Water use & water stewardship

Does your business have a strategy for responsible water use and the stewardship of water resources?

EXCELLENT Answers

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GOOD Answers

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POOR Answers

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While seventy percent of the Earth is covered with water, approximately 1% of the world's water is readily available for human use and all of that stems from precipitation over time. The annual rainfall on the continents is finite. Given that a kilogram of wheat bread requires 1,600 litres of water to produce and a single litre of beer requires around 300 litres of water to produce, it is plain to see that as the global population grows, water is becoming an increasingly scarce resource, and one that requires stewardship. The ramifications of water scarcity are becoming acute. The World Economic Forum's 2016 Global Risk Report places water crises in the top three Global Risks in Terms of Impact, third after failure of climate change mitigation or adaptation and weapons of mass destruction.

Water scarcity is an excess of water demand over available water supply. It is not purely an issue of physical water availability. Rather, scarcity is defined by how we manage and allocate the resources that are available. For individuals and communities, water scarcity is a social construct - a consequence of being born poor in the 'wrong' place. For ecosystems, water scarcity is the result of man-made processes such as unconstrained abstraction for agricultural or industrial use, unsustainable demand from increasing populations and urbanisation or because of variabilities in resource levels driven by climate change. As the UNDP noted in their landmark 2006 report Beyond Scarcity, the world's water crisis is rarely a problem of absolute scarcity but is instead one of governance. Water scarcity is intrinsically linked with how we collectively manage water resources and water access.

Water abstraction may cause long-term harm to catchments and aquifers, leading to alteration of habitat, local climate and sustainable water supply. This affects community health, challenges food supply, inhibits economic development and may lead to conflict within local communities and between all water users. Water scarcity also affects major energy sources (oil, gas, biofuel, electric power) because of the very large amounts of water required for fuel production and power generation. Water treatment, in addition, is a major consumer of fossil fuels.

Water can be a substantial operational cost for business. Saving water through good management makes sound business sense. But reducing on-site water use will not, on its own, lead to improved water management by the public and private institutions with the ultimate responsibility for the resource. In order to mitigate the business risks, as identified in the WEF Global Risk Report: sustainability of supply; resource pollution; lax regulatory control; and the social license of businesses operating adjacent to water-poor communities, it is necessary to move from an on-site, efficient water management mindset to a much broader focus contributing towards the effective stewardship of a shared resource.

Stewardship considers the impact of business activities on water availability and quality beyond organisational boundaries and recognises water to be a common pool resource requiring collective responsibility [and action?]. It is about playing an active part in taking care of something we do not own but upon which we all rely. In the words of the Alliance for Water Stewardship (AWS), "Good water stewards understand their own water use, catchment context and shared risk in terms of water governance, water balance, water quality and important water-related areas; and then engage in meaningful individual and collective actions that benefit people and nature."

Water stewardship is intended to support and contribute to Integrated Water Resource Management by all actors. The AWS Standard applies to any site that interacts with water (i.e., uses, consumes, withdraws, sources, treats, supplies, diverts or discharges water into water bodies). Implementing the AWS Standard helps sites to:

  • mitigate their water risks
  • address their shared water challenges in the catchment, and
  • ensure that responsible water stewardship actions are in place to minimise negative impacts and maximise positive impacts for everyone

Tools and certification schemes are available to businesses to help and encourage them to become better at managing and to start stewarding water. A key point is that relatively small steps within a strategic approach can have a big impact.

For example:

  • Measuring consumption: this can be done just by checking the bills or taking readings of the meter at regular intervals. This data can then be used to make absolute reductions in use or for comparison with other businesses in the sector, on a like-for-like basis
  • Assessing the water footprint: this can help establish where water is used and what might need attention such as where the greatest water consumption occurs and whether such a consumption rate is sustainable
  • Developing a management plan: taking a systematic approach to water use and how to reduce or safeguard it. It is possible to set targets for use and cost reductions
  • Identifying leaks and repairing them promptly: often as simple as turning off taps, changing toilet flush systems and regularly inspecting exposed pipe work
  • Creating awareness: raising the profile of water efficiency within the business by making staff aware of costs and the impact on profit. This can help reduce water wastage
  • Recycling and reusing: seeking alternative ways of reusing what would normally be waste water, such as water for cooling being used for cleansing or using rainwater to wash vehicles, flush toilets and urinals
  • Integrating water management into strategic planning within the business as a whole
Strategy

A 'strategy' is a long-term plan of action designed to achieve a particular goal whilst taking into consideration the widest possible set of potential options and their impacts. Reacting to a short-term problem without changing your overall goals is usually tactical, not strategic.

Water Stewardship

The globally endorsed definition of 'Water Stewardship' is "The use of water that is socially equitable, environmentally sustainable and economically beneficial, achieved through a stakeholder-inclusive process that involves site and catchment-based actions. Good water stewards understand their own water use, catchment context and shared risk in terms of water governance, water balance, water quality and important water-related areas; and then engage in meaningful individual and collective actions that benefit people and nature."

Socially equitable water use

'Socially equitable water use' recognises and implements the human right to water and sanitation and helps to ensure human wellbeing and equity.

Environmentally sustainable water use

'Environmentally sustainable water use' maintains or improves biodiversity, ecological and hydrological processes at the catchment level.

Economically beneficial water use

'Economically beneficial water use' contributes to long-term sustainable economic growth and development and poverty alleviation for water users, local communities and society at large.

External actions

'External actions' may be in collaboration with others in the catchment and including actions in the supply chain and the catchment as a whole.

Internal actions

'Internal actions' are undertaken by business within the site and under the responsibility of the site management.

Water footprint

'Water footprint' is the total volume of fresh water used in the lifecycle of products such as food, clothing or energy. Individuals have a personal footprint because we all consume these products. Countries also have their own water footprints. 90 per cent of our global water footprint relates to agriculture and food.

Water scarcity

'Water scarcity' is an excess of demand over available water supply. The UK Environment Agency defines water stress as areas where:
(a) The current household demand for water is a high proportion of the current effective rainfall which is available to meet that demand; or
(b) The future household demand for water is likely to be a high proportion of the effective rainfall available to meet that demand.

Water stress

More generally (than 'water scarcity') 'water stress' occurs when annual water supplies drop below 1,700 cubic metres per person. Below 1,000 cubic metres per person is defined as water 'scarcity' and below 500 cubic metres as 'absolute scarcity'.

Water conservation

'Water conservation' is about saving water, using as little as possible.

Water Management

'Water Management' is the way water use and disposal is managed. To contribute to sustainability it should be focused on the immediate and direct costs of scarcity and efficient use of the resource.

Water efficiency

'Water efficiency' measures how much water is used for a given function. To contribute to sustainability, the minimum amount of water feasible to accomplish a function, process, task or result should be used. However, the quality of water is also important: efficiency measures should also match the water quality to its intended use, e.g rainwater for non-potable uses.

Water abstraction (withdrawal)

'Water abstraction' (withdrawal) is when water is removed from any sources, either permanently or temporarily. Mine water and mine or land drainage are included. Similar to water withdrawal.

Integrated water resources management (IWRM)

'Integrated water resources management (IWRM)' has been defined by the Global Water Partnership (GWP) as "a process which promotes the coordinated development and management of water, land and related resources, in order to maximise the resultant economic and social welfare in an equitable manner without compromising the sustainability of vital ecosystems".

Answering YES

Small and medium-sized businesses (SMEs) MUST

State their business sector

Describe their approach to responsible water use

Small and medium-sized businesses (SMEs) MAY

Describe any water stewardship strategies (to include both internal and external actions such as water use reduction and collaboration with other users and management bodies) or explain why they do not have water stewardship strategies in place

Explain whether they were subject to any penalties, fines and/or enforcement orders for breaches of abstraction licenses, discharge consents or other water and wastewater related regulations and state what steps were undertaken to rectify the problem

Explain whether water presents operational benefits or market opportunities for the company

Share any successes or valuable lessons learned

Provide any other relevant information

Large and Multinational Corporations (MNCs) MUST

State their business sector

Describe their water stewardship strategy to include both internal and external actions such as water use reduction and collaboration with other users and other stakeholders, such as management bodies

Large and Multinational Corporations (MNCs) MAY

Explain their impact on water supply and on wastewater and surface water disposal (i.e. water withdrawal, consumption, and/or discharge)

List the inherent water scarcity risks that could generate a substantive change in the business

Explain whether water management presents operational benefits or market opportunities for the company

Explain whether they were subject to any penalties, fines and/or enforcement orders for breaches of abstraction licenses, discharge consents or other water and wastewater related regulations and state what steps were undertaken to rectify the problem

Share any successes or valuable lessons learned

Provide any other relevant information

Answering NO

All Businesses MUST

Explain why they do not or cannot answer YES to this question, listing the business reasons, any mitigating circumstances or other reasons that apply

All Businesses MAY

Describe any water stewardship or water conservation and efficiency efforts they make even if they cannot be referenced as part of a broad strategic approach

Mention any future intentions regarding this issue

DON'T KNOW is not a permissible answer to this question

NOT APPLICABLE is not a permissible answer to this question

Version 1

To receive a score of 'Excellent'

Responsible water use and/or water stewardship is a strategic priority for the company

Examples of policy and practice which may support the EXCELLENT statement:

  1. Has implemented effective strategy for the stewardship of water resources and works with the relevant external stakeholders
  2. Publicly available water stewardship policy or strategy that meets all requirements
  3. The company extends the importance it places on responsible water use and/or the stewardship of water to its value chain outside the company (i.e. it tries to use suppliers or sell to companies that also engage in stewardship of water resources)
  4. Has well thought out future objectives and targets in place
  5. The company is committed to responsible water use and/or water stewardship, even if this may result in small financial losses
  6. Risks recognised and responsibility for water stewardship held at board or senior executive level
  7. Actively collaborates with external entities engaged in water stewardship
  8. Supports and coordinates with public sector agencies in the implementation of plans and policies, including working together towards meeting the human right to water and sanitation
  9. Engages with policy makers to develop and promote water stewardship
  10. Has achieved an externally recognised standard of excellence
  11. Is an exemplar to other companies
  12. Commits to other initiatives that advance effective water stewardship
  13. Intends to deliver additional social or environmental benefits, keeping with the definition of water stewardship
To receive a score of 'Good'

Strong commitments to the responsible use of water and/or water stewardship evidenced

Examples of policy and practice which may support the GOOD statement:

  1. Has company-wide targets (quantitative) or goals (qualitative) with intention of moving towards greater stewardship
  2. Has formal plan for climate change adaptation, and where appropriate, mitigation, showing its connection to water impacts
  3. Water stewardship is considered when making business decisions
  4. Thorough and frequent water-footprint assessment of how company activities are affecting water quality and availability which are used to support and develop future strategy
  5. Discloses who has the highest level of direct responsibility for water within the organisation and how frequently they are briefed
  6. Importance of water stewardship fully communicated to all employees
  7. Company has a water stewardship strategy which enables more efficient or sustainable water usage and disposal
  8. Requests suppliers to report on their water use, risks and/or management
  9. Develops a system that promotes and evaluates water-related legal compliance
To receive a score of 'Okay'

Some policies and practices for responsible use of water and/or water stewardship evidenced OR the issues of responsible water use or water stewardship are not applicable to the company

Examples of policy and practice which may support the OKAY statement:

  1. Company makes clear it can have no role, or an extremely limited one, when it comes to water stewardship
  2. Water usage has been analysed at all stages of the production process and efficient measures adopted to reduce wastage/overuse
  3. Measures consumption of water to identify areas to reduce usage/wastage
  4. Undertaken some assessment of how company activities are affecting water quality and availability
  5. Staff aware of ‘water saving’ and ‘efficient water use’ measures in place
  6. Complies with legal and regulatory requirements and respects water-related rights
  7. Policies/practices adopted to reduce wastage - such as monitoring leaks, recycling and reusing - but limited evidence of long term approach
To receive a score of 'Poor'

No consideration to responsible water use or water stewardship evidenced / no consideration given to company practices on the impact on water availability and quality

Examples of policy and practice which may support the POOR statement:

  1. Little or no consideration of the impact of business activities on water or its availability
  2. Company has determined water strategies which remain unimplemented because not deemed financially viable
  3. No strategy or general practice for stewardship of water resources
  4. Company claims it has minimal engagement with supply chain