Matt Howard HeadshotOn June 23rd, 2016, Water Canada will play host to the eighth annual Canadian Water Summit. Matt Howard, the first director of the Alliance for Water Stewardship-North America (AWS-NA), will join us to discuss his efforts in leading the North American implementation of the AWS International Water Stewardship Standard, which is a strategic framework for companies to identify and mitigate water risks within direct operations and supply chains.

Water Canada caught up with Matt to discuss trends of water sustainability in business, the AWS standard, and recent commitments made by the Obama administration with respect to water.

Water Canada (WC): If you were to wager a guess about the percentage of North American companies that are thinking about water risks, what would it be?

Matt Howard (MH): Companies that are water intensive and/or are located in severely water stressed regions like California’s Central Valley are certainly thinking about water-related risks, and are most likely taking some action to mitigate those risks. Unfortunately, many more companies all across North America are not thinking about water-related risks because their water source and quality are taken for granted or they use relatively little process water in their direct operations and assume they are immune from water crises. This is a narrow view of water-related risks which only focuses on direct costs associated with water use.

As we continue to learn every day, it is the indirect costs and the value of having access to safe, secure water that present the greatest risk to companies. Can you afford to lose water service for several days as has happened in water-abundant cities like Flint, Michigan and Toledo, Ohio? Are you constantly monitoring incoming water quality to ensure alignment with chemically sensitive manufacturing processes that utilize metallurgy? Do you source a water-intensive primary input from a water stressed region, like produce from the western United States? Operating a business in a desert is not the only type of water-related risk businesses face.

WC: What percentage should be thinking about their exposure to water risks?

MH: I truly believe that all manufacturers and other water-intensive business operations including agricultural production and public energy and water utilities should be undertaking at least basic forms of water risk analysis to determine if water-related risks are material to their direct operations and/or supply chain.

A basic risk profile will assist company management in making a determination on whether or not a formal program addressing water-related risks then needs to be implemented at a facility. Does your site face water quantity or quality issues? Are there regulatory changes anticipated that could impact effluent or access to water sources? Would local stakeholders support your license to grow? These are all material issues to businesses which not only affect direct operations, but could also impact one’s social license to operate.

WC: Why is the AWS International Stewardship Standard a good mechanism for engaging the private sector?

MH: The AWS Standard is a voluntary, global water use standard that is free to use and download. There should be no excuses for companies to at least explore the Standard and its applicability to their operations.

The AWS Standard functions as a strategic framework to help companies identify and mitigate water-related risks and eventually create shared value from water resources. It is not a prescriptive standard and thus allows local conditions and individual business considerations to drive implementation. Further, the Standard requires implementers to consult with local stakeholders to ensure the water stewardship plan that a company develops links appropriate actions within the facility to actions and conditions in the watershed. It provides a “safe” space for companies to engage in meaningful, collaborative actions that have both a business value and positive impact on the sustainability of our freshwater resources.

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