Markets working to support sustainable development

Alliance for Water Stewardship (AWS) Standard

The AWS Standard is an international, market-based standard that is designed to guide, incentivise and differentiate responsible water users.

The Standard is designed to achieve four water stewardship outcomes: good water governance, sustainable water balance, good water quality status and healthy status of important water-related areas. In order to achieve these, water stewards - those that implement the Standard - must follow a six-step continual improvement framework. The steps are:

  1. Commit 
  2. Gather and understand 
  3. Plan 
  4. Implement 
  5. Evaluate 
  6. Communicate and disclose 

For each of the above steps, there are a set of criteria which include AWS Core-Criteria and AWS Advanced-Level Criteria, as well as a set of indicators. In order to achieve the certification, projects must meet each of the core criteria. The advanced level, meanwhile, uses a point system to rank them according to performance. They are then graded accordingly: AWS Core - 0-39, AWS Gold - 40-79, AWS Platinum - 80+. 

At the time of writing (June 2014), the verification process for the Standard is still in the process of being developed but it has been confirmed that it will be conducted by AWS-approved conformity assessment bodies (CABs) which provide independent assessments at a site level. AWS have also declared that the final verification process will:

  • comply with international best practice to ensure claims of conformity and compliance are credible to all stakeholders.
  • recognise that water stewardship is a journey and that there are different tiers to water stewardship.
  • have a system that is affordable for a wide range of water users.
  • work with partners around the world and other water stewardship initiatives to ensure local relevance.
  • provide new ways of establishing credible assurance while driving continual improvement in water stewardship. 
Market coverage: 

The AWS Standard is currently being applied through partner organisations in Africa, Asia Pacific, Europe, Latin America, the Caribbean, North America and South America.

As the Standard is very new (two months old at the time of writing - June 2014), it is unclear exactly what the market coverage is/will be. However, trial projects during the formation of the Standard included horticulture, pulp and paper, mining, chemical, oil and gas, agriculture, coffee and dairy farmers. Each of the pilot studies accessed domestic and international markets.

Meanwhile, organisations, such as Marks and Spencers, Nestle and General Mills, have pledged support for the standard, together representing thousands of brands - Nestle alone have over 8000.

Background information: 

AWS is a membership organisation that was founded in 2009 to promote and reward the sustainable use of water by users around the world. It’s activities are decided through a multi-stakeholder governance structure that is headed by the Water Roundtable - a group that  formed the Standard Version 1, which was launched in April 2014 after a four year consultation process. AWS is also building a training programme to strengthen capacity for water users to compliment the Standard.

Funding source: 

Unclear, although AWS does receive funding from membership fees and the pilot schemes for the Standard were supported by Marks & Spencers and the German International Development Agency. 

Notable information: 

The standard recognises that water is a shared resource; as such, effective management - as defined by the Standard - requires collaborative solutions as well as an appreciation of the impacts felt beyond the boundaries of the site. This is achieved by engaging with stakeholders and local communities from outside and inside the catchment area.