Water quality is an urgent national concern in the UK, where only 17 percent of water bodies currently meet ‘good’ standards. Several businesses are already working with farmers and others in their supply chains to improve the situation, but UK charity Business in the Community (BITC) is calling for more to be done.
Yesterday, BITC urged UK food and drink sector firms – including retailers and caterers – to seize the “significant opportunities to make a positive difference on water quality through their direct operations and wider agricultural supply chains.” The call to action was accompanied by the release of a new report, Smart Water: A prosperous future for the food and drink supply chain, which provides a six-step framework companies can use to reduce water use, improve water quality, and build resiliency to water-related risks across their supply chains.
BITC’s environment director Gudrun Cartwright, who led the project, explained, “Businesses increasingly recognise that action needs to be taken, but while tools and resources are available, it can be difficult for food and drink manufacturers to know where to start. By understanding their relationship with water, businesses can collaborate better to improve quality and use.”
‘Understand your relationship with water,’ is the first step, followed by ‘create a plan of action,’ ‘manage water sustainably in your operations,’ ‘work with your agricultural suppliers,’ ‘build resilience to flooding and water shortages,’ and ‘collaborate on sustainable water management.’ For each of these, the report provides useful tools, initiatives and information sources, as well as several examples of previous corporate initiatives from companies such as Kellogg's, Marks & Spencer (M&S), Waitrose, Sainsbury's, Diageo, and PepsiCo.
“Britain produces some of the best food and drink in the world, all of which depends on making the best use of our water,” said Rory Stewart, UK Secretary of State at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA).
“This report shows some of the exciting work that is already being done within the industry to manage water supply. From local fruit and vegetable producers who are naturally cleansing and recycling water to large corporations working with their global supply chains in Kenya and South Africa to improve regional water conditions.”
The report is part of a DEFRA-funded project on water in the food and drink supply chain, and was also supported by partners such as the National Farmers Union, Food and Drink Federation and British Retail Consortium.
Nestlé UK & Ireland Chairman and CEO Dame Fiona Kendrick contributed the report’s introduction, where she wrote, “At Nestlé, we are determined to play our role in helping conserve and preserve the UK’s water resources. We have focused on improving the water efficiency across our operations and have already delivered a 45% reduction in absolute water usage, against an ambitious target of 50% by 2020 (compared to 2006).
“We recognise however, that to optimise our impact on water stewardship, we must both take and promote a catchment level approach considering where we source our materials, our factory locations and where our consumers and local communities live. Working together with our employees, partner organisations and society we can help educate and engage, to identify new and innovative opportunities to address these ongoing challenges.”