive environmental regulations intended to control and monitor their impact. As public and regulatory scrutiny of effluent quality increases with new concerns about substances of emerging concern, companies will need to innovate and ensure that effluent is not harmful to the environment or human health. Effluent discharges exceeding maximum limits can result in significant regulatory penalties, and frequent episodes may jeopardize a utility’s social license to operate. Companies can actively manage financial impacts through infrastructure and equipment planning, maintenance, and operations, as well as the deployment of appropriately trained and experienced labor.
Access & Affordability
Water Affordability & Access
Reliable access to clean water is commonly viewed as a basic human right. Reasonable and affordable pricing is a component of this right. Thus, structuring water rates in a way that the community perceives to be fair is critical to the value of water utility companies. Companies that are able to work with regulators to implement rate structures that increase levels of community acceptance are likely to create greater financial stability and potentially realize growth opportunities—especially in light of the underfunded nature of water infrastructure in many regions around the world. Water utilities that use rate mechanisms that inhibit access to water, or that are prohibitively expensive to low-income populations, may see community opposition. Companies must ensure fair pricing and access, as well as rates that can adequately fund infrastructure in the long term, provide safe drinking water and adequate wastewater treatment, and collect an adequate return on capital.
Product Quality & Safety
Drinking Water Quality
Companies in the industry must ensure that water conforms to regulations, is in line with customer expectations, and is reliably delivered. In order to protect human health and safeguard company value, companies must protect water sources from contamination, which may reduce treatment processes and costs. Comprehensive treatment processes are designed, developed, and maintained to meet water quality standards, while the finished water output is routinely monitored for compliance and safety. Natural events, such as forest fires and flooding, can also impact the quality of water sources. Overall, companies invest significant resources to consistently deliver safe drinking water to customers. Failure to provide water of adequate quality may result in regulatory fines, litigation, increased operating costs or capital expenditures, reputational risk, and asset or business seizure.
Business Model Resilience
Water efficiency and conservation at the consumer level, whether a product of government mandates, environmental consciousness, or demographic trends, is increasingly important for long-term resource availability and the financial performance of the water supply segment of the industry. The end-use efficiency topic addresses how utilities work with regulators to mitigate revenue declines in the context of the increasing need for resource efficiency. Water efficiency mechanisms, including rate decoupling, can ensure that a utility’s revenue can adequately cover its fixed costs and provide the desired levels of returns regardless of sales volume, while simultaneously incentivizing customers to conserve water. Efficiency mechanisms can better align utilities’ economic incentives with environmental and social interests, including resource efficiency, lower rates, and increased capital investments in infrastructure. Water utilities are able to manage their exposure to the impact of rate mechanisms through positive regulatory relations, forward-looking rate cases that incorporate efficiency, and a strong execution of efficiency strategy.
Materials Sourcing & Efficiency
Water Supply Resilience
Water supply systems obtain water from groundwater and surface water sources. Water supplies may either be accessed directly or purchased from a third party, often a government entity. Water scarcity, water source contamination, infrastructure failures, regulatory restrictions, competing users, and overconsumption by customers are all factors that can jeopardize access to sufficient water supplies. These issues, combined with an increasing risk of extreme and frequent drought conditions due to climate change, may lead to inadequate supplies or mandated water restrictions. The related financial impacts may manifest in different ways, depending on rate structure, but are most likely to impact company value through decreased revenue. Water supply challenges may also lead to increases in the price of purchased water, which could result in higher operating costs. Failures of critical infrastructure such as aqueducts and canals, which could result from events such as earthquakes, are capable of presenting catastrophic risks to customers of the water supply system and could inflict untold financial consequences. Companies are able to mitigate water supply risks (and the resulting financial risks) through diversification of water supplies, sustainable withdrawal levels, technological and infrastructure improvements, contingency planning, positive relations with regulators and other major users, as well as rate structures.
Physical Impacts of Climate Change
Network Resiliency & Impacts of Climate Change
Climate change is likely to create business uncertainty for water supply systems and wastewater systems due to potential impacts on infrastructure and operations. Climate change can lead to increased water stress, more frequent severe weather events, reduced water quality, and rising sea levels that could impair utility assets or the ability to operate. Water supply and wastewater disposal are basic services for which maintaining continuity is of utmost importance. The increasing frequency and severity of storms challenge water and wastewater treatment facilities, and can affect continuity of service. Intense precipitation may lead to sewage volumes that exceed the capacity of treatment facilities, resulting in the release of untreated effluent. Minimizing current and future risks of service disruptions and inadequate service quality can require additional capital expenditures and operational expenses. As climate change leads to a greater likelihood of extreme weather events, companies that address these risks through redundancies and strategic planning will be better able to serve customers and protect shareholder value.
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