Giving business a leg up for effective water stewardship

“To sustain their business, companies need to better understand the costs and opportunities of effective water resource management”, stresses Quantis water expert Jean-Baptiste Bayart. Ahead of the AWS Global Water Stewardship Forum, Quantis shares its experience working with major industrial players over the last 10 years, laying out key hurdles and potential solutions for companies to adopt water stewardship.

Water stewardship allows companies to manage risks

Even the smallest problem linked to water resources directly impacts business and generates costs. The main reason for companies to commit to water stewardship is to identify, quantify and ultimately act upon water risks.

Also essential for companies to understand is that risks are not necessarily constrained to their direct operations, but can arise all along their value chain. Indeed, when Unilever conducted their own water footprint, they found their 2 main hotspots were beyond the scope of their operations: consumer usage of their products accounts for 85% of their water footprint, while agriculture weighs in at 15%. Acting upon these metrics, the group revisited its products to help consumers cut their water consumptionand worked with farmers to introduce water-conscious solutions2.

Quantis uses the ISO 14046 and ISO 14073 norms to walk companies through the practicalities of evaluating their water footprint across their products’ entire lifecycle. The consultancy’s foundational Life Cycle Assessment expertise helps teams model a business’ entire value chain, to identify hotspots from water consumption, stresses and pollution and prioritize the corresponding action plans.

quantis water

Quantis suggests a 3-point approach to drive water stewardship across the value chain:

1+ Assess and quantify potential water risk factors both diverse and tied to a local context,
2+ Set ambitious goals through context-based water targets
3+ Work collectively on water stewardship challenges

1+ Assess and quantify potential water risk factors. These are tied to a local context and present in various forms:

  • Physical risks: diminishing resource availability, pollution and acute sensitivity of receiving waters, climate change-related impacts;
  • Regulatory risks: lacking water catchments governance, regulatory evolutions;
  • Reputational risks: brand image, local activism…

From there, businesses need to assign a financial value to the risks they have identified and get a clear picture of the corresponding impacts (environmental social, societal…) and opportunities (reduced expenditure, compliance with regulations, stakeholder dialog…). For example, Quantis developed the Wat-R-use Assessment Tool for the Total energy major, forming a systematic and context-based approach, where investing on reducing water consumption, recycling and reuse previously tended to rely on empirical decision-making.

Finally, these efforts would gain greater traction should a global database reach the appropriate level of detail and accuracy. A good starting point is to access the knowledge and data companies generate through their site managers, EHS teams and stakeholders. Also helpful are tools the likes of Aqueduct, the Water Risk Filter, GEMI Local Water Tool and Water Risk Monetizer.

2+ Set ambitious goals through context-based water targets

The very nature of water challenges is to be local. The corresponding water stewardship targets and plans have to address those same local contexts. As there can be no one-size-fits-all solution to manage the bulk of water issues, context-based water targets3 structure corporate water stewardship plans, enabling managers to develop solutions at the local level. For instance, where water pollution proves challenging, industries operating in that area must set the related targets and substantially improve water treatment plans. Likewise, if the key issue is water stress, reducing the local water consumption appears relevant. In territories struggling to access water, companies would be well advised to work with local communities through water sanitation and hygiene programs programs.

In a nutshell, businesses need to align with the UN’s Sustainable Development Goal n°6 in terms of water stress, pollution, ecosystems protection, access to water and sanitary infrastructures, as well as resources governance. Revealingly, Mars worked with the World Resources Institute (WRI) to develop such sustainability targets4, taking into account their global water consumption. The firm now aims to ensure water consumption across their value chain remains below the limit of what is annually renewable.

3+ Work collectively on water stewardship challenges

Based on an acute understanding of their water risks, businesses can effectively structure the corresponding action plans. To do so, they will need to take into account water is a resource they share with neighbors. This calls for companies to responsibly share the resources they use and co-develop solutions with local stakeholders. For example, water stresses call for urgent consumption cuts from industrial plants, whereas lasting results depend on concerted action.

Looking ahead, firms will need to work with local farmers to implement water-conscious approaches and ensure water resources are sustainably used. Such is also the case in applications requiring high-quality water. As early as 1992, bottled water producer Evian initiated a collaborative resource management plan with watershed users (local communities, farmers, etc.). As a result, farmers were supported in maintaining the local cheese production, applying the latest techniques to increase their milk production and meet European standards. Reducing the impact of agriculture ultimately led to an increase in smallholder income, all the while safeguarding the long-term purity of the Evian mineral water.

Also working with the communities in which they operate, Diageo, The Coca-Cola Company and PepsiCo5 are raising the bar for more and more companies to commit to water balance, hitting their targets notably through replenishment programs.

Now is the time to activate water stewardship

Moving beyond impact assessments, context-based water targets guide companies toward water balance. Quantis CEO Emmanuelle Aoustin encourages clients to put their knowledge to work: “The time for pilot testing is over – solutions and tools are now available for action: companies must start implementing them”. Jean-Baptiste Bayart concurs: “good metrics are the best kind of business case, as they can convince companies to invest in research, training and tools. These in turn enable teams to go the extra mile in implementing water management plans on the ground”. That is why Quantis proudly joined the WRI and Valuing Nature, as well as business partner Nestlé, in developing an open-sourced methodology to quantify the benefits of water stewardship.

To find out how businesses may tap into the benefits of effective water stewardship, contact our expert Jean-Baptiste Bayart.

1. https://www.unilever.com/sustainable-living/reducing-environmental-impact/water-use/helping-consumers-save-water/
2. https://www.unilever.com/sustainable-living/reducing-environmental-impact/water-use/working-with-our-suppliers-and-farmers-to-manage-water-use
3. https://www.ceowatermandate.org/files/context-based-targets.pdf
4. http://www.mars.com/docs/default-source/Sustainabile-In-A-Generation/water-stewardship_83017.pdf
5. https://c402277.ssl.cf1.rackcdn.com/publications/979/files/original/WWF_Water_Balance_Targets_Report.pdf?1481293867