Nestlé and General Mills were among major businesses which today announced their commitment to the Alliance for Water Stewardship (AWS), alongside 27 other leading organizations including FEMSA Foundation, Water Footprint Network, WaterAid, World Wildlife Fund (WWF), and The Nature Conservancy in promoting a global framework for sustainable use of the world’s limited freshwater resources.

Water is a shared resource critical for human health, driving the economy, and maintaining freshwater species. Yet due to a myriad of factors, including growing demand, climate change and pollution, fresh water in many regions is increasingly at risk.

“We are excited to see these global leaders join us on the journey towards sustainable and equitable water use,” said Michael Spencer, Chair of AWS’s board and representative of Water Stewardship Australia. “Safeguarding fresh water requires collaboration across many sectors. Governments and civil society help ensure proper water management for people and nature. Companies can be better stewards of fresh water to safeguard their business and contribute to protecting the catchments they share with local communities.”

The announcement comes as AWS releases the first International Water Stewardship Standard 1.0, a global framework to promote sustainable freshwater use. 

“This is a wonderful opportunity to help private- and public-sector water users and managers become responsible water stewards, who protect and enhance freshwater resources for people and nature,” said Alexis Morgan, Director, Global Water Roundtable, WWF. “The standard enables companies to demonstrate water stewardship and water risk mitigation to their local communities, investors and suppliers. In doing so, WWF believes that companies will not only safeguard their business, but also demonstrate leadership in conserving fresh water.”

“As a global food company, water is critical to General Mills’ business,” said Jerry Lynch, Vice President, Chief Sustainability Officer, General Mills. “We have an interest and a responsibility to protect the quality and supply of water upon which our business depends, and actively look for ways to collaborate with others to benefit our growers, the community and the environment. We wholeheartedly embrace this challenge and are proud to be a founding partner with AWS as they seek to define the global standard on responsible water stewardship.”

AWS offers a variety of ways to improve, incentivize and recognize responsible water use, including helping members engage key stakeholders within their watershed and supply chain. The AWS Standard defines criteria for good water stewardship and was designed to align with other sustainability initiatives and support independent certification with varying levels of recognition. “Nestlé supports the efforts of AWS to promote water stewardship internationally and assist companies to manage water-related risk at a site and catchment level,” said Carlo Galli, Water Resources, Technical & Strategic Advisor, Nestlé. “The AWS Standard will enable companies to better
assess their performance against a defined set of principles, identify opportunities for improvement and take collaborative steps to improve their water use.”

The Standard was developed through a four-year, multi-stakeholder, global water roundtable process that included a diversity of business, public sector and civil society interests from around the world, as well as pilot projects held in seven countries. Over the course of nine months, leading companies in pulp and paper, mining, chemicals, oil and gas, water service provision and agriculture applied the Standard to test its feasibility and applicability. These projects helped define targets in water governance, water balance, water quality and other important water-related areas.

“We are delighted to be able to launch the Standard here in Peru, a country that in many ways epitomizes the challenges of managing water wisely in a world where social, economic and environmental pressures collide,” said Adrian Sym, Executive Director of AWS. “The work we have done in the asparagus sector here highlights how international demand for more and different foods can threaten the water resources that communities and companies depend on, and the need to work collectively to safeguard these resources and the livelihoods they support.” To encourage understanding and engagement around water, AWS is also launching a capacity development program and membership opportunities. By joining AWS organizations can learn what they can do to help protect shared resources, as well as shape the future of water stewardship.