Clean water: a conduit for a healthier society and better business

By Nick Blazquez, President, Africa, Diageo

Clean water: a conduit for a healthier society and better business

As we prepare to publish our annual Global Sustainability Report next week*, I wanted to take the opportunity to highlight the importance of water, the most important ingredient in all of our brands, and underline our drive to improve water efficiency around the globe, particularly at our production sites in ‘water-stressed’ areas – predominantly in regions of Africa where our business is growing strongly.

About 300 million people across Africa currently lack access to safe drinking water, and more children on the continent die each year from drinking contaminated water than the total number of people who die from HIV/AIDS and malaria combined. By the year 2025, the number of people living in water stressed regions will rise to 3 billion people.

The human cost is high, and so is the economic cost. Water is still the most critical factor for development. Countries with large proportions of their population that lack access to safe water and sanitation show slower economic growth than those that have it. The UN estimates that sub-Saharan Africa alone loses 40 billion hours per year collecting water; the same as a whole year’s worth of labour by France’s entire workforce.

At Diageo we see the human and economic impact of water scarcity as inextricably linked. From a business perspective, water is vital to us. It is also, of course, vital to the environment and to the communities that work with us and surround us, which means that the stewardship of water is central to the sustainability of our business.

Our stewardship of the environment is not only the right thing to do, it is essential for the future of our business. Within our own operations, the reduction of waste water and effective effluent treatment using innovative technology has been a cornerstone of our drive to ensure leadership in water management. Our employees have been trained on the value of water stewardship and are empowered to drive change internally so we can meet our ambitious water management targets to use water more efficiently throughout our business, to improve the quality of the wastewater we discharge, and to reduce the water wasted in water-stressed sites.

However, it’s not enough to focus purely on water use within our own business. We consider our water footprint broadly and aim to reduce water usage across our value chain, from the farmers to the bar. This forms an integral part of our programmes in Africa, and given the increasing water stress many countries are facing, we need to ensure our supply chain remains adaptable.

We are currently working with farmers in Kenya and Tanzania to develop a local sorghum supply chain. Sorghum is more resistant to drought, it is also known to improve soil quality, which combined with training and technical assistance improves the production capacity of small-scale farmers and therefore positively impacts their livelihoods.

This becomes a virtuous cycle as our business relies on a healthy society. Whether we’re talking about our employees, our suppliers or our consumers it is in our interest to expand access to improved water and increase levels of sanitation. In Africa we allocate 50% of our CSR budget to water through our ‘Water of Life’ programme where we aim to provide access to improved water supply for 8 million people by 2015. This is an example of our longstanding commitment to improve access to safe drinking water and to make a tangible contribution to the UN Millennium Development Goal (MDG) 7, target 10 – to reduce by half the proportion of people in Africa living without access to water and adequate sanitation.

Since 2006, through this programme, Diageo has enabled access to improved drinking water for approximately 5.5 million people, reaching around 1 million people over the past year. We have supported over 200 projects in 16 African countries, comprising a range of initiatives including boreholes, hand-dug wells, rainwater harvesting and domestic filtration devices.

Our Water of Life programme is a firm expression of our belief in water, and by adopting a proactive stance we are seriously addressing the complexities and interdependencies of water stewardship. As a key growth market for Diageo, Africa is front and centre of our global commitment to improving water efficiency, not just because it’s the right thing to do in a water stressed environment, but because it makes sound business sense.

*Diageo’s 2012 Sustainability and Responsibility report is published next week, download a copy at from Wednesday 5 September.

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