Lake Burley Griffin -  Nick Schofield Global Water Institute

Building value through voluntary water stewardship

As demand for freshwater throughout the world increases, most surface water is fully allocated and groundwater sources are depleting at a rapid rate. While complex, cross-cutting issues relating to the quantity and quality of water are not new, we as humans have struggled to put in place any real effective, sustainable solutions to these issues.

Most of our water problems today are the result of someone's water solution yesterday

Michael Spencer, CEO of Water Stewardship Australia and Chair of Alliance for Water Stewardship


In his April 27 Global Water Institute Seminar, Michael Spencer, CEO of Water Stewardship Australia and Chair of the Alliance for Water Stewardship, suggested that the traditional solutions we implement to address water issues tend to have an expiry date—and many are no longer working.

“Most of our water problems today are the result of someone’s water solution yesterday,” said Spencer.

“While certain countries are perceived as doing better than others in addressing their water issues, I don’t think they’ve ever really solved their problems—they’re just doing relatively better than others at a given point in time.”

Spencer states that the problem with shared assets, such as freshwater, is that humans have a tendency to over-exploit them, hence the need to engage everybody in a shared strategic solution.

Nicholas Schofield Michael Spencer Global Water Institute

 “Really, we’ve got to change the culture of water, and part of our problem is the fragmentation of knowledge and approaches. I really appreciate the work of the Global Water Institute because it’s a very similar idea; how do we bring all these disciplines together in a meaningful way to effect change?” said Spencer.

The Alliance for Water Stewardship has adopted a collaborative and innovative approach, providing a framework for water users and managers to become committed, responsible stewards who use fresh water in socially equitable, environmentally sustainable, and economically beneficial ways.

 “This is done by encouraging companies to adopt inclusive, forward-thinking approaches to their existing and future catchment issues—solving problems before they become problems—and by publicly recognising organisations who are demonstrating best practice,” said Spencer.

The six-step AWS International Water Stewardship Standard is a continual improvement framework that enables companies to commit to, understand, plan, implement, evaluate and communicate water stewardship actions—designed to be adopted by any site, in any sector, in any catchment around the world.

While the biggest motivators to adopting the Standard are often physical, regulatory or reputational business risks, the sharing of multiple water stewardship success stories are prompting companies to proactively adopt this approach before their risks become immediate.

And it’s not only companies and their local communities benefitting from this approach. The AWS Standard has been evaluated against the Sustainable Development Goals, and it was found that it relates to all 17 goals and 55 of the 169 targets, either as a driver, a contributor or a reinforcer—demonstrating once again that solving water issues is truly one of the most critical challenges of our time.

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