The Carbon Trust announced Monday it is piloting a new Water Footprint label and certification scheme. It is now inviting businesses to certify their water use assessments with the scheme, using the Water Footprint Network’s methodology or the ISO water footprint standard.
The scheme is modeled after the company’s popular carbon certification scheme and will focus on helping companies reduce their water use and cut costs. Participating companies will be able to capture energy- and water-efficiency improvement measures and stay abreast of future regulatory or supply chain risks.
As Darran Messem, Managing Director of Certification for the Carbon Trust, explained: “Understanding a full life cycle water footprint can help to focus efforts on reducing the most significant environmental impacts of products. But it also makes good business sense to highlight areas of unforeseen risk and cost-saving opportunity,” he said.
The Carbon Trust is looking for businesses “to demonstrate their leadership in sustainability” by certifying the life cycle water use of their products to an international standard.
“We would encourage any organizations that are interested in finding out how they could become the first in their sector to achieve life cycle water footprint certification to get in touch,” Messem said.
The scheme is targeting agriculture and manufacturing businesses. According to the Carbon Trust, agriculture accounts for 70 percent of global freshwater use, while manufacturing is expected to see significant growth in its water demand – projected to increase by 400 percent between 2000 and 2050. Water footprinting can significantly lower this demand by revealing hotspots such as pollution, or identifying competing demands in areas of water stress and scarcity.
As Dr. John Kazer, technical lead auditor for Carbon Trust product footprinting activities, explained in a recent post, just counting the total number of liters of water companies use or save doesn’t tell the full story: “Taking a life cycle approach involves understanding how much water is consumed in every stage of the production, use and disposal of a product. In the case of a cup of tea this includes the water needed to grow the tea leaves and the sugar cane, as well as growing the feedstock consumed by dairy cows; the water used in the manufacturing process for both the main products and their packaging; the water used to brew the tea and clean the dirty cup; not to mention a number of other things such as the water used to generate the energy to boil the kettle.
“It is important to understand the life cycle water footprint of products because globally there is an increasing demand on water resources, which are not being adequately replenished. By 2025 it is estimated that two-thirds of the globe could be experiencing water stress, including 1.8 billion people facing absolute water scarcity. This is why businesses need to focus on understanding and reducing their water consumption. Otherwise they could find themselves at best facing higher costs for excessive use of a key resource, or at worst losing their social license to operate under competing priorities.”
Freshwater availability is poised to be the among the greatest sustainability challenges of the 21st century. The UN’s 2015 Word Water Development report projects their will be a 55 percent increase in water demand over the next 15 years, but resources will only meet 60 percent of the world’s water needs.
Aware of these risks, many companies are acting decisively to curb their water use by partnering with technology startups, working collaboratively to assess water risks with NGO-produced water tools and designing consumer-facing water campaigns. Evidence suggests the cost savings of more effective water management are real: SABMiller announced last month that it saved US$17million in 2014 through water- and energy-reduction measures.