During World Water Week, we should remember that water is not only a life source for communities and environments but, in many cases, it is also a fundamental basis for business. Without an adequate and reliable source of water, both ecosystems and industries suffer. In this sense, water serves as one of the purest examples of the alignment of business and environmental priorities, as the protection of scarce water resources can both promote a company’s bottom line and protect the planet.

Water scarcity is not a new problem. We know that almost one-fifth of the world’s population today lives in areas without access to enough water, and international demand will exceed supply by 40 percent by 2030. Rather than wait for this projected disparity to play out, can businesses proactively address water scarcity, to protect themselves and enhance the communities in which they operate? At SABMiller, we’ve been working with the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and other partners to develop techniques to do just that.

Andy Wales, SABMiller

Andy Wales, SABMiller

We’ve found that the first step must be to assess the local context and shared risks. We’ve taken a comprehensive look at water use in our entire beer production process –  in the form of water footprints – in five countries, understanding the impact on watersheds from grain to glass. We have committed to reducing the average amount of water we use to make a liter of beer 25% by 2015 and we are making progress towards achieving this through a range of technological and operational interventions. However, when looking at managing water risk beyond our own breweries, in the wider value chain, we identify the action plan with local partners around specific watersheds, rather than prescribing solutions on a multi-national level.

This means looking at the strain on the watershed, the efficiency of irrigation techniques in farming and the effectiveness of water use in our production process. With concrete, locally relevant data in these dynamic regions, we can enact solutions in concert with stakeholders on the ground who have a stake in these issues.

To date, SABMiller has experienced a variety of successes that encourage us to expand our method of local solutions with strong partnerships. In Tanzania, we are working directly with farmers to reduce impact on water resources through an educational campaign introducing new efficiency techniques and technologies. A major project in India is recharging groundwater sources and, with the involvement of local partners, we helped develop a systematic approach to water conservation and resource management. And in the U.S., MillerCoors has joined with The Nature Conservancy to work with barley farmers in Idaho’s Silver Creek Valley by developing a comprehensive watershed conservation plan.

Based on our experience, the only way to address global water problems is with local water stewardship solutions. Carefully crafted local initiatives, whether big or small, provide great benefit to address the global water crisis by engaging community members in water conversations and producing direct results to manage resources.  In the case of water, environmentally sustainable practices throughout the supply chain align with business goals. We’ve learned that collaborative, local water solutions can both promote profitability and protect the planet.

Photo courtesy of SABMiller's image library. Credit: Ed Robinson/OneRedEye

About The Author

Andy Wales

Andy Wales is SABMiller's Head of Sustainable Development.