M&S, Ecolab and General Mills adopt water stewardship standard

30th May, 2014 by Ken Whitehead

A partnership of NGOs and businesses aims to address global water challenges through a new international standard.

A new water stewardship standard has been successfully piloted with flower and vegetable growers in Kenya, and is now being used by companies in South Africa, China, Australia and Peru. A pilot project involving WWF identified water scarcity and quality threats, including sanitation issues for farm labourers, affecting nine South African suppliers of stone fruit (peaches, nectarines and cherries) to M&S and Woolworths. The Alliance for Water Stewardship (AWS) Standard aims to provide the framework for working with local communities and authorities to solve these problems.

AWS – a partnership of major NGOs and leading businesses, including General Mills and Nestlé – is also collaborating with Coop, a Swiss retailer, and a major Peruvian asparagus grower to reduce the impact of Peru’s fresh asparagus industry on the country’s water resources.

Adrian Sym, Executive Director of AWS, explains: “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.”

Mintails, which processes South African gold mine tailings, recently became the first mining company to adopt the standard. And in China, Ecolab, a leading supplier of water, hygiene and energy technologies and services, is using the standard to gain a more nuanced understanding of its water use within a heavily degraded catchment, and target resources appropriately.

Betsy Otto, Water Initiative Director for the World Resources Institute, believes the AWS standard is important first step toward defining what water stewardship should actually look like. “The standard does a good job of considering site-specific information and the local context of water resources”, she adds, “while still providing a comparable and scalable approach that is applicable for global decision-making”.

Water stewardship is increasingly recognised as an essential element of managing risk in retail supply chains, as well as preserving natural assets for the benefit of all those who rely upon them. The AWS standard defines criteria for good water stewardship at both a site and catchment level, and aims to provide a framework that will support sustainable freshwater use internationally. AWS plan to launch a verification system by the end of 2014.

According to Alexis Morgan of the WWF, who leads the AWS Global Water Roundtable, companies that partner with NGOs on the AWS standard can help to make it scalable, while boosting their credibility on water stewardship issues. “The AWS offers a win-win solution which can provide mutual benefits by addressing shared water challenges”, he says.

Photo credit: Shirley Plowright, AWS fieldwork in Peru © Ricardo Monsivais

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