Businesses commit to Courtauld Commitment 2025 Water Ambition to cut environmental cost of food & drink

Jayne Mann


The impact on the environment of producing food and drink, both in the UK and overseas, will be reduced under a new Water Ambition launched today by sustainability experts WRAP, in partnership with WWF and The Rivers Trust, as part of Courtauld Commitment 2025.
Announced on World Water Day, the Ambition has the backing of signatories to WRAP’s ten-year Courtauld Commitment 2025 voluntary agreement, including major UK retailers, food and drink manufacturers & brands, businesses from within the hospitality & food service sector and trade bodies. These include ABP Food Group, Bidfood, Coca-Cola GB, the Co-op, M&S, Nestlé, Sainsbury’s and Tesco. The Courtauld Commitment 2025 Water Ambition will see UK businesses act within their own operations, and collectively in food sourcing areas, to tackle water stress and improve water efficiency. Courtauld Commitment 2025 signatories have agreed to the following. By 2025:
  • Business signatories are monitoring water use in their own operations and have improved efficiency. Aiming for 100% of signatory businesses monitoring water use and having delivered water reductions in operations under their direct influence.
  • Business signatories are participating in collective action to improve the quality and availability of water in key sourcing areas. Aiming for 100% of signatory businesses supporting collective action projects in critical sourcing locations for UK food & drink supply. Over the lifetime of Courtauld 2025, these projects aim to cover around half of the production area of fresh produce supply from water stressed locations, as well as key water stressed areas for arables and livestock. Each project will aim to deliver reductions in water stress, measured against the most important water stress impacts & metrics in that location (e.g. reduction in consumptive use, improved water quality status, nitrate/phosphate/sediment levels in local watercourses).
Initial focus will be on six UK catchment based project areas identified by the Rivers Trust as critical areas for sourcing key foods such as fresh produce, dairy and crops. All currently suffer water stress in terms of quantity and availability; or the quality of current supplies. The six areas are:
  • Cam & Ely Ouse and Broadlands (East Anglia),
  • Medway (South East),
  • Tamar (South West),
  • Eden (Cumbria), and
  • Wye & Usk (South West / Wales).
The scope of the Water Ambition will reach far beyond just the UK, with WWF helping to expand the scale of this work into international regions that have water risks. These include the Western Cape in South Africa; southern Spain; and the Kenyan regions of Naivasha, Nanyuki, Thika and Nairobi. Work is already underway in the UK locations, with established projects active on the ground through the Rivers Trust and other partners including BITC. The Water Ambition will act as a catalyst to help develop these projects by increasing industry participation, and generating new partnerships more widely. The projects aim to improve water quality and availability for local communities, for the wider environment and for greater resilience within supply chains. WRAP, which oversees business engagement in the projects, is keen to see the whole food and drink sector, and other interested parties, get involved and share in the Ambition. Peter Maddox, Director at WRAP explains; “Water stewardship is an area that none of us can afford to take for granted. The United Nations predict that global demand for fresh water will exceed supply by 40% in 2030 due to climate change, human action and population growth*. And in the UK, the supply chains that deliver more than half of our food are prone to disruptions like water scarcity. Eight of the top ten countries we import our food from are drought-prone, in fact. “The Courtauld Commitment 2025 Water Ambition is a practical response to the growing problem of water stress. With WWF, the Rivers Trust and other leading water experts we’ve created a collaborative programme that works on a localised level, dealing directly at source with issues specific within each catchment area. Under the umbrella of the Water Ambition, we can assess how individual projects are making a collective difference, and help scale these up.” Arlin Rickard, Chief Executive of The Rivers Trust strongly endorsed WRAP’s partnership approach and praised the signatories saying; “This commitment to the Water Ambition really takes Water Stewardship and the catchment based approach to the next level. We are all facing growing challenges that seriously impact on the quality and availability of water and contribute to the degradation of our soils, there has never been a more important time for collaborative action. By working together, The Rivers Trust, and our partners, will be able to deliver practical changes that will benefit business, communities and the environment.” Dr Conor Linstead, Freshwater Specialist at WWF says “We believe that the Courtauld Commitment 2025 is an exciting and significant development for water stewardship. There are very few examples of whole sectors coming together to work collectively on water challenges in shared sourcing areas. Our experience of working with businesses on water has shown that this level of scale-up – to whole sectors – is essential if we are to successfully protect our freshwater resources and ecosystems into the future, because no one business can tackle the issue alone.” The Courtauld Commitment 2025 Water Ambition has the support of some of the most influential businesses in the UK and WRAP is keen to hear from businesses who wish to get involved.
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