Let’s talk about water stewardship this week!

Author: Liesl Truscott, Corporate Benchmarking, Director Textile Exchange

Let’s talk about water stewardship this week! 1

Credit: Chetna Organic, India 

Where I grew up in New Zealand and live now in the UK, water has never been something I’ve had to worry about. Being from a farming family, we experienced the occasional dry spell or heavy downpour … and being without “mains connection” was as close as it got to appreciating the privilege of water security. I’m not sure my children will enjoy the same privilege. This infographic provides a visual snapshot of progress towards SDG 6 Water and sanitation for all – one of the 17 Global Goals set for this decade of decisive action. At Textile Exchange our Climate+ strategy identifies climate change, water, biodiversity and soil health as interconnected challenges requiring interconnected solutions.

This morning, I joined the Alliance for Water Stewardship (AWS) panel on the first day of World Water Week and was so inspired by the session I thought I’d drop down some quick notes while fresh in my mind and – in the spirit of this important week. I also have a small request for you!  

But first a quick set-up of the session: Catalyzing Water Stewardship in Value Chains.  

As mentioned, we were hosted by Sarah Wade, Sector Lead, Alliance for Water Stewardship. Sarah opened with a short presentation about water stewardship and the AWS Standard System. Hans Bogaard (FMO – Dutch Development Bank) chaired and fired questions out to us on the panel.  


  • Anneke Keuning, Senior Environmental Specialist, BESTSELLER  
  • André Böckler, Project Manager, Sustainability Brand & Product, EDEKA  
  • Karen Kennedy, Sustainability Senior Manager, PepsiCo 
  • Liesl Truscott, Corporate Benchmarking Director, Textile Exchange 
  • Maeve Hall, Sustainability Manager – Water, Unilever 

Hans set us up very well by explaining how his organization, the FMO, is indeed part of the “chain”. Through providing investment finance to producer companies in emerging economies, FMO are also a part of the value chain that connects, for example, the production of fresh produce in Latin America with its consumption in Europe. Other types of investors and financiers form part of the value chains of most global companies. 

Value chains come in different shapes and forms. Some companies own all of their core operations all around the world, and work with a very small network of external suppliers. Some companies are a mix of owned operations and independent franchisees, who in turn operate with a range of external suppliers. There are also a huge range of companies that are not involved in any form of production themselves but instead work with a vast network of wholly independent suppliers who serve various tiers of production. 
Relative to water and other natural resources, what is common to all value chains is that there is a procurement decision and a natural resource impact. A company decides to make or sell a product a produce or similar. That decision then triggers an impact in whichever place the sourcing occurs. So, in understanding water-related impacts we need to understand the supply chain of production, and the value chain nature of the relationships from where the decision was made through to where the impact of water use happens. 

Take-aways from the WWW session… 

  • We need to move beyond water management to water stewardship. This was a clear message from all panelists. Rigorous water management practices on-site (efficiencies, pollution control, etc.) are essential, but long-lasting success for all who depend upon the same water sources will require a systematic and multi-stakeholder approach. One that recognizes the range of important factors to consider (perhaps not immediately obvious such as cultural and spiritual, gender related as well as political, socio-economic, and environmental) to properly address water needs for all.   
  • Not one size fits all. For instance, what might work well for a large-scale irrigating farmer in the USA could be very different from what works for a small holder rainfed farmer in India. Highly automated moisture sensors and monitored watering versus say, micro harvesting of green water. Both great options but neither suited to all situations. There are variants beyond farm size and water sources of course, but even considering just these two, technologies will need to be appropriate to the farming situation.  
  • Long-term is the only term. Resilience has got to be the goal for all. In a time of climate change and more immediate weather and water-related shocks, business is at risk. Supply security that benefits supply communities must be central to sourcing strategies. There is no supply security without benefit to the community’s underpinning production. Our corporate benchmarking program supports companies to think holistically and long-term about their materials use.   
  • Industry standards must work together and complement place-based approaches.  Standards, certifications, and other sustainability initiatives focused on the production of a specific crop or farm are key to sustainable sourcing strategies, but long-term benefits and supply resilience for all will require embedding action in the geographical and social context. The AWS Standard provides a framework for doing this.  
  • Need for both sector-specific and cross-sector learnings and action. The textile industry can not only learn from others, such as the food and beverage industry (and vice versa), but potentially find ways to scale and “bust silos” by collaborating within sourcing regions, for instance, and applying principles of the circular economy. I remember speaking with a biodynamic farmer in Egypt about the challenges he faces – and his answer was simply “my neighbors” – meaning that if he and his neighbors could work together then all would benefit from their individual water, pest, soil fertility challenges.  
  • Holistic thinking and connecting the benefits. Water is an excellent conversation starter. The need to address water issues is significant on so many human and ecosystem levels and can also lead to conversations and opportunities to deliver multiple benefits to communities, nature, and climate. Finding economically advantageous (as well as more long term) nature-based solutions to ecological demise will inevitably involve or positively impact water and offer other opportunities for employment, collaboration and scaling-up to a wider “landscape” level. One panelist put this very well… it’s about finding answers to a specific problem that result in answers to multiple problems!  

The session was superbly captured by the talented Cunera Joosten… 

Let’s talk about water stewardship this week! 2

Credit: Cartoon by Cunera Joosten of DrawUp, with thanks from SIWI World Water Week and the Government of the Netherlands 

What do you think…? 

From what I’ve seen I think the textile industry is coming to terms with water management, particularly in a factory setting: controlling water use, chemicals, effluent, and contamination. There’s also been some exciting technologies and innovations that have dramatically changed the picture for wet processing, and other water use hotspots. Of course, there is a way to go – processes, materials, factories, regions, countries – are all at different stages of the journey and more investment is needed.  

But what about water stewardship? During the panel we all agreed more case studies and opportunities to learn about water stewardship and how it works on the ground would be fantastic. At Textile Exchange, we are looking to AWS to learn from practices beyond our sector. This feels like a great step towards adopting a stewardship mentality!  

So, here’s my two questions (but please feel free to share anything water-related!): 

  1. Do you have an example of water stewardship to share? It can be from your own organization, inside or outside the textile industry. Preferably at the “raw materials” end but other parts of the supply chain are great too!   
    To get the ball rolling, I’ve asked Krelyne Andrew from SAPPI to inspire us with an introduction to the water stewardship work they are embarking on in South Africa.      

Sappi is on a journey to enhance trust through partnerships that have a positive impact on the environment and drive social change.  We are also on a journey of continued action to ensure that our Verve brand remains the Fiber of Choice for the textile value chain. Our collaboration with WWF-SA goes a long way to support this journey.  It aims to not only improve water security but also to positively impact on the ecology and biodiversity at both catchment and landscape levels.  It also aims to improve the livelihoods of surrounding communities through the direct employment in green jobs, involving restoration and regeneration projects. 

We have to go beyond site level water management to remain sustainable for the future.  We are not only faced with water scarcity in South Africa, but it is also where the demand for water continues to rise due to urbanization, growth in population and production whilst the availability of clean and safe fresh water continues to decline due to the effects of climate change, the pollution of our freshwater bodies and inadequate management of water supplies. Sappi has recognized these supply demand challenges and has therefore prioritized SDG 6 (ensure access to clean water and sanitation), as part of our Thrive 25 targets. With existing expertise and history of creating shared value, our collaboration with WWF-SA is an opportunity to create meaningful change, in a key catchment which supports our Sappi Forests as well as our largest dissolving pulp operation. This collaboration with WWF-SA will also go a long way in supporting the call to action to improve the water footprint of the textile value chain aligning with the Climate+ strategy developed by Textile Exchange.   

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Credit: SAPPI, South Africa 

  1. Do you have a question about water stewardship? Or an answer? Sarah Wade (AWS) and I will be pitching in with answers or further thoughts but please feel free to answer someone else’s question! 

Once again, a big thank you to our friends at AWS – and great to buddy-up with Anneke at BESTSELLER. I’d encourage anyone who hasn’t yet, to register for at least the free portions of World Water Week – and immerse yourself in the topic. Use this opportunity to learn, connect and bring water into the conversation this week – and from this day forward. 

The recording of our panel discussion will be available shortly. In the meantime, I’m looking forward to reading* your water stories! 

 * Wondering how to post your water-related questions and stories? The dialogue will continue for Textile Exchange members over on The Hub. See you there! 

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