ISO Water Footprint Standard Crash Course, Part I
Water is likely rising to the top of your sustainability agenda because the related risks and opportunities affect your supply chain and your operations. And you’re also getting pressure from stakeholders: NGOs keep watch and want transparency, engaged consumers want information and answers, and investors want reports on your water strategy, including a gauge of exposure to risks and opportunities.
The recently validated ISO 14’046 standard will help you navigate your water assessment process and solidify your strategy.
Part 1 of this two-part series tells you what you need to know to understand the new standard and what implications it will have on your measurement and reporting initiatives.
A water footprint, as defined by ISO 14’046, is a set of metric(s) that quantify(ies) the potential environmental impact related to water use. It provides the information to which extent a product, service or company is affecting ecosystems and the society, through the use of water.
1. Follows the Life Cycle Assessment methodology
The standard follows the methodological principles of Life Cycle Assessment (ISO 14’044), which means that the entire life cycle of a product, service or company should be considered. This means that instead of a company’s typical process of measuring, reporting and committing to reduce water use related to direct operations, the new ISO 14’046 requires companies to go further. For a company, this means considering the entire supply chain up to raw materials and downstream operations, delivery, products use and end of life in addition to its own operations (similar to Scope 3, as defined by the GHG protocol).
2. Measures potential impact on environment, not use
The water footprint assessment is a measurement of a potential impact on the environment. In other words, this standard does not consider the volume of water used or consumed to be a water footprint.
If a published water footprint study did not quantitatively assess the environmental footprint of they water use they report, then it will not comply with this new ISO standard. To be considered as a water footprint assessment these studies should reflect a potential impact; for example, by taking into account water scarcity within the water footprint indicator. Because the volume of water consumed in different places will not have the same impact on the environment, a volumetric indicator is not considered as a water footprint but rather as an inventory.
3. Water pollution considered, too.
A water footprint is not only about consumption of water resources but also about pollution of those resources. Companies often report on how much water they use, but less often on how much they pollute even though it has been requested for some year in reporting guidelines such as GRI. From now on a comprehensive water footprint should account for both issues. Surprisingly, water pollution environmental impact assessment is much more developed within the LCA methodologies than water consumption. Indicators covering water issues such as eutrophication, acidification and eco-toxicity have existed for some time.
The standard specifies that a comprehensive water footprint should be constituted by a set of indicators representing different water issues, covering pollution and consumption. This means that a water footprint assessment is not a single number!
4. ISO 14’046 will not change corporate footprinting – for now.
Most water footprint practitioners are also responsible for corporate footprinting. They produce CSR reports and report to initiatives such as the CDP, the DJSI. In the short term, the ISO standard will not change the way the information is reported. However, once a significant number of companies have solid experience with this standard, reporting initiatives might incorporate more advanced water footprint indicators.
In Part 2, we’ll provide some guidance as to how to wade the water footprinting standards, including ISO, as well as look at the future of methodology. So, watch this space to explore how to implement or advance water footprinting initiatives within this standard and in coordination with others.
Samuel Vionnet is a water and LCA expert with Quantis, a global leader in sustainability and Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) expertise, services, consulting and tools. Fueled by its close ties with the scientific community and its strong track record with clients, Quantis has proven experience in supporting clients as they transform LCA results into business strategies and operational action plans. To learn more about our water footprint and LCA expertise, services and training or to learn more about the Quantis Water Database, visit http://www.quantis-intl.com.
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