How can the new AWS Standard help business be better water stewards and improve access to water, sanitation and hygiene?

5 min read
Women from the local community returns home after collecting water from the tubewell at Gulni Tea Estate, Sylhet District, Bangladesh. February, 2017.
Image: WaterAid/Abir Abdullah

Ruth Romer (WaterAid), Kate Studd (Water Witness International) and Sarah Wade (AWS) reflect on a new business standard with water, sanitation and hygiene as one of its five key outcomes – and its potential in helping deliver improved WASH access and delivery against SDG6.

For ethical consumers, certificates like Fairtrade are an easy way to identify products and organisations that treat producers fairly in their supply chain. Until now, there has never been an equivalent for ensuring water is managed responsibly – but the Alliance for Water Stewardship’s (AWS) new Standard is fast filling that gap.

On World Water Day, AWS will launch the International Water Stewardship Standard Version 2.0. It helps companies manage their water usage in a holistic, responsible way, and ensures they meet demands from all water-users – from nature to business. Water as a human right is near the top of this list when it comes to demands for such a precious resource. So, it’s really encouraging to see full water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) considerations being embedded within the new standard.

The inclusion of a dedicated outcome on WASH for all offers a significant opportunity to drive improved access to water, sanitation and good hygiene for vulnerable or marginalised communities, as well as promote economic and social development.

Sor Sin preparing food on the River Sturng Sen, going into Lake Tonle Sap, Cambodia.
The River Sturng Sen, which flows into Lake Tonle Sap in Cambodia, which has suffered extremely low water levels in recent years.
Image: WaterAid/Laura Summerton

Today, WaterAid is also launching ‘Beneath the Surface: The State of the World’s Water 2019’ – a new report focusing on the hidden uses of water, especially in supply chains. Together, the two pieces of work offer a chance for businesses to realise their part to play in sustainable management of water.

The New AWS Standard

AWS was established to enable effective, consistent and verifiable ‘water stewardship’ practices by sites using a globally applicable framework. It can be implemented by any water user, anywhere, and is responsive to local context. The Standard guides the implementer through a process to identify water risks and opportunities, and then act on them.

Based on feedback from users globally, version 2 of the standard is more user friendly and will help deepen the business and development impacts it enables. One of the most significant changes is the addition of WASH as a fifth outcome. It strengthens criteria and indicators relating to the provision of WASH, as well as the planned development of WASH-specific guidance for implementers. Raising the prominence of WASH within the Standard ensures that for sites where WASH is identified as a risk, it is robustly addressed during implementation of the standard.

A diagram of the 5 steps of the standard: 1. gather and understand, 2. commit and plan, 3. implement, 4. evaluate, 5. communicate and disclose.
The five stages of implementing the Standard.

Safe Water, Sanitation and Hygiene for All (WASH) is good for business

Companies are beginning to recognise that sustainable use of water, as well as equitable access to water and sanitation for the workers living in the surrounding communities, is better for business and nature. Several organisations that have already implemented the standard highlight its current and potential contributions to improved access to WASH:

  • At Aviv Coffee Plantation in Tanzania, Olam has driven wholescale improvements in site level WASH provision for hundreds of staff, and to company-wide system change (WWI 2016).
  • At Serengeti Breweries Limited (SBL) in Tanzania, the Standard has driven joint action to improve WASH and livelihoods for thousands of people in Moshi Municipality, and across the SBL supply chain within some of the most water insecure communities in East Africa (WWI, 2018).

These outcomes illustrate the power of the Standard, when applied in regions of the world with the most acute WASH challenges, to make a significant contribution to human development outcomes, and its potential to facilitate corporate action in the drive for universal WASH.

Tea-pickers on way their way to work at Gulni Tea Estate in Bangladesh
Tea-pickers on way their way to work at Gulni Tea Estate in Bangladesh, a country that suffers high levels of water scarcity.
Image: WaterAid/Abir Abdullah

Water Stewardship’s contribution to addressing SDG6 and the Global WASH Crisis

The new Standard not only ensures that implementing sites address WASH in the workplace, it also provides a meaningful opportunity to drive transformative action on WASH provision at a catchment level, through supply chains, and through private sector engagement in dialogue around WASH in the countries in which they operate. Given that globally, it is estimated that one-in-five people are employed in globalised supply chains, a study by WASH members (WaterAid, CEO Water Mandate, WBCSD and WWI, 2017) found that potential for standard systems such as AWS to contribute to achieving WASH outcomes is significant.

Including WASH as the fifth outcome strengthens AWS’s alignment to the SDG6 (water and sanitation for all) indicators and demonstrates AWS’s leadership on this issue, sending a clear signal to other voluntary sustainability standards that WASH must be considered as part of wider activities on sustainability. It highlights the benefits of improving WASH provision for implementers of the Standard. It raises awareness of best practice, supports site managers to understand the links between WASH and business risks and highlights how engagement beyond the fence line not only brings about significant social improvements, but also benefits to sites and their business through a stronger financial business case.

The updated Standard provides an opportunity for AWS and AWS implementers to constructively influence others to act on WASH as part of a wider water stewardship approach. By aligning it with SDG6, AWS and its stakeholders have ensured that the Standard continues to demonstrate robust water stewardship and provides significant benefits to communities, business and nature. Once the new Standard is launched, we encourage more businesses to download the Standard and find out how implementing it will benefit your business and the communities in which you operate.

To find out more about AWS and the new Standard, there are webinars available at 11am across four time zones on World Water Day (22nd March).

Register for a webinar >

The Standard will be available to download from the AWS website on World Water Day. For water stewardship news and updates, you can also sign up to AWS’s newsletter.


References and further reading

(WaterAid, CEO Water Mandate, WBCSD & WWI, 2017), 'Corporate Engagement on water supply, sanitation and hygiene. Driving progress on Sustainable Development Goal 6 (SDG6) through supply-chains and voluntary standards'

WaterAid (2018), 'Strengthening the business case for water, sanitation and hygiene. How to measure value for your business'

WaterAid (2019), ‘In Beneath the Surface: The State of the World’s Water 2019’

Water Witness International (2016), ‘Mitigating water risk and creating shared value’. Lessons from implementing the Alliance for Water Stewardship standard in Africa'

Water Witness International (2018), 'Maji SASA! – Water stewardship action for small-holders in Africa. Participatory R&D to mitigate risk and embed water stewardship within small-holder supply chains'