Food and drink firms urged to promote water stewardship across supply chains

A new action plan that promotes water stewardship in the UK food and drink sector and builds supply chains that are more resilient to 'precarious' flooding and water shortage risks has been launched today (9 March).

The six-step plan – outlined in Business in the Community’s (BITC) new ‘smartwater’ report – has urged businesses to work with suppliers to create an action plan to improve water quality and reduce water usage across their operations.

BITC’s environment director Gudrun Cartwright said: “Businesses increasingly recognise that action needs to be taken, but while tools and resources are available, it can be difficult for food and drink manufacturers to know where to start. By understanding their relationship with water, businesses can collaborate better to improve quality and use.”

With only 17% of water bodies currently meeting ‘good’ standards, and scarcity provoking civil unrest across the globe, the Defra-funded smartwater plan begins by asking businesses to build a relationship with water usage that creates an understanding of its scarcity, and the risks and opportunities that it can create.

Once this understanding is established, companies can set out a plan of action that prioritises water-hungry areas of their operations and begins to implement initiatives that can reduce water usage – such as alternative water sources and staff training and management.

Companies must then share the newfound sustainability practices with their supply chains and encourage them to adopt water strategies either through education or incentives.

With water management now operating in supply chains, the smartwater plan calls on companies to build resilience to floods or water shortage by implementing risk management strategies and offering support to farmers.

The final step sees businesses collaborate with each other, NGOs and Government to share best practices and promote sustainable and resilient partnerships.

Sea of change

The report has been backed by the National Farmers Union, the Food and Drink Federation, WRAP and the British Retail Consortium – which recently revealed that companies such ASDA, Sainsbury’s and Argos have collectively reduced carbon emissions by 19% over the past decade.

With the help of these NGOs, big brands such as Nestle – which considers water to be scarce resource – have been able to report improvements in water use.

Coca-Cola recently revealed a 10% improvement in water efficiency, while Costa Coffee owner Whitbread has slashed water consumption by 30% against a 2009 baseline.

Commenting on the report, Nestlé UK & Ireland’s chairman Fiona Kendrick said: “We have focussed on improving the water efficiency across our operations and have already delivered a 45% reduction in absolute water usage, against an ambitious target of 50% by 2020 (compared to 2006).

“We recognise that to optimise our impact on water stewardship, we must both take and promote a catchment level approach considering where we source our materials, our factory locations and where our consumers and local communities live.” Read the full report below.

edie has recently announced a brand new, half-day event dedicated to water management for business. Designed to provide sustainability, energy, facilities and resource managers with essential guidance on procuring, managing and maintaining a sustainable water management strategy, the event will also allow those responsible for water use to prepare for water retail market competition next year. 

Join us on April 26 to hear from those companies that are making water work, including L’Oreal, Intercontinental Hotels Group, Tesco, William Jackson Food Group. Full information is available here.

Smartwater report

Matt Mace

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