Drought and other water-related risks have in recent years threatened the sustainability of South African businesses, demanding they take a strategic and systemic approach to their water needs and sources.
The good news is that tools are available to guide companies in planning and implementing an effective response to these risks, according to Fiona Sutton, principal consultant at global engineers and scientists SRK Consulting.
“We work with clients to apply the International Water Stewardship Standard, which outlines five steps through which companies can achieve good water stewardship practices,” said Sutton. “Developed by the well-respected Alliance for Water Stewardship (AWS), this standard guides improved water performance both on site and in the broader catchment.”
The first step in working towards the AWS Standard is for site owners to gather and understand all its relevant water-related data. While time-consuming, it is perhaps the most important stage – as it ensures that the site owner’s future decisions are based on accurate information about water use within its site and catchment.
This will include identifying the water sources from which the site draws, the locations to which it returns its discharges, and the catchments upon which it relies – and which it may affect. For the site itself, the data collection will focus on aspects such as water balance, water quality, water flows and storage volumes, and water-related costs and revenues.
It will also need to explore water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) factors, and how to create shared value with other stakeholders. This means considering the adequacy of available WASH services within the catchment – such as the availability of water and toilet facilities – to combat the spread of water-related disease.
“This lays the foundation to understanding the site’s shared water challenges as well as its water related risks, impacts and opportunities,” she said. “From this starting point, the second step can be taken: committing to water stewardship and developing a water stewardship plan.”
Plan, do, review
The plan needs to clarify the mission, vision and goals/targets, where the targets cover the key areas of sustainable water management of the organisation, as it pursues good water stewardship in line with the AWS Standard, as well as the people who are responsible. It must also include the process for reporting to regulatory agencies and other stakeholders in line with ESG (environmental, social and governance) obligations, the ways that the plan will be measured and monitored, the actions and timeframes to achieve it, and the financial resources to be committed.
“Where possible, it is important to link each target set with the achievement of best practice – as this will help address shared water challenges and the AWS outcomes,” she said. “The plan needs to demonstrate the company’s responsiveness and resilience to water…
Read more:: Managing water risks – on site and in catchment