Water is the lifeblood of manufacturing business around the world, and the issue of water stress will affect every business on the planet. We’re used to hearing about climate change issues that affect every area of the globe. However, when it comes to water, these issues need to be tackled at a local level.
We know there are parts of the UK that are more water stressed than others, and it’s the same in other countries around the world. This means that every location has its own challenges when it comes to water.
Manufacturers around the world are stepping up to the challenge of water stress. Multinationals such as Mars and Procter & Gamble (P&G) are collaborating with initiatives like the World Resources Institute. These businesses are developing science-based water targets in order to deal with the local and regional water challenges. Here we take a look at the work some of them are doing to lessen their water footprint.
Global manufacturer Mars has given itself ambitious sustainability targets: “Mars’ water stewardship goal is to halve our gap to sustainable water usage levels by 2025 and ensure water use in each watershed in our value chain is within annually renewable levels in the long term.” The company has taken steps to ensure all its global supply chains are water resilient, including setting improvement targets for raw materials that involve high water usage, e.g. rice and mint, in water-stressed areas. Mars’ aim is to better understand water stewardship, to eliminate unsustainable water use, and to set improvement targets for factories in areas facing the greatest water-related risks, such as India, Pakistan, Spain and the United States.
For over 10 years, P&G has been running a water stewardship programme. The company has more recently expanded its ambition to accelerate systems-level change in order to become a force for good. It is investing in water restoration projects in the States, is driving water efficiency worldwide, and is using water from circular sources in Brazil. As part of a global drive for water efficiency, it is developing site-specific water stewardship management plans in water basins most exposed to water risk, in order to help protect water for local people and nature.
By 2030, the company aims to restore more water than is consumed at its manufacturing sites in 18 water-stressed areas.
The Europacific arm of multinational drinks manufacturer Coca-Cola has ambitious plans for water sustainability. It is committed to reducing the amount of water used in the manufacturing process by 20% in the next three years. It also aims to safely treat and return its wastewater to nature, replenishing 100% of water used in areas of water stress in order to protect local water sources for future generations.
In three of its Indonesian plants, Coca-Cola has already installed technology that reclaims and reuses effluent. After treatment, the water is clean enough to be used for general purposes. In 2021 this saved 161 million litres of water, representing a saving of nearly 87% on the total water supply.
We recently looked at the water efficiency of the textile industry and the impact fast fashion is having on water stress around the world. The textile industry is one of the world’s thirstiest sectors; even growing cotton takes huge amounts of water - on average about 10,000 litres of water for every kilogram. Organic cotton is a lot less intense, using around 91% less water to produce than non-organic cotton, but significant amounts of water will still be used in the production and dyeing processes.
One small textile company, Teemill, has been doing what it can to revolutionise the printed T-shirt industry with a circular model. Using organic cotton, solar energy, print-on-demand sales and a business model that encourages people to recycle their clothes, the company has been a great success. As part of this strategy, the Teemill factory in India operates a closed-loop water recycling facility. This means that after the fabric is dyed, instead of flushing the effluent into the sewerage system, they recover the water, filter it, clean it, distil it, and then recirculate it. By using this closed-loop system, the company recovers and recirculates around 95% of the water it uses.