Water Consuming Industries & Water Stewardship

Water Stewardship: License to operate?

After 200 years of industrialisation where water was used rather thoughtlessly and our natural resources and environment were almost neglected, the winds of change have begun to blow the recent years. Following the United Nation’s SDG 6 that highlights the need for ‘Efficient Water-Use and Sustainable Withdrawal’, investments in industrial water now seem to increase, and the paradigm of ‘Water Stewardship’ is gaining ground.

Water stewardship refers to a use of water that is socially equitable, environmentally sustainable, and economically beneficial. Of special concern is to ensure that large water-consuming industries care about and collectively take responsibility for the way they use and manage water in their production, including the quality of their water discharge and the use of fresh cooling water. And it aligns well with the concept of Corporate Social Responsibility, as many large water-consuming industries have begun to accept and act upon the fact that they are part of a local community as well as a global world of water scarcity.

Water stewards hence “understand their own water use, catchment context and shared risk in terms of water governance, water balance, water quality and important water-related areas; and then use this to engage in meaningful individual and collective actions that benefit people and nature.” (Alliance for Water Stewardship)


industrial water treatment - reverse osmosis

Photo: reverse osmosis water treatment


Industrial water reuse
At the moment, we see an increasing interest in industrial water reuse and corporate investments in e.g. wastewater recycling, reducing cooling water, RO (Reverse Osmosis) reject recovery, and harvesting and reusing rainwater.

The Food & Beverage industry is one of the large water-consuming industry sectors taking water stewardship increasingly seriously. A good example of a company incorporating these new solutions is the Carlsberg Group. The brewing industry is highly dependent on water, and thus in much bigger need of rethinking their water consumption. In the past years, the Carlsberg Group has been aiming towards a more sustainable production and with their initiative “Zero Water Waste”, they have an ambition to completely eliminate water waste from their brewing process by 2030. Most importantly, they are actually changing their ways – in 2019, they improved their production by a 12% reduction in water consumption per hl production from 2015 by incorporating treatment and reuse of wastewater whenever possible.

In another heavy water-consuming industry, the textile industry, we see an emerging and much needed focus on the discharge of industrial water, but the progress of the textile industry suffers from the fact that production facilities are primarily located in developing countries. Roadmap to Zero is an initiative founded to diminish the discharge of hazardous chemicals in the apparel and footwear industry, yet their ultimate ambition has now become to achieve “Clean water, clean air, safe workers and safe products.” Their approach is to guide value chains in making safer and more sustainable choices in regard to chemical use and wastewater. Today, ZDHC (Zero Discharge of Hazardous Chemicals) has 160 members who contribute to the cause and put cleaner water on the agenda.


The clock is ticking
As a dedicated water ambassador, I am pleased to see that large water-consuming industries around the world have started to take their use and management of water seriously. However, we have a long way to go before water stewardship becomes the new normal, and the clock is ticking. Around 80% of the world’s wastewater is still released into the environment without adequate treatment, and water has become a much scarcer resource than ever before. We all know of the Day Zero drama in Cape Town in 2018, and just recently, BBC reported that several areas in England are at risk of running out of water in 2041.

I am therefore looking forward to discussing the future of large water-consuming industries when we meet in Copenhagen at the IWA #WorldWaterCongress next year: How can we avoid greenwashing in the industries’ attempt to please the public and ensure that industries implement actual changes? How can we help more industries to become water stewards? And how can we create a future where water stewardship becomes a license to operate?


Soeren Hvilshoej

Global Division Director in Ramboll Water
Global Division Director in Ramboll Water Mr. Søren Hvilshøj is the Global Division Director in Ramboll Water and has several years of experience as project manager besides a wide experience within water and environment. For the past 23 years, he h... Read full biography