Performance in Watershed Context: Why It Matters and How to Approach It

September 19, 2017 | BIER

Since our inception, the Beverage Industry Environmental Roundtable (BIER) has been focused on enhancing water stewardship inside and outside the beverage sector. With 19 member companies and the collaboration of dozens of sustainability leaders, in just one decade BIER has been able to produce innovative water benchmarking research, develop practical tools, and help beverage companies make real change.

But our work is far from done.

Inspired by the celebratory spirit of last month’s World Water Week, we want to take time to talk about one particularly important topic: Performance in Watershed Context.

While the beverage industry has become a global leader in water stewardship, we believe that managing water performance in the context of local watershed conditions is critical to advancing our mission—and that of other industries.

Below we dive into the importance of performance in watershed context and discuss a framework for evaluating your facilities and where we all need to go next.

Why Performance in Watershed Context Matters
In light of diminishing water resources and degrading water quality around the world, all companies are facing increasing pressure to address water-related risks and opportunities within their organizations and the regions in which they operate. While it’s a critical global concern, the issue can vary based on the local conditions. Conventional water metrics such as water use efficiency or total water use are not enough because they lack local context such as watershed size, structure, climate, and demographics.

“Most corporate water stewardship activities are focused on operational water use efficiency and pollution reduction,” explains Andy Battjes, Brown-Forman’s Director of EH&S. “As a result, there’s limited weight being given to a watershed’s specific needs and challenges.”

From our standpoint, context is a business imperative, enabling organizations to make strategic decisions on where to target and prioritize further investments, boost the most critical water stewardship efforts, and take collective action within a watershed.

“We need to truly pursue sustainable watersheds to ensure we can be in business today, tomorrow and for the foreseeable future,” says Ron Bohlmeijer, HEINEKEN’s Senior Global Water Lead. “And we need to do it in a practical, scalable, and data-driven way.”

A Practical Approach to Evaluating Performance in Watershed Context
While many companies are beginning to recognize the importance of local watershed context, knowing where to begin is a daunting challenge.

In consultation with Ceres, The Nature Conservancy (TNC), and World Resources Institute (WRI), BIER developed our Performance in Watershed Context concept paper in 2015, featuring a six-step framework for evaluating whether a facility’s performance is aligned with the conditions of the surrounding watershed. Those steps include: Measure, Assess, Prioritize, Perform, Evaluate, and Disclose.

“The first two elements form the basis of understanding watershed context, and set the stage for implementing the remaining steps, and leveraging complementary tools and approaches such as the CEO Water Mandate Corporate Water Disclosure Guidelines and the Alliance for Water Stewardship (AWS) Standard,” says Nick Martin, BIER Water Working Group Facilitator and Associate Director.

While the framework has a beverage sector focus, we believe it can be leveraged, adopted, and adapted by a variety of industries.

“Water is vital to every person and every business,” states Kim Marotta, Molson Coors’ Global Senior Director of Corporate Responsibility. “While this framework was created with the beverage industry in mind, it’s certainly scalable and relevant for other sectors because it details water risks that all companies must consider.”

Addressing the “Gap”
When we published our Performance in Watershed Context concept and framework in 2015, we knew it was just a starting point. Since then, our members have collaborated on a pilot project to turn the concept into a useful, actionable methodology and decision-support tool.

“Using a set of global beverage facilities, we used the framework to define the impacts and dependencies each facility faces in a given watershed to identify associated performance expectations,” explains David Grant, ABInBev’s Sustainable Development Manager – Africa Zone. “We found that context-based thinking absolutely leads to more informed and impactful decision making.”

“But we also found that watershed-specific data is not consistently or readily available,” he adds.

As a result, BIER is focused on addressing “the data gap.” To do this, we’re continuing our work with our technical advisors, such as Ceres, TNC and WRI, and we’re also collaborating with the CEO Water Mandate to help evolve their corporate context-based water targets initiative.

“Collaboration is a core component of BIER’s mission,” says Rick Price, Beam Suntory’s Director of Global Environment, Health & Safety. “The work we’re doing with these fabulous partners will not only increase our ability to make positive impacts in the beverage sector, but continue to scale our work across industries.”

What We Want from You
In the spirit of making every week World Water Week, we invite companies, universities, and sustainability professionals across industries to join us in our pursuit to ensure water availability, sanitation, and management for all.

“We all have a shared interest in tackling water challenges—especially the lack of readily available data,” says Battjes. “The beverage sector is willing to do our part. We’re willing to step up. And we want more organizations and professionals to take that step with us.”

Interested in collaborating? Get in touch with us today.

Coming Soon: In the coming weeks, BIER will release its Context Insights Paper, which will provide a concise update on our Performance in Watershed Context initiative, key insights gained, and next steps. Stay tuned!

The Beverage Industry Environmental Roundtable (BIER) is a technical coalition of leading global beverage companies working together to advance environmental sustainability within the beverage sector.
By BIER [crp]

The Beverage Industry Environmental Roundtable (BIER) is a technical coalition of leading global beverage companies working together to advance environmental sustainability within the beverage sector. Formed in 2006, BIER is a common voice across the beverage sector, speaking to influence global standards on environmental sustainability aspects most relevant to the sector, affect change both up and down the supply chain and share best practices that raise the bar for environmental performance of the industry. By doing so, BIER is able to monitor data and trends, engage with key stakeholders, develop best practices, and guide a course of action for the future.

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