Addressing water risks
Central to our approach to Water Stewardship are water users taking the responsibility to promote the more sustainable use and management of water in order to reduce their water-related risks. They can only meaningfully do this by a) working to reduce their own impacts on water in the value chain; b) understanding the shared water risks they face on a location specific basis; c) engaging in partnerships and collective action to address these shared water risks.
Typically, the local collective action partnerships start with an assessment phase that assesses a) the current state of the watershed, groundwater, infrastructure, water management institutions, water policy, supply and demand etc; b) the risks these generate for the business and surrounding communities and ecosystems; and c) how climate and social change may affect these risks over the next 20 years. Assessing the risks from a financial perspective provides the rationale and evidence base for businesses to support interventions in water management beyond their breweries or farms. Water risks might include, for example, regional water shortages resulting in an interruption to the brewery water supply, or a polluted water source requiring more costly water treatment.
After the shared risk is exposed and targeted through an action plan, multi-stakeholder partnerships between the local community, the public sector and the company are developed to mitigate the shared water risk in the second phase. These interventions are tailored to the local situation and can include a wide range of projects covering groundwater protection, watershed conservation, infrastructural upgrades and strengthening of local water management institutions.
The third phase then reflects upon the lessons learned from the previous two phases and seeks to include new partners to influence wider change beyond one company. It seeks to attract other partners from the private sector to sustainably influence a more cautious use of water resource in their supply chains.
Categorising types of water risk and holistic water risk mitigation
Water risks can only really be understood and addressed at a watershed level in cooperation with all stakeholders. Therefore, concrete projects and activities to address shared water risk needs to be tailored to the local situation based on sound assessments. They can be loosely categorised under four broad headings:
- Physical investments into infrastructure or ecosystems – e.g. help to upgrade public infrastructure and reduce water losses for supply networks to ensure flows meet downstream water needs; improve water supply and sanitation facilities; and increase catchment forest cover
- Helping to reduce the water impacts of others – e.g. create awareness campaigns; reduce groundwater demand; work with farmers and others to enhance land use management practices and thereby to reduce pollution from agricultural run-off, improve recharge to groundwater sources and prevent soil erosion; , establish a business forum for improved water use; and promote self-regulation schemes
- Supporting governments in the implementation of public water policy – e.g. helping to establish and capacitate water user associations, collecting and sharing hydrological data
- Strengthening water governance – e.g. develop a platform for public-private dialogue on water; support public accountability studies; and engage in river basin planning
While these individual elements can have some degree of benefit in isolation, adopting a holistic approach that considers a combination of elements is much more likely to deliver positive results. Wherever possible, activities should be implemented through or in close collaboration with the government bodies that are mandated to manage water resources. This holistic and inclusive approach forms the basis of good corporate water stewardship and helps ensure the impact and institutional sustainability of any interventions.