Increasing population (8 billion planet by 2030), climate change and industrialization are creating a global “water crisis,”. They are putting at risk the socio-economic development, energy and food production, the health of ecosystems, and human survival itself.
Still, according to Andrew Steer, WRI CEO, water stress is the crisis no one is talking about. It seems that when we have water available and cheap, nobody cares but when is missing everybody panics.
Besides, water is essential for most companies´ agricultural supply chains, for the production of raw materials sources and their own operations (factories, offices, warehouses…).
But what can we do in our companies to reduce water risks and contribute to solving the problem? Let me give you an idea.
Water Management and why it fails
The traditional approach to mitigate water risks has been to implement water management programs.
Water management programs focus on metering and reducing as much as possible consumption while avoiding to pollute and contaminate water.
While this approach is still necessary, this will not be enough to solve problems in the communities we operate. Why?
Above all, there are three reasons that explain why water management fails to solve the water crisis.
Reason 1- Solving the water scarcity requires a combined action
We can represent the problem of water scarcity in the world as a leaking bucket, where each consumer is represented by a hole in the bucket. (Fig 2)
Certainly, we will not stop the water leakages when we are just focusing on covering our hole.
We need to work collaboratively with other water users so that overall we stop the water leakages.
Besides, marginal gains from investing in water efficiency diminish over time (Fig 3)
As a consequence, once passed an optimal point, investing in community projects provides more value to the communities we operate than in getting into a dry-water factory.
Reason 2 – Water crisis is a global problem that needs to be solved locally.
Water management doesn’t protect companies against regulatory risks and reputational risks arising in the communities they operate. Therefore their factories can make them lose their license to operate.
For example, last year a beverage company with a best in class water management program, lost its license following a drought and several large protests. The local authorities revoked the company’s license to operate and ordered the company to shut down its plant.
Reason 3 – Water problems are not only about water scarcity.
Sometimes water is just too little (severe droughts). Sometimes there is too much (floodings). And finally, sometimes water is excessively dirty (pollution and access to clean water).
Water stress is the biggest crisis no one is talking aboutAndrew Steer, president, and CEO of WRI
From Water Management to Water Stewardship Alliance
The solution is to become a Water Steward in the communities and catchments where you operate.
Firstly, there is a need to understand the concept of water catchment, which is the area where water is collected by the natural landscape and then discharged in creeks, rivers, lakes or oceans. Secondly, Water Stewardship is about taking care of the water that we do not own.
Water stewardship recognizes the need for collective responses to the challenges facing the water resources on which we all depend on.
The Alliance for Water Stewardship (AWS) is made up of members from businesses, civil society, public sector and academic institutions.
AWS has the collective goal of promoting responsible use of freshwater that is socially, economically and environmentally beneficial to all.
Members have developed the AWS International Water Stewardship Standard (AWS Standard).
The standard is designed to help companies and other water users implement responsible practices that mitigate water physical, regulatory and reputational risks.
It aims at improve site water efficiency, and address shared water challenges (e.g., drought, population growth, etc.).
Furthermore, the standard is becoming the norm in the way we reduce water-related risks along our supply chains and operations.
Alliance for Water Stewardship certification
Achieving Alliance for Water Stewardship certification for your site is a process that requires implementing a series of actions in your sites to fulfil certain criteria and indicators.
An AWS certified site has a good water management program and understands the water issues of its watershed.
Moreover, understanding local water issues require engaging with local communities and stakeholders to drive social, environmental and economic benefits at the scale of a catchment.
Certifying a site under the AWS standard requires companies to gather information about the water withdrawn, discharged and quality in their water catchments.
It also requires companies to recognise how their wastewater discharges impacts local water quality and ecosystems.
It helps to improve the relationships with different stakeholders around your factories such as local/national regulators, universities, neighbours, NGOs and other community groups.
The AWS Standard aims to produce 5 outcomes or benefits:
- Good Water Governance, political, social and economic systems in place which affect the use, development and management of water resources.
- Sustainable Water Balance: Making sure that water consumed don’t go beyond the renewable water supplies.
- Good Water Quality: Maintain the quality of available water resources
- Important Water-Related Areas (IWRA): Protecting key environmentally, socially, culturally, or economically areas.
- Safe water, Sanitation and Hygiene for all (WASH): improving basic access to water, sanitation and hygiene services
Alliance for Water Stewardship Certification Process
In the current Version 2.0 of the AWS Standard factories need to follow five steps in order to be certified.
- GATHER AND UNDERSTAND,
- COMMIT AND PLAN,
- COMMUNICATE AND DISCLOSE
Above all, certifying your site under AWS demonstrates continuous improvement in water management and reduces water related costs.
Besides, water stewardship is a unique standard that promotes sites to engage beyond the factory fence to solve common water issues.
In other words, it creates strong-relations with local communities, public agencies and neighbours to develop united responses against local water risks.
Water Stewardship is about taking care of the water that we do not ownAlliance For Water Stewardship
To learn more about the Alliance for Water Stewardship certification process I recommend either enrol in the basic AWS online course or sign-up to any three-day face-to-face courses offered by the official accredited professionals.
To sum up, solving the world water crisis requires combined action, local engagement and goes beyond solving water scarcity.
Becoming a water steward in the communities we operate allows you to understand better the local issues with water and find a common solution.
Going from water manager to become a water steward is a long journey but as a Chinese proverb says a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.
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