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Mary Mazzoni headshot

7 Companies Leading Their Industries in Water Stewardship

By Mary Mazzoni
This World Water Day, we’re tipping our hats to seven companies that got into the water stewardship game early–and kept at it.

This World Water Day, we’re tipping our hats to seven companies that got into the water stewardship game early–and kept at it.

Worldwide, an estimated 780 million people do not have access to clean water. As populations rise and climate change further disrupts the water cycle, the planet will experience a 40 percent shortfall in fresh water by 2030 unless we “dramatically” improve water supply management, according to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).

With this in mind, the theme of this year’s World Water Day—”leave no one behind”—is a poignant challenge and call-to-action for stakeholders around the world. In the private sector, companies increasingly view water scarcity as a business risk. But many remain unsure of how to act, as a new survey conducted by GreenBiz and Ecolab, a global provider of water, hygiene and energy technologies and services, reveals.

Ecolab and GreenBiz surveyed 86 companies with revenues of at least $1 billion, and although 74 percent say water is an increasing priority, a whopping 44 percent “have no plan in place” to achieve their water goals. To move forward with the urgency our looming water crisis demands, these companies must collaborate with local stakeholders and learn from stewardship leaders—including fellow corporations that have done it right.

As an example, this World Water Day we’re tipping our hats to seven companies that got into the stewardship game early and kept at it.

1. Marks & Spencer

Two years ago, Marks & Spencer released Plan A 2025—an updated version of its sustainable business transformation program, Plan A. As part of its commitment, the U.K. department store chain pledged to implement water stewardship programs for the most material and at-risk watersheds in its food, clothing and home supply chains by 2020.

The company has worked with the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) to measure water risk in its value chain since 2011. To realize its ambitious 2020 goals, M&S will work closely with local stakeholders in at-risk areas—including water-stressed Western Cape province, South Africa, where the company sources fruit like apples, pears and citrus.

“It’s not going to be easy and we certainly we can’t do it alone,” Amanda Curtis, senior environment manager of Plan A Foods, wrote in a blog post. “[We] recognize the need to work patiently and collaboratively with our stakeholders to effect change on the ground. This collective action is the only way to scale up and make a real difference to the management of water across a region.”

2. Marriott International

Hospitality company Marriott International launched phase two of its Sustainability and Social Impact Goals in 2017. The framework is designed to support meaningful progress toward the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)—including access to clean water (Goal 6) through a pledge to cut water intensity by 15 percent by 2025.

Notably, this goal includes Marriott’s franchise portfolio—over which the company has little direct control. “Putting that stake in the ground was a pretty big step for us as a company,” Denise Naguib, vice president of sustainability and supplier diversity for Marriott, said at Ecolab’s Industry Water Forum last week. “Now the real work happens: How do we then support those franchise organizations and give them the right tools and direction without telling them what to do? Because they are not ours to control.”

Marriott is one of several top companies that collaborated with Ecolab to develop the Smart Water Navigator, announced at the Industry Water Forum in New York. The online tool measures water risk at the facility level—making it ideal for stakeholders like Marriott franchisees. “If you don’t measure it, you don’t know,” Naguib said. “If the individual facility is not clear on where they stand, they don’t know that they should be doing something about it.” You can learn more about the tool here.

3. Kimberly-Clark

In 2017, Kimberly-Clark partnered with Deltares, an independent institute for applied research on water issues, to develop an online dashboard that visualizes water scarcity risks for entire watersheds. The tool, dubbed WaterLOUPE, breaks water use down into sectors and sub-groups, such as industrial users, farmers and households. 

The company initially used WaterLOUPE to identify water risks in the river basin surrounding its tissue mills in Colombia. Last month, it introduced the tool to community and government leaders in the Western Cape province of South Africa, which is still recovering from a massive water shortfall that left people standing in line for water last year.

In partnership with Kimberly-Clark, local stakeholders will use the tool to create a water risk assessment for the region—continuing the company’s overall push to encourage collaboration between government, business, communities and NGOs to preserve freshwater resources. “We could reduce our water [use] to near zero, but if the other people in the watershed didn’t do anything, I’m still out of business. I can’t run my plant. My employees don’t have water. My consumers don’t have water,” Jim Bath, director of global environmental services for Kimberly-Clark, said at Ecolab’s Industry Water Forum.

4. Ford Motor Co. 

Ford is the world’s first automaker to commit to the Business Alliance for Water and Climate’s Improve Water Security initiative. “The initiative requires participants to analyze water-related risks and implement collaborative response strategies,” Kim Pittel, group vice president of sustainability, environment and safety engineering for Ford, highlighted in a blog post.

Companies must also measure and report water usage through CDP (formerly the Carbon Disclosure Project) and commit to reducing water impact in both their direct operations and value chain. The automaker followed through on these commitments and received high marks from its partners as a result. “Ford is one of only two dozen companies out of 600 to be awarded an ‘A’ grade by CDP for its water management efforts,” Pittel wrote.

5. General Mills

Back in 2016, General Mills analyzed 41 watersheds within its global supply chain and identified eight priority watershed regions to focus its stewardship efforts. “We selected the places around the world that have the highest water risk related to our products,” Jeff Hanratty, applied sustainability manager for General Mills, told TriplePundit.

The company set a goal to “see activation of a watershed plan by 2025” in each of the eight priority watershed areas. We spoke with Hanratty about how the company is executing on these goals in two distinct watersheds—California’s San Joaquin Valley and Madhya Pradesh, India. You can check out our coverage here

6. Microsoft

Microsoft’s Silicon Valley campus is one of the first net-zero potable water tech campuses in the world: All of the non-drinking water used inside comes from rainfall or on-site recycled water rather than municipal sources, Paul Fleming, water program manager for Microsoft, highlighted in a blog post. The company is also a member of the U.N. CEO Water Mandate, a collaborative water stewardship effort of corporations and NGOs.

As it leads the tech industry in operational water stewardship, Microsoft is also harnessing its technological prowess to help others conserve. The company’s AI for Earth program, a $50 million commitment over five years, will put artificial intelligence tools into the hands of community organizations that tackle environmental challenges, with 20 percent of grantees working on water-related projects as of last year, according to the company.

“A single project supported by Microsoft is unlikely to move the needle, so that means we have to move into partnering and collective action opportunities,” Fleming said at the Ecolab Industry Water Forum.

7. Procter & Gamble

This week, Procter & Gamble (P&G) announced that it delivered 15 billion liters of clean drinking water through its nonprofit Children’s Safe Drinking Water (CSDW) program—meeting its 2020 goal ahead of schedule. P&G is now accelerating these efforts and plans to deliver 25 billion liters—more than 100 billion glasses of water—worldwide by 2025.

As it celebrates its own major milestone, the global packaged goods company partnered with National Geographic to celebrate fellow “Water Champions” on World Water Day. Honorees represent four of P&G’s closest partners and include Carolyn Miles, president and CEO of Save the Children, and JP Suarez, chief administration officer of Walmart International.

Image credit: Ville Palmu/Unsplash

Mary Mazzoni headshot

Mary has reported on sustainability and social impact for over a decade and now serves as executive editor of TriplePundit. She is also the general manager of TriplePundit's Brand Studio, which has worked with dozens of organizations on sustainability storytelling, and VP of content for TriplePundit's parent company 3BL. 

Read more stories by Mary Mazzoni