Australia’s remarkable role in initiating and building a new system for protecting one of the world’s most precious resources, water, has been outlined in a new publication.
The Evolution of Water Stewardship: An Australian Perspective tells the story of a concept catalysed by Australia’s Millennium Drought that developed into a global system for managing water risks and engaging business, government and community – embraced by some of the world’s biggest companies. It details how the concerns of a handful of people in Melbourne in 2006 ultimately evolved into the global Alliance for Water Stewardship (AWS).
Published by the Australian Water Partnership, it was launched at Stockholm World Water Week by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade’s Michael Wilson: “For us it pressed two important buttons; [water stewardship] promoted new collaborative approaches to the planet’s escalating water challenges, and it brought in new players to addressing those water challenges, particularly the private sector.”
Other speakers included Alexis Morgan from the World Wildlife Fund, Jason Morrison, head of the United Nations Global Compact’s CEO Water Mandate, and Karin Krchnak from the World Bank 2030 Water Resources Group, who were each instrumental in upscaling water stewardship into a global initiative.
“When [The Nature Conservancy] started our efforts looking at the use of standards and certification as a potential tool for addressing water risks in North America, we were thrilled to discover the efforts of Water Stewardship Australia, which helped to propel us further and faster and create a common agenda globally rather than having competing regional interests,” said Karin Krchnak, formerly of The Nature Conservancy, one of the three founding organisations of the global AWS.
The story includes a surprising rejection of viewing water as a philanthropic Corporate Social Responsibility issue by the world’s leading alcohol manufacturer but rather as one where water stewardship is embedded as good business practice. It also reveals the extensive engagement of Apple in water conservation in China, along with AWS’s contribution to improved water practices in China’s industrial parks, and details the active role the Australian government has taken promoting water stewardship across the Indo-Pacific region.
The Evolution of Water Stewardship also includes acknowledgement from the fashion industry that it needs to lift its game on water use and pollution, and documents initiatives being undertaken with water stewardship in Asia to address these issues throughout the fashion supply chain.
The publication also profiles the work of water stewards large and small, from global giant Nestlé to Peninsula Fresh Organics, a small organic vegetable farm on the Mornington Peninsula.
The AWS Standard provides a roadmap for industry, agriculture and all non-domestic water users to adopt good water stewardship, which seeks to achieve four outcomes: sustainable water balance, good water quality, healthy important water-related areas, and good water governance.
Michael Spencer, [email protected]
Key excerpts from The Evolution of Water Stewardship
“Water stewardship understands that water is best managed by those who use it. It also recognises the need to have a sound understanding of the condition of the resource and how this impacts on different users and their priorities. It achieves this primarily through the transparent multi‑stakeholder processes through which [the system] was developed and is maintained. Water stewardship is about making sure that everybody who is dependent upon water in a catchment is able to meet their needs and work together for a sustainable future built on trust, understanding and a common vision.”
– Adrian Sym, CEO, Alliance for Water Stewardship International
“The pressure on the world’s water resources is going to increase with population growth, urbanisation and industrialisation. We can’t solve the problem, but we can put people on a path where everyone is working together to address the problem.”
– Michael Spencer, Chair, Alliance for Water Stewardship
“Australia has increasingly found itself at the forefront of water issues internationally because it has experienced crises and conducted widespread reforms. Other countries facing water crises of their own are interested in Australia’s water experience. Water stewardship engages people at the local level in water management, engages the private sector, responds to a growing consumer interest in sustainability and addresses pollution.”
– Russell Rollason, Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade
“We are one of the biggest users and polluters of water in the world – textile processing is responsible for 20 percent of the water pollution in Asia. Around 3000 litres of water go into making a t-shirt, and up to 8000 litres for a pair of jeans.”
– David Giles‑Kaye, CEO, Australian Fashion Council
“It’s not a philanthropic program (water stewardship), it’s a program enabling the business to grow responsibly in the long term. There is a clear business driver: we manufacture in 30 different countries at 150 manufacturing sites, approximately a third are in water-stressed areas. These WASH (water, sanitation, hygiene) programs originated as very much a philanthropic ‘Corporate Social Responsibility’ of millions of people getting access to clean water, the feel-good factor. In the last couple of years, we have more of an approach that strategically supports the business… we realised we had to embed a sustainability approach in our business, CSR is much more prone to the ups and downs of available funds.”
– Michael Alexander, Head of Environment, Diageo