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How much do you know about the water footprint of your household? Chances are that you have some understanding of your direct water use (i.e. coming out of the tap) but less of an understanding of the water embedded in the food that you eat and products you consume.  However, the average person in Great Britain uses about 150 litres of tap water a day, which leaps up to 3,400 litres if you include water embedded in the foods and products we consume. 

The same principle applies to businesses as well. Generally, business users will have a good appreciation of the amount, cost and impacts of water that they use directly with less clarity on water embedded further down the supply chain despite this likely representing a greater usage and risk. 

The old adage goes we never appreciate the true worth of water until the well (or for business – the supply chain) runs dry. Many places are already being affected by drought, flooding (think Somerset Downs last year) or water of the wrong quality and this will become more pronounced in future.  

Water demand globally is due to increase by 55% by 2050 so ignoring water embedded within supply chains is a high risk strategy for any business. In many places the well is already dry and rising populations, changing consumption patterns and climate change will all contribute to greater water stress in the future. 

Water week

To this end M&S has been working with stakeholders, including WWF, for a number of years to better understand how and where water stresses are likely to impact our business. But understanding risk is just the start of the journey which is why we have also initiated a number of collaborative projects to better manage water stressed areas of our supply chain.   

One project we are working on is with WWF, the Alliance for Water Stewardship (AWS) and others in the Ceres region in the Western Cape of South Africa. Here we are working with 9 soft fruit suppliers at farm level to implement the AWS standard for responsible water stewardship. The collaborative nature of this project has been essential given the scale of the challenge as well as the shared risk amongst stakeholders. 

We will be sharing some insights from our progress on water to date at this year’s World Water Week, where the focus is on water and development. As a business we source from over 50 countries around the world and ensuring an adequate and equitable use of water for all users is crucial to maintaining our license to operate. However, with rising pressures and demands on our world’s finite freshwater supplies, greater investment and collaboration will be required across the board to address our shared water needs.