Championing Certification: Nestle Waters global commitment signals a step change in ambition

Alexis Morgan, WWF Global Water Stewardship Lead

© Istockphoto.com / WWF-Canada

We’ve got 12 years. That’s all. Just twelve years to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals. I’m not sure whether people realize how quickly 2030 will be here. It’s around the corner, and when it comes to water challenges, the road in front of us is long, steep and littered with obstacles. In short, we need many bold steps and we needed them yesterday.

But today is better than never. And today, we were pleased to see Nestle Water’s take such a bold step. Nestle Water’s decision to certify 100% of its global operations to the Alliance for Water Stewardship (AWS) standard is a world first. It is also the sort of commitment we need out of all leading companies if we are to change our approach to water and scale up impact to the necessary levels.

I got into the game of tackling the world’s water challenges because freshwater underpins all life. It underpins issues of poverty, gender equality, human health and wellbeing, sport, and all economic development. Water is at the heart of sustainable development.

I got into the game of working with business because unlike governments which, by necessity, face many check and balances, businesses have an amazing ability to move quickly and at scale. Big businesses also boast capacity far beyond most government agencies. So when it comes to delivering on SDG 6 (Clean water and sanitation for all), I see few pathways BUT relying upon business to shift scales of activity.

I got into the game of enabling multi-stakeholder sustainability standards because they offer a mechanism to combine process, performance and third party checking. The power of consensus and ownership between an array of private, public and civil society actors can be inspiring and impactful. Like AWS. Its global standard and system, which I helped to design, provide a foundational framework that ALL corporate water users can rally around. After a slow start, companies are now rallying round.

Having previously secured the first AWS certification in North America, Nestle Waters continues to show leadership on water stewardship. We hope that this global commitment will serve to inspire many more companies to follow suit.

The standard not only raises awareness of the need to think beyond the fenceline, but it fundamentally places the long term sustainability of shared water resources at the heart of operations. It requires stakeholder engagement in a meaningful manner, it requires independent verification, and it offers data on performance that can create trust through transparency. In short, AWS certification drives towards verifiable action on SDG6, and this pledge is an appreciated sign of leadership.

I recognize that bottled water tends to be a polarizing sector and it is worth noting that WWF does not receive any funding from Nestle Waters. I mention this because we should remember that regardless of the sector, we must encourage ALL companies to do better, to be more sustainable, to make bold commitments and to deliver action that moves us towards the 2030 goals.

Water challenges are not slowing; they are not stopping; they are growing. Every passing day we are further away from our 2030 goal. We need many more companies to make these sorts of commitments. We need financial institutions to start financing solutions at an entirely different scale to what is happening right now. As I like to say, to start solving the water challenge, we need heros and we need zeros.

The clock is ticking. How long until you take your bold actions to ensure water for all?