Growing debate on water and consumption

Blog Jul 01, 2019

Who really pays for your consumption? More and more consumers and companies are starting to ask themselves hard questions about what today’s production and consumption patterns mean for the world’s water resources.

SIWI works actively to raise awareness around the many water aspects of consumption. This week, SIWI Swedish Water House is bringing together important stakeholders for seminars during Sweden’s so-called Politicians’ Week in Almedalen.

“In many countries, including Sweden, there’s growing water awareness among consumers, but many find it difficult to know how to take action. Companies are also starting to change, but it is not happening fast enough,” says Elin Weyler, Programme Manager Swedish Water House. Together with SIWI’s Executive Director, Torgny Holmgren, and Programme Manager Nicolai Schaaf, she is moderating a half-day seminar in Almedalen about the food, textile, pharmaceutical and travel sectors.

Swedish Water House has for the past years developed its collaboration with the Swedish food industry, initially through a cluster group bringing together different stakeholders. In the Tuesday seminar in Almedalen, retailers (Axfood), the industry association (Livsmedelsföretagen) and the Swedish producer association (Lantmännen) will all be present.

Since agriculture accounts for 70 per cent of freshwater withdrawals, this is a key sector. What we eat and where that food is produced will be more and more important, not least with a growing global population, worsening water scarcity and increasingly volatile rainfall patterns. In the seminar, the different stakeholders will discuss how they address these issues.

Another part of the seminar raises questions around how today’s production of antibiotics can contribute to antimicrobial resistance. With growing awareness of this fatal link, there are new proposals for more transparency and better manufacturing processes. SIWI is trying to bring together pioneering companies, regulators and procurers to facilitate this move in a more sustainable direction.

In Almedalen, Torgny Holmgren and SIWI’s expert Nicolai Schaaf will discuss this with a representative from the industry association (Föreningen för Generiska Läkemedel och Biosimilarer), as well as the Swedish bank Nordea and the business transparency organization Swedwatch.

The third part of the seminar is organized together with the organization Schyst resande (Fair travel) and focused on travelling, which so far has often not received as much attention from a water perspective, according to Elin Weyler.

“The impact of travel for leisure can be huge. It’s not only about means of transportation getting there, but also how the constructions impact the surrounding environment and the amount of water that is extracted from nature and the people living there, for example when constructing swimming pools. And, of course, also the food consumed, the textile used, and so on. Also tourism to explore nature and wildlife can put enormous pressure on the environment,” Weyler says.

She would like to see increased awareness among consumers and stronger actions from companies. A first important step is for companies to understand and measure their own water footprint, taking into account all parts of the supply chain. The result must be more water efficient processes, as well as reduced emissions.

Elin Weyler argues that companies must be increasing their efforts if we are to reach the Sustainable Development Goals and believes that this is best done by industries where companies develop joint policies and standards. This not only levels the playing field but can also help costumers understand what companies actually do and let that influence their purchasing decisions. Companies will then find it easier to make the necessary shift and will soon find that this makes them more sustainable, also financially.

A showcase example is the Swedish textile industry that has worked together with Swedish Water House in the Sweden Textile Water Initiative. Participating companies found that there was money to be made from more water efficient and less emitting practices, and that this also reduced both financial and reputational risk. The showcase will be presented during World Water Week in Stockholm 25-30 August.

This year’s World Water Week offers several sessions about sustainable production and consumption. Here are other interesting examples:

The link between the Sustainable Development Goals, human rights and production will be the topic of several events. For example, “SDG trade-offs and synergies” describes the research programme GRoW, financed by the German government, which analyses the interlinkages between agriculture, trade and water, as well as between water and energy supply. It is also important for both consumers and producers to understand which groups are particularly vulnerable from a water perspective, which is explored in this session: Leaving no one behind – the World Water Development Report.

Plastics are of growing concern to both consumers and producers, which will be tackled in various forms during World Water Week. The role of recycling is for example discussed in the session Plan for plastics – the circular solution and other future opportunities are discussed under the theme of Preventing plastics in our waters: more than banning straws and Innovative Plastic Leakage Action: From source to sea. 

Trendy food items like asparagus and avocado can cause water scarcity among local populations in production countries. In this seminar a case from Peru is presented, with questions asked about the role of producers: Is asparagus to blame? A supply-chain review.