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Water Stewardship Provides the Roadmap for Action

Photo: Courtesy of delfi de la Rua

Water shortages and poor water quality can destabilize companies’ operations and supply chains. Meeting these challenges requires more than hoping for the right weather.


Matt Howard

Vice President, Water Stewardship; Director, Alliance for Water Stewardship North America

Water scarcity, flooding, water quality, and stakeholder perception are among the long list of diverse and complex water-related issues that present material risks for companies. Applying the principles of good water stewardship, from the corporate level to the site level, offers a comprehensive, impactful, and flexible approach for identifying and mitigating water risks as well as helping a company’s financial bottom line.

Improving water resources

The Alliance for Water Stewardship (AWS) is a global membership collaboration composed of businesses, NGOs, and public sector entities aligned behind a mission to create a water-secure world. The AWS membership is diverse, ranging from large corporations like Apple and PepsiCo to small manufacturers and regional nonprofits focused on improving water resources in their surrounding watersheds.

The goals of AWS and its membership are achieved through the promotion and adoption of a framework for meaningful water stewardship action — the International Water Stewardship Standard (AWS Standard). The AWS Standard is applied at the site level and drives the implementer to understand its water use, watershed, and stakeholders, leading to the development of context-based objectives to respond to identified water risks and opportunities. It is a flexible framework that can be implemented at any site, in any sector, anywhere in the world, and it drives, recognizes, and rewards good water stewardship performance.

As an example, the pharmaceutical industry is an emerging sector prioritizing action on water stewardship. Not only does pharmaceutical manufacturing require ample and clean water, but the increased focus on contaminants of emerging concern (CECs), which include pharmaceuticals, has placed emphasis on the industry’s potential impact on water quality. Within the AWS membership, a couple of pharmaceutical industry leaders, Abbott Labs and Boehringer Ingelheim, are actively integrating water stewardship principles into their corporate sustainability strategies. This includes implementation and certification to the AWS Standard at high-risk sites.  

The Water Council

While meaningful water stewardship action takes place at the site level, good water stewardship performance is required throughout the value chain. It is a continuum from corporate strategy-setting to site-specific action that leads to impactful water stewardship outcomes. No matter where you fall on that continuum, the manifestation of water challenges and risks; rapidly changing climate; and new momentum behind Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) investing are demanding water stewardship action.

The official regional partner for AWS in North America, The Water Council, is working with AWS members and non-members alike to help connect corporate water strategies and policies to site-level actions achieved through certification to the AWS Standard. Many corporate issuers of ESG reports find it difficult to credibly tell a water stewardship story that impacts multiple sites in multiple watersheds across different classes of assets.

Through The Water Council’s experience of developing the AWS marketplace in North America, it has learned valuable insights to help businesses move from good intentions to measurable water stewardship results, setting meaningful targets impacting the value chain and ultimately helping companies prioritize high-risk sites for implementation of the AWS Standard and obtaining greater water security.

Water stewardship is difficult but fundamentally necessary work. From dairies to data centers, The Water Council and AWS can work with companies across North America to mitigate water-related risks and enhance brand value by addressing shared water challenges and opportunities.

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