Pouring oil on troubled waters

Woolworths is heavily involved in initiatives to change its own consumption patterns and those of its suppliers.

Woolworths is heavily involved in initiatives to change its own consumption patterns and those of its suppliers.

Water care and management award Runner-up: Woolworths

 As a result it is heavily involved in initiatives to change its own consumption patterns and those of its suppliers.

Head of Woolworths  sustainability programme Justin Smith said Woolworths has taken measures at every level to conserve water. “We see water as a key risk for a food retailer in South Africa and we have looked at promoting water efficiency across our value chain,” he said.

The biggest application has been in the company’s supply chain. Through its Farming the Future programme, it has worked with farmers to reduce their use of pesticides and to use more empirical methods to measure how much water is used.
Because of this knowledge irrigation only occurs when absolutely necessary and a 16% water saving has already been achieved. This will be extended to 30% by 2015.

“All suppliers who make fabric for our clothes adhere to very strict standards. For instance, no materials, dyes or chemicals used in the production of clothing or textiles pose what we believe to be an unacceptable risk to health – or to the environment – during their manufacture or disposal,” said Smith.

“When evaluating new real estate opportunities, we consider if the design of the property enables the efficient use of water and water waste.”

Huge savings have also been made at Woolworths headquarters in Cape Town. An in-house water treatment plant sucks water out of a deep underground river, running under the city, and pushes it around the building.

This allows for toilets to be flushed, cars to be cleaned and a big fountain to spout outside.

Although it is not safe enough to be used as drinking water, the measures are saving the municipal grid 75 000 litres a day. This ongoing process should decrease the building’s reliance on municipal supply by 70% by 2015. A similar initiative at all its stores is the plan to reduce total water consumption by 50% by 2015.

Woolworths is also the only retailer to become part of the World Wide Fund for Nature’s Water Balance programme. The programme works hand in hand with the government’s Working for Water programme to reduce the impact of invasive plant species, which use 7% of South Africa’s annual run-off water.

The ultimate objective is to free up enough water – by removing these plants – so the companies become water neutral. Woolworths’ involvement has so far done enough to make it water neutral.

Woolworths is also a key member of the Water Mandate, which is a public-private partnership that helps companies to determine what their water footprint is so they can change the way they operate.

The Greening judges said the retailer’s progressive procurement strategies and its internal mitigation and adaptation strategies had raised the bar in water management. The company’s constant critical focus on these issues not only saved water, but also helped to change consumer behaviour, they said.

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