Many might envy Andy Wood. He oversees a successful regional brewery and counts some of the UK’s leading retailers among his customers. He also gets to work in the picturesque town of Southwold on the Suffolk coast. But the success of Adnams – which produces around 85,000 barrels of cask ale a year – is not without effort.
Nor is it necessarily permanent. Over the past 10 years, the Suffolk brewer has installed a range of resource efficiency measures to ensure its ongoing efficiency. As with many food and drinks companies, water comes high on the list. Southwold is located in East Anglia, the UK’s driest region. Earlier this year, the county was subject to water restrictions as low rainfall threatened an extended drought.
“As a mid-sized business, we need to keep an absolutely tight control over our costs,” says Wood, highlighting a major driver for water-dependent industries.
The construction of a new distribution site and brewery in 2006 and 2007, respectively, gave Adnams the opportunity to upgrade its on-site water efficiencies. Rainwater harvesting and grey water recycling systems are now standard. Its anaerobic digester for wastewater veers closer to cutting-edge; it has linked the water inputs for its distillery and its brewery – essentially halving its water needs at a single stroke.
Today, Adnams uses around three pints of water for every pint of beer produced: that’s almost half the industry average. Its water efficiency has caught the eye of some of the UK’s big retailers, including Marks and Spencer. Under its Plan A strategy, the high street retailer is seeking to cut its own water consumption. Innovations like sensor taps, flush valves and urinal controls are now finding their way into more than 300 M&S stores.
Economic is sustainable, too
In-house measures are only part of the story. The bulk of the water footprint for big retailers occurs in their supply chains. A value chain analysis by the UK’s largest supermarket, Tesco, found that its stores account for only 3% of its total water use.
In July, Anglian Water Business held the Global Water Challenge: a major conference for companies and stakeholders to share strategic thinking on water use in the supply chain. Louise Nicholls, Head of Responsible Trading for Food at M&S, spoke about the role of water in the responsible sourcing of food products, and the need for business to engage upstream. M&S has committed to improving efficiency and stewardship in four parts of its supply chain that are particularly vulnerable to water stress: cotton production, dye houses, farming and food manufacture.
At the same event, Philip Hubert of specialist lettuce producer JE Piccaver (Jepco) described the company’s significant investment in water efficiency, such as developing targeted irrigation techniques and installing rainwater storage. It is now looking to improve water use in offices, warehouses and packing centres. Hubert said: “As is often the case when you do things for economic reasons, it turns out to be the sustainable route as well.”
The case is particularly clear when it comes to agriculture, which of all global sectors is by far the largest user of water. As Marcus Norton, Head of Water and investor climate change programmes at the Carbon Disclosure Project, explains: “Growing raw ingredients accounts for much more water than [food] processing or brewing. This is where much of the risk lies.”
Addressing these supply-side risks calls for innovation. Experiments in drought-resilient crops provide a case in point. PepsiCo, for example, is researching water-efficient varieties of potato for use in crisp manufacture. In a similar vein, General Mills has been pioneering an advanced drip irrigation system with broccoli and cauliflower growers in Mexico.
Even more important than innovation, however, is collaboration. Multiple sectors are involved in using water, and they also need to be involved in conserving it. In the UK, Wessex Water is working with farmers – on land outside its own catchment area – to reduce the amount of treatment groundwater needs due to the presence of pesticides and nitrates in the soil. These pollutants can be removed at specialised treatment plants, but building and operating them is both expensive and carbon-intensive. Such a plant was planned for Eagle Lodge, in Dorchester, but the need for it was overcome when farmers worked closely with a Wessex adviser to improve some elements of their practice, from manure management and the use of fertiliser to the drilling dates for crops.
Similarly, in Kenya, a multi-stakeholder education project supported by M&S and Tesco is working with farmers and local residents to improve water stewardship at Lake Naivasha, the country’s second-largest freshwater lake. The project aims to re-establish a healthy ecosystem in which plants and micro-organisms treat the water through natural processes, avoiding ground pollution.
Good water stewardship
For collaborative approaches to succeed, companies must win the hearts and minds of local people, insists Mike Barry, Head of Sustainable Business at M&S: “Of all the sustainability challenges that we face, water is the most location-specific. It defies one technology fix.” With this in mind, the retailer has worked with environmental charity WWF to produce a 16-page guide to Good Water Stewardship. Its aim is to influence M&S’s global network of around 10,000 agricultural producers. The document clarifies the nature of water-related risks – physical, financial, political and reputational – and outlines strategies for engaging local partners.
Andrew Kuyk is Director of Sustainability and Competitiveness at the London-based Food and Drink Federation. Asked for examples of locally-specific solutions, he points to Nestle in the Punjab. The Swiss food conglomerate is encouraging local dairy farmers in the north Indian state to intensify milk production and thereby reduce water use. A wider fodder area, more lactating cows and higher cow productivity are some of the ways in which this is being achieved.
In the same region, Nestle is working with the International Water Management Institute to minimise the water footprint of rice production. It takes 1,034m³ of irrigation water to produce a tonne of rice in the Punjab – almost twice that for dairy farming. Among the measures being implemented is laser-assisted land levelling, which reduces groundwater pumping by one-third while also improving rice yields.
Back in East Anglia, specialist lettuce producer Jepco is taking a high-tech approach. The firm has installed Enviroscan probes that detect electrical conductivity resistance to measure soil moisture during the entire growing period. The data can be monitored via computer or smartphone, and is then fed through into the mobile boom used for irrigation. The location and water use for each pull of the boom is subsequently recorded as well.
Holistic approaches to water management
Kuyk calls on businesses to take an integrated view of water-related risks and impacts across product lifecycles. Beverage giant Coca-Cola has opted for just such a strategy. Under its Community Water Partnerships programme, it’s pursuing more than 300 community-based water replenishment projects in 86 countries. Further up the chain, water reduction measures in its factories have seen the water use ratio drop 16% since 2004, to 2.6 litres per litre of product. By the end of 2012, meanwhile, Coca Cola is requiring all its bottlers to have water management plans in place.
Dax Lovegrove, Head of Business and Industry at WWF, is also a strong advocate of holistic approaches to water management. To be successful, however, companies must have a clear idea of their impacts from the off. That requires a comprehensive assessment of water abstraction and pollution in critical river basins.
Among the examples he cites is that of global brewer SABMiller. Back in 2009, the company worked with the environment group WWF and consultancy URS Corporation to map the water impacts of its businesses in South Africa and the Czech Republic. Anyone interested in water footprinting would do well to check out the methodology in the subsequent report.
As Lovegrove concludes: “Leading businesses understand this is less about water efficiency in isolation and more about understanding local situations and mobilising collective efforts to ensure water security for all: communities, wildlife, and industry.”
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