John Lindsay, CEO of Baker & Baker, one of Europe’s leading manufacturers of bakery products, discusses why monitoring and reducing water usage should be a key element of any business’s sustainability strategy, and considers how food and drink manufacturers can reduce their consumption.

With climate change widely reported to be the cause of this summer’s record-breaking heatwave and subsequent droughts, it’s a stark reminder that the UK can’t take its water supply for granted. And, as scientists predict that scorching summers will become the norm, we must act now and tackle the pressing issue of water security head on.

The 2030 Water Resources Group estimates that water demand will exceed current supply by 40% by 2030. Furthermore, with a report by the European Environment Agency (EEA) finding that around 30% of Europe’s population is affected by water stress during the average year, it’s time for businesses to examine their water consumption and how they can improve.

Industrial and manufacturing companies are among the heaviest users of water throughout the supply chain to help source, make, pack, transport and stock goods, yet water is often overlooked by businesses trying to enhance their sustainability credentials. Sourcing, processing, treating and transporting water all has a direct impact on carbon emissions.

As a food manufacturer, we are acutely aware that industrial water consumption has an impact on the world’s water supply and our carbon footprint.

Food production and consumption alone are responsible for around 30% of global carbon emissions (1), so reducing water usage has a positive impact on a business’s carbon footprint. After agriculture, food production is the second highest consuming industry of water (2) and, with global and local demand for water increasing, the food and drink sector has a crucial role to play in safeguarding and improving water security.

Moderation equals conservation

Water is essential to the food we eat, but how can we, as an industry, use water more efficiently to minimise the impact of water stress on people and the environment?

At Baker & Baker, we have been putting an increased focus on sustainable business practices and we’re proud to be among some of the UK’s top food and drink companies to officially support WRAP’s new Roadmap towards water security for food and drink supply.

The ‘Water Roadmap’ seeks to improve the quality and availability of water, working towards a target of sourcing 50% of the UK’s fresh food from areas with sustainable water management. It delivers a practical framework to help food and drink businesses know what steps they can take to increase water efficiency in their operations and help preserve this precious resource.

Providing a clear and logical route for improving water management, the new Water Roadmap directly addresses climate risk and water stewardship. It sets out the steps businesses must take individually and collectively to deliver this vision by progressing through the five stages of the WWF Water Stewardship ladder.

Participating companies are encouraged to adapt their supply chains and incorporate a number of targets, including:

  •   monitoring water use in their operations and improving efficiency
  •   identifying water risk hotspots in their supply chain
  •   identifying suppliers operating in ‘high water stress’ areas and encouraging them to engage with local water stewardship initiatives

The roadmap also highlights the milestones that businesses need to reach and how they report their progress to ensure that the intended results are achieved.

As we head towards a carbon-free future, meeting ambitious Environmental Social Governance (ESG) goals present opportunities for businesses to adapt their processes as part of their managed journey to net zero.

Having a realistic water management strategy in place is an important first step for manufacturers that are committed to improving their sustainability and curtailing environmental impact. And, of course, reducing water is not just better for the environment – it can help to drive down operating costs and save money too.

Manufacturers need to start accessing and using water in new ways and there are many realistic measures that they can introduce to improve their water management.

Taking action on water

It’s estimated that 3 billion litres of water are lost to leaks every day across England and Wales, so leak detection should be a key element of any business’s water strategy. By monitoring water usage, firms will be able to spot and address leaks more quickly, reducing wastage.

Similarly, investing in water-efficient technologies, such as timers and controls to automate water usage, can reduce water consumption and waste. Recycling water by using modern ‘grey’ water systems also helps reduce usage.

Baker & Baker’s strategy is to reduce water use and increase re-use where possible. Under our roadmap commitments, we will be developing water reduction targets for each of our four UK plants early next year, aiming for incremental improvements year-on-year. These targets will be published so that we can transparently demonstrate our progress.

Although small improvements will be possible via eliminating leaks or other efficiencies, we will also be considering projects such as reducing water usage during equipment clean-downs without compromising on food safety and regulatory requirements.

We also use the WWF Water Risk Filter – a comprehensive resource that helps businesses to identify water risk hotspots globally. It’s invaluable for businesses with international supply chains that source raw materials from countries or regions suffering from water stress or pollution.

The Environment Agency has warned that 3,400 million more litres of water could be needed every day by 2050 if we don’t take action to address our water security. Water management must be embedded into the sustainability strategy of any business to help protect our water resources, restore biodiversity and achieve Net Zero goals.

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