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Time to Digitize Water Stewardship

Nov 29th, 2017 |

By Noam Gressel and Tom Vereijken

It seems there can hardly be more challenging times for water practitioners. In some areas of the world, the full impact of inadequate investments in water infrastructure is coming to fruition – the stories from Flint, Michigan are exemplary. In Houston, Texas the level of uncertainty regarding the cities resilience to extreme weather events and ensuing floods has become no less than existential. Meanwhile, the link between drought, war, population displacement and human suffering has reached a pressure peak, creating new migration challenges globally. There are a range of growing environmental impacts from saltwater intrusion destroying agricultural soils to the accumulation of micro-plastics in aquatic species and antibiotics and endocrine disruptors infiltrating our water sources.

In the midst of these global concerns, manufacturers worldwide are being challenged by their dependency on large volumes of high quality water in a time where water resources are deteriorating and competition for their use is growing. For most industries, water is inherent to their production systems. Additionally, they must deal with growing pressures to improve the quality of their effluent outputs, as local and national governments seek to curb pollution for the sake of supplying clean water to their constituents.

Even despite all this, our investment in the stewardship of water hardly meets the standard expected for the most critical resources for business. Take the management of financial or human resources within a business, for example. Whole departments are dedicated to carefully monitoring, analyzing and validating data to ensure strict standards, usually above and beyond compliance, and ensure continuous progress. State-of-the-art information technology is used to gain clear overview and insight. In the meantime, water management is fragmented, taken for granted and treated as no more than an operational expense. But the pressures are mounting and action on water stewardship is imminently necessary – one that creates a new level of resilience to our water challenges and yet is adaptable by the majority of businesses worldwide.

It was with this vision in mind, that the European Water Stewardship (EWS) initiative joined forces with ECO-OS, an online operating system for corporate sustainability management. The EWS addresses everyday challenges of water users in and outside Europe, and has developed a water stewardship standard that is increasingly used by businesses of all sizes, across a broad range of sectors from: manufacturing, healthcare, hospitality and agriculture. There are numerous benefits to a digital platform for the data management and audit processes behind the standard: EWS and its partners can now provide sophisticated analyses and affordable and scalable services. Expert EWS practitioners and auditors now have an affordable and scalable solution for their data collection, aggregation and reporting that extends the insights of the Standard. The platform provides analytical tools from internal and external benchmarking, supply chain assessments, location-based stress tests and near real time corporate-level monitoring. By allowing practitioners to “go digital” on water stewardship the platform enables water stewards to fully integrate their activities with regulatory and other proactive initiatives. The capture of water-related data helps companies comply with the Pollution Release and Transfer Reporting Directive of the European Union, which is automatically identified and utilized on ECO-OS for the various water analyses required for the European Water Standard. Similarly, data required by other initiatives with overlapping data requirements, such as the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the Eco-Management and Audit Scheme (EMAS) or a corporate sustainability report, is “shared” by the platform, greatly reducing the data collection and audit efforts by these multiple initiatives.

Raising the bar on water stewardship is necessary for businesses leading in their sector, as we awaken to the vulnerability of our production facilities and supply chains. Indeed, water stewardship is being re-framed strategically as a necessary component for promoting resilience and a circular economy. These are the ultimate adaptations necessary to alleviate the uncertainties and changes to the water cycle. Joining forces to digitize the European Water Stewardship Standard is our first step in enabling the efforts of businesses and governments worldwide.

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