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Water Stewardship: the food and drink of good business


WWF-UK and M&S have just published a joint report providing practice tips on embedding water stewardship across a business, sharing learning gathered during our nine year partnership on water. We launched the report at a roundtable for food and drink retailers and brands, where we explored the opportunities for working together more collaboratively to address water risks across the sector.

A Pivot crop sprayer sprays water over canola fields.A Pivot crop sprayer sprays water over canola fields. Peter Chadwick/WWF

The last decade has seen an increasing number of businesses recognise that water poses a significant risk to business continuity and growth. For many years the traditional response to water risks has been a focus on water efficiency across company operations and supply chains. However, as water risks arise from the cumulative water use in basins, there is an increasing recognition that water efficiency alone is not sufficient to mitigate shared water risks. True mitigation requires a shift from a focus on internal water management to stewardship, where companies work collectively – beyond their fence line – to manage shared water challenges and support strong water governance.

Recognising this is not quick or simple process WWF and M&S have jointly published a report aimed at supporting businesses that want to use a water stewardship approach to respond to shared water risks. It provides practical tips on how to embed stewardship across a company’s operations and supply chains, sharing experience and lessons learnt from WWF and M&S’s water partnership including:

  • The importance of raising awareness of water risks across different teams in the organisation, not just with senior managers;
  • The value of identifying clusters of suppliers, the associated value to the business, and the impact if the supply was lost, all of which help to prioritise action in complex supply chains;
  • The benefit of building water stewardship into existing tools and processes across the business rather than creating anything new;
  • The need to understand the governance of water in locations where products are being sourced where there are priority water risks to the company and using experience from collective action to support improvements in the governance of water to scale up and lock in changes.

One of the key messages in the report is that collective action to mitigate shared water risks in hotspot locations is a long term commitment (over five years typically) with a need to dedicate sufficient and consistent resources to support. Any individual company won’t be able to take a leadership role in all sourcing locations that are exposed to water risk. We were keen to use the roundtable to begin a discussion on how we could work collaboratively across the food and drink sector on water stewardship initiatives.

Ceres Valley - Western Cape, South AfricaCeres Valley – Western Cape, South Africa. WWF

Ahead of the event we surveyed attendees to explore to what extent companies have aligned geographic hotspots of water risk in their operations and supply chains. This process identified a number of locations where retailers and brands collectively source from, highlighting great opportunities for co-ordination. Such co-ordination would offer a range of benefits including:

  • Enabling companies to efficiently address water risk across far more sourcing locations than would be possible individually;
  • The ability to leverage the influence of multiple companies to deliver at scale;
  • The opportunity to drive strategic interventions at the catchment scale rather than the field level.

As a next step WWF and M&S will be creating a more detailed proposal for a framework to support co-ordinated water stewardship responses by food and drink retailers and manufacturers in specific geographies. Once drafted we will be consulting widely to confirm how companies and other organisations would like to engage.

We are planning a follow up workshop in early 2017 and would love to hear from you if you would like to be involved, via email llee@wwf.org.uk

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