Keith Nunes 2019KANSAS CITY — Water shortages are the fastest growing global environmental concern among consumers, now ranking ahead of plastic pollution and deforestation, according to the market research company Mintel’s annual Global Outlook on Sustainability report. The survey’s findings demonstrate how environmental issues are becoming more personal for consumers as regions around the world grapple with climate change, water shortages and pollution.

The percentage of consumers globally who rank water shortages as one of their top three environmental concerns has risen to 35% in 2023 from 31% last year, equating to a 13% increase and the most pronounced rise in concern of any environmental issue in the last year, according to Mintel.

In 2021, plastic pollution was identified as a leading environmental concern by 36% of survey respondents while water shortages and deforestation received 27% of responses, respectively. The results show how rapidly water shortage has intensified as a concern.

“Escalating fears have resulted in water shortages pushing plastic pollution out of the top three environmental concerns, with concern around plastic pollution falling from 36% in 2021 to 32% in 2023,” said Richard Cope, senior trends consultant for Mintel. “This marks a new era where environmental concerns become pressing issues of self-preservation, such as water and food shortages and a desire to conserve resources for future resilience. While plastic pollution remains a prominent concern it is sliding down consumers’ agendas as they increasingly focus on their personal supply shortages.”

In the United States, water availability and pollution are becoming prominent issues. Drought conditions throughout the country over the past decade have raised many consumers’ water availability awareness. And even as precipitation in some regions has alleviated drought conditions, it does not change the fact the nation’s fresh water supply has not grown even as the country’s population and infrastructure requirements continue to expand.

Adding to the concern about water availability is high-profile news stories about contaminated water in Flint, Mich. More recently, the US Geological Survey (USGS) on July 5 published research showing at least 45% of the nation’s tap water is estimated to have one or more types of the chemicals known as per- and polyfluorinated alkyl substances (PFAS).

“USGS scientists tested water collected directly from people’s kitchen sinks across the nation, providing the most comprehensive study to date on PFAS in tap water from both private wells and public supplies,” said Kelly Smalling, a USGS research hydrologist and the study’s lead author. “The study estimates that at least one type of PFAS — of those that were monitored — could be present in nearly half of the tap water in the US.”

Concern about water availability and pollution will continue to rise as the issue impacts more consumers. As more people are forced to scrutinize personal usage, they will expect the companies they engage with to do the same. Businesses should anticipate greater scrutiny of how they manage and conserve water in their operations in the years ahead.