AWS: The Alliance for Water Stewardship

The Alliance for Water Stewardship is a global organization composed of members from leading businesses, non-profits, public sector agencies, and academic institutions, all sharing the collective goal of promoting the responsible use of freshwater in ways that provide overall social, economic, and environmental benefits.

Members of AWS abide by the Water Stewardship Standard, a charter designed to help companies and other water users implement responsible practices that mitigate water risks (e.g., water scarcity), improve efficiency, and address shared water challenges like drought and population growth.

The AWS Standard is the first-ever comprehensive global standard for measuring responsible water stewardship across social, environmental, and economic criteria. These factors span geographical and socioeconomic lines, such as the impact upon disadvantaged communities with difficulties accessing water; environmental quality at water-related locations like marshes; and whether water is being managed in a way that provides a positive economic benefit.

This means that a facility is not just assessed based on its water use and efficiency within its four walls, but on how operators are engaging with other water users and stakeholders around the facility. These relationships determine shared water challenges and water-related risks, encouraging opportunities for collaboration toward responsible and sustainable water management.

The AWS Standard also has the unique benefit of being created and supported by prominent environmental conservation groups, development organizations, and industry leaders, such as CDP, The Nature Conservancy, The Pacific Institute, United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), and World Wildlife Fund (WWF).

Why become AWS certified?

AWS certification allows a facility to demonstrate its commitment to water stewardship while helping others in the region collaborate on best practices in water conservation. AWS-certified facilities use more advanced water-water-saving measures than non-certified ones, ensuring a smaller footprint in the watershed. An AWS facility is better able to track its stewardship efforts. It is also more involved in communicating and coordinating with other stakeholders in the watershed, in order to meet shared conservation goals.

Taken together, the steps taken for AWS certification foster better community engagement, cost-savings at plants, and increased water availability at the source. Sites that meet AWS requirements achieve either core, gold, or platinum-level certification.

All in all, the benefits that AWS brings is in coordinating the stakeholders in a watershed to act with a top-level view of how their actions impact each other.

Certification process

Becoming AWS certified involves a rigorous process that extends over a multi-year timeframe. The AWS Standard assesses a site across four key areas:

  • Good Water Governance: a measure of the effective and responsible management of water resources
  • Sustainable Water Balance: ensuring that the rate and quantity of water withdrawal from a source does not outpace the natural rate of replenishment
  • Good Water Quality: taking steps to preserve, and even improve, the quality of available water resources
  • Watershed health: identifying and protecting areas of the watershed that are critical to the health and sustainability of local water resources

AWS in action

AWS maintains a list of facilities available for view on its website. Among the 22 sites that have received certification as of November, 2018, are plants run by major industries. Locations of certified plants range from Australia, to Tanzania, Brazil, Canada, the United States, Pakistan, Spain, China, and Armenia.