CSR and Sustainable Water Use

World Water Day took place this week, a focal point for a CSR issue which is growing in importance and prominence. Sustainable water use is becoming a major topic for business as it is critical to so many production processes.

An industry for which water is particularly important is brewing. Depending on where you live, and where the hops for your beer are grown, it can take as much as 155 litres of water to produce one litre of beer.

Consequently, brewing companies are making reducing their water footprints a key focus of their CSR strategies.

At a conference in Brussels late last month, brewing companies pledged to significantly reduce their water use. Speaking at the conference, Stuart Orr, from the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) said: “The business world is waking up to water in a way it hasn’t before. From now on, and into the future, our lives are going to be determined by increasing water scarcity.”

He said that companies were alive to the risks posed by water scarcity and were moved to co-operate on minimising that risk.

From a CSR perspective, breweries and spirit manufacturers are at the frontline of the threat from water scarcity. As so many are global brands, they often operate in areas which are facing real problems of freshwater scarcity in decades to come.

Companies outlined various targets and tactics, employed as part of CSR strategies, that they had set themselves to deal with the issue.

Anheuser-Busch InBev, which produces brands such as Stella Artois and Budweiser, has 130 production plants worldwide. It plans to cut water use per bottle of beer from 5.5 litres to 3.5 litres by next year. SAB miller has said it will cut water use by 25% by 2015. Soft drinks manufacturers such as Coca Cola and PepsiCo have said they will use water reduction technologies as well as reusing water.

Companies that implement these policies now, are not only acting responsibly, they will end up safeguarding their businesses. Water is not an infinite resource and with scarcity will come expense.

Karl Falkenberg, Director-General of the European Commission’s Environment Office told the conference that both business and consumer attitudes to water were unsustainable over the next 40 years.

He said: “We should all think about this, particularly here in Europe, where we flush our toilets with drinking-quality water.”

Given that 900 million people worldwide lack access to safe drinking water according to the UN, our European carelessness with water is rather sobering.

According to the UK-based NGO Waterwise, each person in the UK uses 150 litres of water a day. The amount we use has been increasing by 1% since the 1930s and this is no longer sustainable.

Reduction in company water use needs to be combined with individual responsibility to ensure that the taps do not run dry.

Photo credit: uberphot