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Today is World Water Day, a day that shines a spotlight on water related issues and inspires action for change. The theme for this year is Better water, better jobs. Throughout the world over 1 billion people work in agriculture, fishing and forestry. Adequate water of good quality is critical to their livelihoods.

Globally water resources are under immense pressure which is why as a business we are actively striving to be more efficient users of water and also working with others to manage this precious resource.
Lack of access to this water can have a profound impact on the health and the ability of individuals to support themselves and their families. Since 1998, all of our suppliers have been required to provide access to water and sanitation facilities for workers in our supply chain. To go further in this area, this year we also aim to embark on a pilot project with WaterAid focussing on improving access to Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) facilities. This work, in some of our key clothing supply chains in India, will target workers in our supply chains and the communities that they live in – so watch this space.

But access to water and sanitation facilities at work is of course just one part of a very complex web of interactions between people, business, ecosystems and water. Access to sufficient water of good quality is essential for building resilient communities, healthy ecosystems as well as for small and large scale agriculture and for other industrial purposes. In areas prone to drought, flooding or affected by poor water quality water, everyone is affected, and there is a collective responsibility to ensure that there is fair and equitable allocation of water at times of stress.

We believe that good water stewardship starts at home, so we have targets to improve the water efficiency across our stores and offices by 35% by 2020. Water is also absolutely critical for growing our raw materials and processing them into products that end up on our shelves (the video above highlights why we are working on water in our food supply chains).

Within our Foods supply chain we have worked closely with our direct factory suppliers and through our Sustainable Factory Programme now save over 8.5million m3 each year. Agriculture accounts for about 70% of global freshwater use so we also work closely with our growers to encourage better water management. We do this through encouraging the uptake of agricultural sustainability standards and supporting research and innovation to improve on farm efficiencies.

We have also done some detailed risk analysis within our supply chains and have identified which of our sourcing regions are at the highest risk from water stress. In many of those areas, such as Spain, Peru and Kenya we are collaborating with others in order to build stronger governance of our shared water resources.

In South Africa we have been working closely with WWF and the Alliance for Water Stewardship (AWS) to build resilience in the Ceres region of the Western Cape, currently in the midst of a severe drought. Our involvement there has included working with some of our stone fruit farmers to raise their capacity to monitor and better manage water resources across their farm. We have developed an online tool version of the AWS standard to encourage wider uptake of water stewardship approaches in South Africa and further afield. The project has also cleared a large area of alien species, which are known to have a significant effect on the water balance for the region.  The project in South Africa has also extended our work with the NGO Emerging Leaders to successfully empower individuals in the nearby community of Prince Alfred Hamlet to take a lead on water issues within their communities, to ensure they understand their water rights and have a say as to how the resource is managed.  

Water Stewardship is challenging for a business sourcing from over 15,000 farms in over 50 countries. By encouraging the uptake of certain agricultural standards, incentivising the continuous improvement from our direct suppliers and undertaking targeted water stewardship activity in high risk areas with trusted collaborators we are rising to the challenge.

And it is not only freshwater we are working on, we have also been active supporting work in marine environments as well.  

Happy World Water Day!

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