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Why a Crystal Manufacturing Company Is Focused on Water Stewardship

leonkaye headshotWords by Leon Kaye
Energy & Environment
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You may know Swarovski as the timeless Austrian maker of crystal, which is shown off across storefronts in tony shopping districts worldwide. But besides its famous crystal business, Swarovski also produces optical instruments such as telescopes, telescopic sights for rifles and binoculars (gaze through a pair when hiking, if you ever have a chance!); and the company is also a leading manufacturer of grinding, sawing and drilling tools and machines.

This year, Swarovski and the UCLA School of Theatre, Film and Television partnered to produce Waterschool, a film that discusses the issues surrounding safeguarding the world’s continuing supply of fresh water. The film takes us on a journey with several young female students who live along six of the world’s major rivers – the Amazon, Mississippi, Danube, Nile, Ganges and Yangtze – and highlights the work of Swarovski Waterschool, a community investment program the company established in 2000 that to date has reached almost half a million young people across 2,400 schools worldwide.

The film discusses how teachers and guides at Swarovski Waterschool are empowering citizens to take care of this most  valuable resource. As students discover how best to protect water, they pass on their insights to their peers, parents and grandparents.

TriplePundit recently had the opportunity to catch up with Nadja Swarovski, a member of the company’s executive board, to talk about the company’s commitment to water stewardship. 

3p: What got Swarovski to get focused on water stewardship in the first place?

NS: The interest in water is rooted in the very origins of Swarovski as a business when the company was first founded by Daniel Swarovski in 1895. The process of using water to craft crystals is a method that was invented and patented by Daniel Swarovski himself – back then, he created a revolutionary electric cutting machine, using hydropower that was used in the production of crystal glass. This allowed crystals to be cut more precisely than by hand.

Water remains an essential resource to produce our different product ranges. For instance, the company’s main manufacturing site at Wattens, Austria, sources a third of its electricity from the site’s hydroelectric plants. As a reflection of the importance placed on water resources throughout our history, Swarovski works to empower future generations to protect the world’s most precious resource.

However, the focus on water also comes from Swarovski’s understanding of its responsibilities as an international brand with a global presence. Our operations have faced, and continue to face, challenges. These range from extreme drought to flooding, and leads to Swarovski playing a deeper role in understanding and managing these impacts. This worldwide reach means that we are aware of the multiple challenges threatening the availability of clean, accessible water.

For that reason, it is important that we are part of the global water dialogue, inspired by the United Nations’ sixth Sustainable Development Goal – clean water and sanitation. We welcome the opportunity that this offers to collectively address the challenges and find solutions to the world’s water supply.

Waterschool is only the latest iteration of this long-standing effort. Through a program of community education, undertaken in locations on some of the world’s biggest rivers, the Swarovski Waterschool initiative helps to inspire young people and their communities to understand and practice sustainable water use.

3p: What are you doing internally at Swarovski to get employees focused on issues such as water stewardship?

NS: Today, water scarcity affects more than 40 percent of the global population, one in nine people still live without clean water close to home, and nearly 1,000 children die every day due to preventable water and sanitation-related diseases. These are harrowing numbers, but numbers that can be prevented through water education, conservation and stewardship.

This is why we established Swarovski Waterschool in 2000 – to date, the Waterschool program has reached almost half a million young people through 2,400 schools worldwide. The experiences of several of the participants are the subject of our new film.

But awareness in itself isn’t enough. We need to ensure that our people, sites and communities are also going above and beyond to protect the world’s water. We collaborate with our stakeholders to create initiatives that ensure fresh water is managed responsibly and water-related challenges are addressed around our production sites.

To achieve this we are tackling the challenges of water scarcity, flooding, pollution and sanitation at our own production locations, cutting the company’s water usage by sourcing 70 percent of the water we need from recycled water across our locations. This recycled water is then treated to local regulations and then returned to the local water source – a good example of this is our site in Pune, India, where we have responded to the region’s extreme drought by achieving smart water usage in a way that leads to near zero water discharge.

Our commitment to water management also extends to our stores – the refurbishment and construction of new stores has the strictest environmental criteria applied to it. In addition, our retail development team ensures that our stores achieve the high levels of efficiency in water management, as well as promoting good practices.

3p: How did Swarovski become connected to UCLA?

NS: I’m pleased we could build on the strong and long-standing relationship that Swarovski has with the leadership of UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television to bring this project to fruition. It gave us the opportunity to work closely with Dean Teri Schwartz, known for her focus on humanistic storytelling and social impact, and Academy Award-nominated filmmaker Lucy Walker who provided guidance to the students who made the film.

I’m thrilled these students were a part of this journey – it gave them an opportunity to be a part of a major global social action campaign to raise awareness, and drive impact and change around one of the most pressing issues of our time, and one that ultimately affects us all.

In case you missed it, you can watch the documentary's trailer here:

Image credit: Swarovski

Leon Kaye headshotLeon Kaye

Leon Kaye, Executive Editor, has written for Triple Pundit since 2010. He is also the Director of Social Media and Engagement for 3BL Media, and the Editor in Chief of CR Magazine. His previous work can be found at The GuardianSustainable Brands and CleanTechnica. Kaye is based in Fresno, CA, from where he happily explores California’s stellar Central Coast and the national parks in the Sierra Nevadas.

Read more stories by Leon Kaye