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What water stewardship can do for corporates

MORE has been said than done about meeting South Africa’s water challenges; with the 2030 timeframe for meeting the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) looming, the country needs a new urgency on its water stewardship responsibilities.

This is the view of SRK Consulting principal consultant Fiona Sutton, who has urged businesses to take a more proactive approach to achieving water sustainability in their operations and supply chains. The United Nations Industrial Development Organization (Unido) has forecast that global fresh water demand will be 6 900 km3 per year by 2030 – some 40% over the global sustainable fresh water supply of 4 200 km3 per year- if current water practices continue.

“We are far from meeting the SDG water goals, which target the availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all,” said Sutton. “Many companies highlight water issues in their policies, but do not seem to have taken the vital steps toward implementation of more sustainable practices.”

To make practical progress on their water stewardship journey, Sutton urged the use of global best practice tools like the International Water Stewardship Standard from the Alliance for Water Stewardship (AWS).

“The AWS Standard offers a credible and globally-applicable framework for major water users to understand their own water use and impacts with practical guidance on how to effectively manage these impacts,” she said. “Part of the solution is for companies to work collaboratively and transparently with others, most importantly the local communities, for sustainable water management within the context of their wider water catchment.”

Practical steps and guidance in the AWS Standard help water users to improve their water practices for better on-site water performance, while also contributing to wider sustainability goals. She noted water crises are being exacerbated by climate change and are now acknowledged as societal risks due to their far-reaching consequences.

“According to the World Economic Forum’s Global Risks Report, environmental risks now make up four of the top five risks in terms of impact – in other words, the damage they can cause,” she said. “With water being so closely associated with environmental issues, this should send a warning to us.”

“The journey starts with an understanding of the business’s water dependencies and impacts and develops to allow the mitigation of operational and supply chain water risks,” she said. “Taking effective steps in this direction gives businesses a competitive advantage and boosts their brand value – while assuring investors that the enterprise is viable for the long term.”

By building relationships with local water-related stakeholders, companies can enhance the positive impact of their initiatives and also help address challenges shared by others in the catchment, said Sutton.

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