Watching water stewardship

With current consumer trends and international focus on the environmental there is an ever-growing range of requirements facing business and local government. These can focus on tangible things like water and carbon as well as less tangible things like corporate and social responsibility and sustainability, writes sustainability consultant Kevin O’Grady.

In the case of water, there is a worldwide recognition that this will be the next area in which standards will be developed. The development of world standards for water stewardship is likely to form in two ways, concurrently:

  1. As Government policy leading to legislation which must be followed. This legislation may be influenced by bi-lateral or multi-lateral issues in the same way as the development of carbon emission reduction has been influenced by the Kyoto protocol. As the carbon experience shows, dealing with global issues through domestic legislation is fraught with difficulty.
  2. As market-driven standards that are widely accepted by environmental and social stakeholders and promoted water stewardship to consumers via the retailer and other trade ‘gatekeepers’. These standards are typically not constrained by regulatory minima or international trade protocols like the World Trade Organisation (WTO). The Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), the Marine Stewardship Council, Rainforest Alliance and Fair Trade are leading examples of high-end schemes.  These are typically part of the ISEAL Alliance.

Currently, there is a very early draft of a new International Water Stewardship Standard developed by the Alliance for Water Stewardship (AWS) that indicates the focus of water stewardship may be on managing whole of catchment impacts.

Around the world, individual sectors and regions are pondering what an eventual standard will look like for them.

In Australia, Water Stewardship Australia (WSA) has developed a regional standard that aims to be consistent with the AWS approach, but regionally relevant. The risk of not doing so is that another region may move ahead of the game and others will have to adopt a standard not suited to their region.

For example, the European Water Partnership (EWP), although an AWS member, has a programme of developing what they call ‘sectoral tools’ which will be highly Eurocentric.  They describe their aims, as follows:

  • The EWP harnesses European capacity, helps to coordinate initiatives and activities in international water issues and undertakes worldwide promotion of European expertise related to water.
  • The ultimate goal of the EWP is to elaborate strategies and implement concrete actions to achieve the objectives of the Water Vision for Europe.

In the case of the New Zealand meat industry, it may be of interest to note that Ingham Chickens in Australia have worked on an approach to meet the emerging standards.  Also, that large retail players like Marks and Spencer are actively looking at water stewardship for their suppliers (see Hepworth N, Agol D, Von-Lehr S and O’Grady K, 2011. AWS Kenya case-study technical report: Exploring the value of water stewardship standards in Africa. Alliance for Water Stewardship, funded by Marks and Spencer and GIZ amongst others).

For more information contact Kevin O’Grady who was involved as a consultant in the Ingham’s trial but has also worked with approaches to meet the emerging standards for irrigation, cotton growing, dairy farming, flower growing (Kenya), wine growing (Chile).

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