Systemic Change is Imperative in Building Water Resilience and Watershed Health Protection
This post is a guest contribution to the CEO Water Mandate blog composed by Stacey Tank, Chief Corporate Affairs and Transformation Officer at Heineken N.V. This blog does not represent an endorsement on behalf of the UN Global Compact, CEO Water Mandate, Pacific Institute, or any associated programs.
Systemic change is imperative in building water resilience and watershed health protection
The water crisis is intensifying due to climate change, and the world’s freshwater ecosystems are facing pressure from the competing demands of agriculture, businesses and communities.
The private sector must play a key role to address watershed health in water-stressed areas through collective action across the value chain. We have played an active role to drive systemic change on water in our operating locations across the world. There is more to be done, and we recognise that action needs to be fast and scalable to safeguard water for future generations. That is why we support the CEO Water Mandate’s “World Business Leaders’ Open Call to Accelerate Action on Water”. We believe that by working together, we can make a real difference to build water resiliency through the dimensions of water quantity, quality and accessibility in water-stressed areas. We have observed the positive impact of collective action for example through the Indonesia Industry Water Coalition and the Monterrey Metropolitan Water and Air Fund (FAAMM), which has involved working with 40 other stakeholders since 2016.
Watershed protection is at the heart of our strategy
Throughout HEINEKEN’s 158-year history, sustainability has been a key part of being a successful business, we only thrive when our communities do well. In 2021, we launched our stepped-up Brew a Better World ambitions and water is a key component within our environmental pillar. Our water strategy “Towards Healthy Watersheds” looks beyond traditional water usage to prioritise the health of local watersheds, especially in water-stressed areas. It focuses on three main areas: efficiency (use as little water), circularity (treat and recycle wastewater), and balancing (replenish the water used in our products at the watersheds).
We have also integrated sustainability and responsibility in our business strategy for balanced growth which we call EverGreen, and our incentives for senior managers includes carbon reduction and water efficiency.
As part of our overarching approach, we recognise the importance of actively addressing water in our operations, value chain and in the communities where we operate.
We are making progress
Over the last decade our efforts have been aimed at creating positive water impact in the watersheds we operate in, especially in water-stressed areas. Our progress today includes:
- 34% improvement in water efficiency compared to 2008, and we will continue to reduce our water usage to 2.6hl/hl in water-stressed areas by 2030.
- 97% of our wastewater is treated worldwide, with the goal to reach 100% by end 2023.
- 26 out of our 31 sites located in water-stressed areas have watershed protection projects in place with the aim to fully balance water that goes into our products by 2030. Projects vary from nature-based solutions such as large-scale reforestation in Brazil to infrastructure improvement to repair pipeline leakages in Egypt.
Partnerships are key to promote water security
Our efforts go beyond our brewery walls and is only made possible due to close collaboration with NGOs, technical partners, local communities and government agencies. These collaborations include public-private partnerships, community-based cooperation and collective action with other companies to address the contextual need of a watershed located in a water-stressed area.
Across the regions, some of our efforts include working with:
- Farmers in Mexico on sustainable barley cultivation in collaboration with the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) by sharing best practices. This reduced water usage, increased the yield quality and value for the farmers. In Mexico, we are also one of the founders of the Guanajuato Water Fund launched since November 2020.
- Communities in Ethiopia on reforestation and livelihood improvement programme in collaboration with World Vision. To date, 140,000 trees have been planted to reduce runoff and sedimentation into the rivers.
- Local NGOs such as Commonland Foundation in Spain to restore the wetlands in the Donana National Park by improving soil structure and water filtration, removing invasive species and repairing a neglected floodgate system to avoid water drainage.
- Multinational companies in Indonesia, local NGOs, Alliance of Indonesian Water Resources Guardians, Nature Conservation Foundation and Water Partnership Southeast Asia to improve water management and watershed health since 2021. Back in 2014, rapid changes in land use due to population growth and industrialisation resulted in severe water pollution and environmental deterioration, which left the watershed with only 36% forest. Local alliance was formed for bamboo restoration and reforestation which deterred illegal logging and provided economic benefit to local communities through waste banks. Local alliance then expanded to Industry coalition after 6 years. Today, there are 3 work streams deployed: data and analysis; capability building; and communications to improve water management in Indonesia.data and analysis, capability building and communications to improve water management in Indonesia.
There is always more to do
We have made significant progress in protecting water resources and promoting sustainable water management practices; however, we do recognise that there is always more to do especially with the evolving climate crisis. We will continue to work with like-minded partners to advance watershed protection in water-stressed areas. We are proud members of the UNGC’s CEO Water Mandate Water Resilience Coalition, and the Beverage Industry Environmental Roundtable (BIER), a technical coalition of leading global beverage companies working together to advance environmental sustainability within the sector. We also are one of the 25 global businesses and 15 water, sanitation and health (WASH) expert organisations that supported the WASH4Work business declaration at COP27 in Egypt.
Given the climate emergency, we need to move fast and together to improve water resilience. It is not an easy journey, but we have learnt that it is doable by having collective goals, action and collaboration with other companies, governments, NGOs and the local communities in water-stressed areas.