Organizations around the world are working hard to address water resource issues and promote water stewardship. Fortunately, a voluntary global standard has been developed to do just that.
The concept of water stewardship (internal and external approaches toward managing fresh water resources) is relatively new. It builds on well-known concepts such as water management, conservation, and efficiency.
Milwaukee-based The Water Council is the North American Headquarters for the Alliance for Water Stewardship (AWS), an international organization dedicated to developing a more consistent global approach to corporate water stewardship. In 2014, the alliance released The AWS International Water Stewardship Standard that organizations can use as a framework to identify and mitigate water risks. The standard is geared toward all sites that use water, whether they are an industrial water user, an agricultural producer, or municipal water user.
Matthew Howard, director for the Alliance of Water Stewardship North America, is responsible for implementing the AWS standard in North America.
“It’s not enough to just conserve water internally, you also need to understand what water risks externally may impact your business operations, whether it’s storm water runoff or depleting ground water resources that you rely on for your operations,” Howard says.
The AWS standard is nonprescriptive and provides a six-step process to help organizations identify their major water risks.
“Are your water risks quantity related, is it quality issues, or are you dealing with regulatory issues and risks?” Howard asks. “Are you facing reputational issues from stakeholders and the surrounding community in terms of your perceived use or misuse of water resources?
“By walking through the six steps of the standard, a company can identify those major risks, and the standard will help and direct them to develop a water stewardship plan that essentially mitigates those risks. Just as importantly, the standard helps to increase cost savings and efficiencies and reduce direct and indirect costs related to water, but ultimately it helps to ensure that those freshwater resources are viable and sustainable in the long run.”
Similar to other schemes, the AWS has accredited service providers that can provide training, consulting, and auditing to the standard.
“Once a company has run through the six steps of the standard and it can credibly demonstrate that it has met all of the core criteria and indicators in the standard, an auditor can come in and provide third-party certification to the standard,” Howard says. “Right now we are conducting training programs to accredit training providers for organizations that want to be AWS accredited to provide training on the standard, to consult with companies that are implementing the standard, and that want to do the conformity assessment or audit to the standard.”
“Companies gravitating toward implementing this standard are [mostly] food and beverage companies,” Howard says. “In North America, it’s food and beverage companies, the petrochemical and electronics industries, and obviously agricultural production.”
The International Water Stewardship Standard is free to use and download. Click here for more information.