Working together for good water stewardship: a conversation with Nestlé on transforming a challenging sector

Nestlé recognises many credible sustainability standards in their value chains including the Alliance for Water Stewardship (AWS), Rainforest Alliance, Fairtrade International and the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil. Norma Tregurtha, ISEAL’s Director of Policy and Outreach, spoke to Nestlé’s Technical Director of Water Resources, Carlo Galli, about their work with AWS to transform a challenging industry sector. Carlo will be the keynote speaker at this year’s Global Sustainability Standard Conference.

Water is an issue that has steadily risen up the sustainability agenda. It seems almost unimaginable that an international city such as Cape Town is at risk of running out of water yet we know this is not an isolated case: São Paulo, Bogota and Los Angeles all face water shortages due to cyclic droughts compounded by deforestation, climate change and poor water management. From the perspective of a large food and drinks company such as Nestle, that is active in the bottled water market, the situation in Cape Town drives home the extent to which water represents a tangible and immediate business risk. It also highlights the importance of companies such as Nestle demonstrating leadership around the issue of water stewardship.

On the question of leadership around the issue of water, it would be good to understand what Nestle has been doing in this field.

From Nestle’s side the issue of water stewardship is not a new theme - we have been engaged in improving the water use efficiency at our factories for decades. This has given us credibility and allowed us to demonstrate the leadership you mentioned, however, we have learned that focusing only on our own operations is not enough to ensure the resilience of our business.

Over time, we have transformed our water strategy into a more collaborative one, favouring engagement in collective action at watershed level, especially in our agriculture supply chain. Water is a resource used by many stakeholders. It is only by working together that we can make local water resources management a sustainable one.

What are Nestlé’s targets for water stewardship?

We have set out our ambitions for leading in the water stewardship space in the publication ‘Nestlé Commitment on Water Stewardship’. This defines the key areas of our engagement: water use efficiency, discharged water quality, engagement in agriculture, access to water and sanitation, and advocacy efforts to promote the value of water.

We can deliver real impact on the ground by focusing on these priority areas and transparently reporting on results.

Nestlé Waters, one of the businesses operating under the Nestle brand, recently announced that all five of its factories in California and its first factory in Canada are certified to the AWS Standard. Can you tell us about Nestlé’s journey towards certification?

We have been engaged in the AWS process since the very beginning. From 2011 to 2014, we were part of a multi-stakeholder process which was used to develop the AWS Standard. We saw the need to establish a common language (the AWS Standard) to define water stewardship.

Since then, we have used the standard in priority locations. We began by implementing the principles and criteria informally as we worked towards AWS certification.

Using the standard has been an eye opener. We discovered new opportunity areas for improvement. It also helped us to establish a more thorough way to engage with local stakeholders and disclose our activities transparently.

We are convinced that achieving certification allows us to communicate better about our good practices. It enables us to move away from self-declarations of good water stewardship. Instead, we have a credible third party process with conformity assessment bodies coming to our sites and screening our practices deeply before releasing AWS certifications.

What advice would you give to companies new to working with AWS?

AWS has progressively become a reference platform for those in the public sector, business and civil society, who are genuinely committed in promoting and implementing good water stewardship.

We would strongly encourage new companies to engage in the AWS process. Water stewardship is very much about pre-competitive efforts by multiple organisations.

Engagement with the AWS process will deliver trust and credibility over time to those who meet its principles and criteria. The AWS Standard is the only standard for water which is built through a credible multi-stakeholder process.

 

Carlo Galli is Technical Director of Water Resources at Nestlé and member of the Technical Committee at the Alliance for Water Stewardship. Carlo will talk about how Nestlé is using innovative approaches and partnerships with standards to achieve their water stewardship ambitions in his keynote speech at the Global Sustainability Standards Conference on 23 May 2018 in São Paulo. Register now to join the conversation on how we can make standards works for the people, places and issues that matter.