This week, Nestlé, General Mills, M&S and other global brands committed to the Alliance for Water Stewardship (AWS), along with 27 other organizations including FEMSA Foundation, Water Footprint Network, Water Aid, World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and The Nature Conservancy, to promote a global framework for sustainable use of the world's limited freshwater resources.
The announcement came with AWS' release of the first International Water Stewardship Standard, which defines criteria for good water stewardship, aligns with other sustainability initiatives and supports independent certification.
"This is a wonderful opportunity to help private- and public-sector water users and managers become responsible water stewards, who protect and enhance freshwater resources for people and nature," said Alexis Morgan, director of the Global Water Roundtable at WWF.
According to a press release by AWS, it was developed through “a four-year, multi-stakeholder, global water roundtable process that included a diversity of business, public sector and civil society interests from around the world, as well as pilot projects held in seven countries.”
Pilot projects in pulp and paper, mining, chemicals, oil and gas, water service provision and agriculture applied the standard to test its feasibility, applicability and helped define targets in water governance, water balance and water quality. AWS offers companies various ways to “improve, incentivize and recognize responsible water use, including helping members engage key stakeholders within their watershed and supply chain.” AWS is also launching a capacity-development program and offering membership opportunities through which companies can learn what they can do to help protect shared resources, as well as shape the future of water stewardship.
General Mills’ VP and Chief Sustainability Officer, Jerry Lynch, said that as a global food company, water is critical to General Mills' business.
"We have an interest and a responsibility to protect the quality and supply of water upon which our business depends, and actively look for ways to collaborate with others to benefit our growers, the community and the environment," he added.
Carlo Galli, Water Resources, Technical & Strategic Advisor at Nestlé, said that the company "supports the efforts of AWS to promote water stewardship internationally and assist companies to manage water-related risk at a site and catchment level. The AWS Standard will enable companies to better assess their performance against a defined set of principles, identify opportunities for improvement and take collaborative steps to improve their water use."
"We are delighted to be able to launch the Standard here in Peru, a country that in many ways epitomizes the challenges of managing water wisely in a world where social, economic and environmental pressures collide," said Adrian Sym, Executive Director of AWS. "The work we have done in the asparagus sector here highlights how international demand for more and different foods can threaten the water resources that communities and companies depend on, and the need to work collectively to safeguard these resources and the livelihoods they support."
With fresh water supplies becoming scarce, water is an increasingly valuable source for companies and communities alike. It ranked third in the top ten global risks of highest concern in 2014 in a World Economic Forum's annual survey. Recently, WWF unveiled its updated Water Risk Filter, an online tool that allows users to map production facilities, supply chains and commodities. First released in 2012, over 1,500 different organisations have used the tool and nearly 50,000 facilities have been assessed with it.
The water issue appears to already be top of mind for Nestlé which, along with 14 other leading businesses, committed last month to holistic carbon-water management after research released by Anthesis in association the Water Footprint Network asserted that businesses and governments must tackle energy and water use in tandem or risk major disruption.