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AWS and the Next Generation of Sustainability Standards

  • Date: 08 April 2014
  • Author: Alexis Morgan, WWF
  • Comments

In 2009, WWF joined with nine other leaders including The Nature Conservancy, CDP, United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), and the United Nations Global Compact’s CEO Water Mandate to form the Alliance for Water Stewardship (AWS). The dream was to advance water stewardship by moving companies and utilities to more responsibly manage water resources, using a water standard as an incentive.

This week, that dream became a reality. WWF helped release the AWS Standard (version 1.0), the culmination of a four-year, multi-stakeholder roundtable effort. The AWS Standard provides water users and managers with a roadmap to address shared water challenges and mitigate water risks. It, like other WWF-supported standards, is backed by an independent, third-party certification system and integrates many of the other water stewardship initiatives that have emerged throughout the past five years, including the WWF Water Risk Filter, the CEO Water Mandate’s Water Action Hub, and CDP’s water disclosure effort.

So how do these standard systems fit together?

First, the AWS Standard itself provides a degree of recognition for sites that have already undertaken actions in other areas. For example, if a farm is certified by the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil, that farm’s responsible use of water will gain credit within the AWS Standard.

Second, AWS is working to develop mutual recognition systems such as the simplified audit system between Bonsucro and the Roundtable on Sustainable Biomaterials.

Third, as a standard that requires both site and watershed actions, AWS offers an interesting addition in water-stressed environments. Many existing standard systems -- including the majority of those WWF has helped to develop -- are focused around single commodities (mostly food and fiber such as soy, palm oil, shrimp, whitefish, pulp, and paper). Increasingly, the environmental community recognizes that there is an intersection point or “nexus” in which trade-offs are required between water, food, and energy. Enter AWS.

The watershed is a natural and long-established unit of cooperation and management – a well-oiled machine. AWS acts as a lubricant to keep that machine running, since it requires sites to reach out to others in the watershed. Certified operators in a given watershed can then discuss optimizing water resources with other needs. In doing so, we can help to ensure that benefits are optimized across the board, and that the sum is more than its parts.

That’s one of the things we love most about the AWS Standard. It will help drive coordination globally and in local river basins, which will push all the basins water users to change how they share and manage their natural resources. It will advance water stewardship and all the benefits that will bring. And that’s why we’re proud to help launch it.

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