Cement and other manufacturing companies often get a rap on their knuckles for being big consumers of water and are criticized for the negative impact they have on local community water resources.
Many companies, however, are bucking this trend and becoming 'net water positive' - giving back more water than they take, to not only secure water for business sustainability but also to ensure there is more than enough for the community that they're a part of.
Ambuja Cements Limited is proud to be already ahead of the curve, with water a positive ratio of 5.5. So what can companies do to optimize their own water footprint and build smart strategies to reach a 'water positive' status?
Primary Strategies Adopted by Leaders
When a company is 'net water positive' it means they are creating more water than they are actually using in their business. Whilst it is not a legal compliance, businesses need water to operate and cannot function without it - it makes good business sense to invest in a variety of ways to become water positive.
So how is it done? And what are the various strategies a company can harness to minimize their water footprint? When it comes to being water positive, there are 2 areas of intervention that a company needs to consider:
1. 'Within the Fence' - A series of strategies where companies can reduce their water footprint through water saving techniques, recycling and harvesting water from within the plant.
2. 'Beyond the Fence' - A company can work with local communities to harvest and gain access to rainwater via a variety of structures and interventions. And importantly, can teach them more efficient ways to conserve and use it.
But it is in the 'Beyond the Fence' interventions that there is unlimited potential and scope to influence the area of water. After all, there is only so much that can be done 'within the Fence.' But in doing so, it is vital to take a holistic approach to tackle community water initiatives.
In fact, the opportunity exists for companies to play a special, leadership role in leading and catalyzing 'Beyond the Fence' community water strategies. A corporate is one stakeholder, perfectly positioned, to play a leadership role and drive community water management. This is, in fact, Water Stewardship.
Referring to the collective action of all the stakeholders within a water basin, watershed or region, to work toward integrated water resource management, 'water stewardship' provides an exciting opportunity for companies.
Because compared to other stakeholders, corporates are relatively nimble and influential, which presents a unique opportunity to lead community water initiatives - to go beyond their own water efficiency practices 'within the fence' and lead collective action 'beyond the fence'.
Additionally, businesses are uniquely positioned to devise innovative solutions to water challenges, which cannot only provide water for profit but for people and planet also.
Employing Beyond the Fence strategies for holistic community Development.
At Ambuja Cement Foundation we have worked at both the demand and supply ends of the water spectrum. It is important to influence both water harvesting, conservation and judicious utilization, to make a lasting, sustained impact. And in doing so, have taken a Water Stewardship approach to tackle the problem.
So what does it look like on the ground?
- Water Harvesting - On the supply side, ACF facilitates Rooftop Rainwater Harvesting so that households can capture water as and when it falls. We also work on larger scale harvesting, in the form of building check dams, deepening and widening ponds and carving canals. It not only captures the rainwater but also harnesses it to recharge depleted ground water levels. This has helped communities, households and farmers to have greater all year round access to water.
- Water Conservation - There is also a need to work with both farmers and community members to conserve and optimize water as a resource - teaching them to use it as efficiently as possible. Across India, many farmers are not using water efficiently, with only 30-40% efficiency from flood irrigation of crops. ACF supports farmers to invest in Drip Irrigation, which lifts water use efficiency to levels between 60-80%. It is important to work at both ends of the spectrum.
There are many on-ground learnings to share, to support companies in streamlining and optimizing their investments in community water projects. Some of ACFs 'secrets to success' include:
- Partnering for Success: In water project partnering with the community or if possible with the local government, will be more helpful to achieving success. There are a number of schemes that the government has, it is also possible to forge a corporate-corporate partnership.
- 5 Year Investment Horizon: There is no 'quick fix' when it comes to investing in community water initiatives. Water project needs 3-5 year horizon to see an impact and to also ensure systematic implementation.
- The first 6-9 months is spent on community preparation or systematic investigation of the area to identify proper sites for recharge wells, dams, ponds, canals and the like. You need to simultaneously advertise and promote projects in the community to foster collective action.
- In the 2nd and 3rd year implementation of programs takes place where we build structures and work with local groups for behaviour change.
- And in the 4-5th year we focus on building and strengthening people's institutions to take over the ongoing management of interventions - otherwise, the structures are vulnerable to falling into disrepair.
- Building People's Institutions: It is in the last few years of the project that we focus on strengthening 'people's institutions' such as Water User Groups and Association's to manage projects in an equitable, sustainable way. By getting local buy-in we ensure the long-term viability of the project. Rainfall variability is diverse - if there is high rainfall then the structure may be damaged. If the community agrees to participate, then the structure is maintained and the project is sustainable - else the investment goes waste. Â·
- Pooling Resources: Projects can be optimised by partnering with the Government and other key stakeholders. It is important that everyone chips in to pool resources - we even ensure that the community contributes in some way. The biggest opportunity, however, lies in collaborative corporate partnerships and Government Partnerships via tapping into local schemes. For example in Chandrapur, ACF has collaborated with the Government of Maharashtra to implement the water conservation scheme named Jalayukt Shivar Abhiyan. These partnerships not only help in terms of resource mobilisation and multiplying resources but also give us the social license to operate.
- Water Volumes - We can simply measure the capacity of a check dam, well or pond to measure the amount of extra capacity created. Irrigation - However measuring the impact of something like drip irrigation is a little more complex. Whilst there are standard benchmarking tools to measure based on the crop, soil type, area for irrigation, irrigation frequency, climate consideration (humidity, dry), the area under irrigation and water pumped, to compare the change. For such complicated measurements, ACF garners technical and knowledge support from local universities and research institutes.
- Measuring Ground Water Recharge - Another approach is to measure groundwater recharge and again this is no simple formula. Its measurement is based on such facets as geology and infiltration rates and formulas to calculate the recharge of groundwater.
- Social Return on Investment - Another measurement tool to ascertain the long term, the ripple effect of a water project on a community, is SROI. It highlights how changes in the area of water can also create positive impacts on areas such as health, education and livelihoods. ACF uses outside consultants to conduct SROI studies on communities where it has had widespread community water investment over sustained periods of time. Studies have shown a social return on investment ranging from 1:6 to 1:13 in varied geographies ACF operates in.
- Company Water Audit - To gauge overall water footprints at a company, reputed organizations like DNV and agencies validate our work on the ground - which typically takes place every 4 years.
Whilst investing in water is good for business, future sustainability and helps gain trust from locals, it also provides a win-win for all stakeholders in the watershed. Companies can play a leadership role in not only achieving net water positive status but in transforming the water woes of an entire community.
ACF is an implementing agency with experience in managing corporate expectations and needs and can help corporates invest in community water projects to influence their net water positivity. For more information contact firstname.lastname@example.org