This article is sponsored by BlueTriton Brands.
Potential for new opportunities is invigorating. On March 31, Nestlé Waters North America (NWNA) became BlueTriton Brands.
BlueTriton will continue to be at the forefront of sustainable water management, advance recycling and waste reduction, work toward carbon-neutral operations and invest in, and partner with, local communities. When thinking about future water stewardship efforts, it’s helpful to reflect on what’s been accomplished. I want to share some lessons learned about engaging stakeholders, emboldening employees and unlocking water stewardship value.
The Alliance for Water Stewardship (AWS) is a global multi-stakeholder network dedicated to advancing and deepening the impact of credible water stewardship. Since 2015, I’ve been implementing the AWS International Standard, the first comprehensive global standard for measuring responsible water stewardship. One thing became clear early on, the standard is extremely adaptable — from water bottling operations to office buildings to agriculture and beyond. It will meet you where you are on your water stewardship journey, with three potential levels for certification.
In the early days, our initial approach prioritized water-stressed geographies as a primary driver, and as a consultant, I was tasked with implementing the standard at five California factories. Without other certified sites in North America to benchmark, I learned a lot about how to think and act at a watershed-scale and ended up pioneering approaches that became best practices for implementation. There were many false starts and growing pains, but in 2017, BlueTriton’s Ontario, California, water bottling factory became the first AWS-certified site in North America.
BlueTriton has 15 certified sites, which represent over half the certified sites in the U.S.; BlueTriton is in great company with other leading tech and food companies who also have certifications. With the world facing increasing water security concerns due to climate change and other drivers, now more than ever is the time for even more corporations to focus on water stewardship.
Implementation of the AWS Standard not only emphasizes a business’s water use, but also enables a better understanding of that use in the context of other local users. Stakeholder input is critical to a thorough understanding of catchment setting. And I came to discover that stakeholders are everywhere. It’s common to look upstream toward recharge areas and yet, downstream stakeholders were often the most energized. As critical as these conversations were to implementing a robust standard, it often can be hard to establish a dialogue, even for companies whose primary input is water.
While I was able to leverage a number of existing relationships, pursuing the desired outcomes of AWS also required identifying new stakeholders — some of whom initially were apprehensive to engage. At one point, a local factory team even resorted to knocking on doors (pre-COVID) to get time with key catchment authorities. Interestingly, pandemic conditions presented new opportunities. Scheduling became easier without travel and some historically reserved stakeholders became more vocal virtually.
But as a consultant requesting information for the unknown acronym AWS, it often was difficult to elicit timely responses. And being hired as a full-time employee didn’t solve the problem. It wasn’t much better to come in saying, "I’m from corporate and I’m here to help." Instead I had to make genuine connections with those I was working with. This meant meeting them wherever they may have been, both literally and figuratively, describing the value of what we were attempting to do and appreciating their priorities. By establishing those connections, built on admiration and trust, pieces began to fall into place.
Regardless where you are on your water stewardship journey, the five steps in the standard can help you decide what you need for where you’re at today. If you are still getting everything in order, Step 1 (Gather & Understand) provides guidance for doing water-related risk assessment, against the five outcomes of AWS, and avoidance. Are you already engaging stakeholders and supporting collective actions? Great. Consult Step 5 (Communicate & Disclose) to help direct your conversations. The framework offers bottom line improvements while also helping create value for communities, the environment and business.
Value creation can be difficult to quantify. Watershed improvement, stakeholder sentiment, reduced risks and reduced water-related risks are not things easily measured with hard numbers. I’m working with an academic partner to clarify this part of the water stewardship journey. By helping better identify and quantify the value of AWS, I hope other companies realize the potential for top line growth associated with water stewardship, resulting in larger and more impactful water stewardship investments.
My initial 2017 certified sites were up for three-year recertification in 2020, and I was excited to demonstrate to third party auditors that not only had water stewardship commitments persisted, but positive impacts to the catchment also actually had increased. In the heart of the pandemic, we piloted the first remote audits under the standard. Our Ontario factory was upgraded upon recertification to the highest level obtainable and became the first AWS Platinum site globally for the food and beverage sector.
This AWS journey represented a lot of personal growth for me and the ability to provide catchment-scale benefits to the communities and watersheds in which we operate for BlueTriton. Of this success, I’m quite proud and yet, I can’t wait to see what lies ahead. If this last year has taught us anything, it’s that we have to work together to secure the future we want to see. This includes using water in a manner that is socially and culturally equitable, environmentally sustainable and economically beneficial.