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Good neighbours are crucial in looking after our most precious of resources: water

good neighbours caring for water
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The importance of water cannot be overstated.

As Kemi Seesink, Director of Development at the global humanitarian group Care says, “We all have things we love and need. And it’s our duty to care for, love, nurture, protect and conserve the things that are important to us. Water is one of those things.”

It is a view shared by the people running Nestlé Waters factories throughout the world. Of course, the business needs a steady supply of quality water to make its products. But the production plants must share this valuable resource with local people who rely on good access to water to live healthy, active and prosperous lives.

In Lebanon, for example, the company’s two bottling factories in Falougha and Ain Zhalta share the same water catchment as the Shouf Biosphere Reserve. It is a 50,000 hectare, UNESCO-protected nature reserve which acts as a perfect water store. Right now, it benefits at least 21 towns and villages, as well as hundreds of restaurants, cafes and factories – including the two Nestlé Waters ones.

Shouf Biosphere Reserve
The Shouf Biosphere Reserve in Falougha, Lebanon

The reserve also replenishes a number of rivers and springs which are commonly tapped by local people for drinking water. Making sure the company is a positive neighbour in the region when it comes to conserving water and looking after it, is of paramount importance to Assaad Saadeh, Nestlé Waters’ Environmental Sustainability Manager in the Middle East and Africa. “We have worked diligently to achieve good water stewardship in our catchment.”

Proving the point

To make sure Nestlé Waters’ keeps doing this, it has, since 2014, used the Alliance for Water Stewardship (AWS) standard and certificate program. It’s an international standard given to organizations in recognition for the way they look after water and share their best practices.

To get a certificate, factories must show they are taking concrete action to help protect shared water resources and work with local communities to help them do the same. An AWS certification shows that you’re committed to water stewardship, and you understand how water is being used in your premises and in the wider catchment area.

You must then show you have a plan of action and that you are tracking your progress against it, while communicating what you are doing with local people.

AWS certification in Poland
Polish schoolchildren learning about bottling process during an open doors initiative in Nałęczów

Right now, 27 Nestlé Waters plants have achieved AWS certification – well ahead of the original goal of having 20 factories worldwide certified by 2020. These include sites in the US, Canada, Italy, Poland, Lebanon, Vietnam, Thailand, Pakistan, Greece and Mexico.

Taking action globally

In Thailand, where Nestlé Waters remains the only company to have achieved AWS certification for its two factories, understanding community needs has been crucial.

AWS certification in Thailand
Fig 1: AWS certification ceremony for Ayutthaya factory – Fig 2.: Nestlé Pure Life employees in Surat Thani factory

The company’s Nestlé Pure Life factory in Surat Thani invites students from the local Wat Thung Siad School into the plant to learn more about the AWS standard and to give workshops on things like testing water quality.

It is a similar story in Vietnam where the company has worked hard to clean up several contaminated canals close to its Long An factory in Tân An city as part of meeting AWS criteria. This has not only improved local conditions for thousands of local people who can now access clean water for farming, but also built brand new relationships between different groups in the community.

AWS certification in Vietnam
Long An canal: before and after cleaning

In the U.S., the AWS has recognized the positive water stewardship outcomes Nestlé Waters has achieved during the certification of nine sites across the country. Its bottling facility in Stanwood, Michigan, earned Gold certification under the AWS Standard as recognition of the work that has been going on for almost 20 years. Here, the company has been regularly monitoring groundwater, surface water, and the local ecosystem – and using that data to make sure withdrawals are sustainable, preserving the ecosystem for the long-term.

Stanwood employees have been instrumental in providing water-related education, as well as access to safe drinking water through product donations and building community wells. They have also helped to improve local water quality by taking part in river clean-ups and NWNA has contributed more than $2 million for the Ice Mountain Environmental Stewardship Fund (IMESF), which supports the long-term sustainability of the Muskegon River Watershed through environmental conservation projects.

AWS certification in the US
Nestlé Waters employees in Stanwood (MI), U.S.

Next steps in our AWS certification journey

The plan is for all Nestlé Waters sites to be AWS certified by 2025. While it is an ambitious target, it is just another step along the path to preserving our most precious of natural resources – something the company has been doing for the last 25 years.

Programs like Agrivair initiated by Vittel in France, or Eco-Broye by Henniez in Switzerland, are good examples of how the company continues to find solutions together with others on looking after water. As Maurizio Patarnello, former Nestlé Waters CEO, once said, “by broadly implementing the AWS standard, we will pave the way and show that meaningful collaboration is possible for the future of water.”