In part 1 of the water scarcity blog, we discussed a general background of the water scarcity issue in Southeast Asia. In part two, we will dive deeper into how exactly businesses are tackling the water crisis by understanding the concept of water stewardship programmes.
Managing water risks requires deeper collaboration
Water stewardship comprises of a collaborative and multi-stakeholder approach to understanding the complex water issues and implementing the appropriate measures to manage water more efficiently. In a nutshell, the model is a platform for businesses to communicate with stakeholders, such as government agencies and non-governmental organisations (NGOs), to discuss the impacts of their water-related risks in their operations and supply chains.
The World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) has been actively promoting the model as a way for businesses to manage water better by making them more accountable to governments, NGOs and neighbouring communities. In addition, water stewardship is intended to boost transparency of water management strategies set in place by businesses, making it easier to quantify their effectiveness. The model can be viewed to incentivise profit-focused players to consider the benefits of engaging in water governance for the future of their businesses.
Case study: Vietnam’s textile industry
In Southeast Asia, water management efforts are still nascent, yet steps have been made to apply the water stewardship model. In Vietnam, the textile industry is an important sector supporting its economy as huge apparel conglomerates base their operations there. Thousands of factories support the textile industry, which provides livelihoods for millions of people. Euromonitor International estimates that textiles accounted for 16.3% of Vietnam’s total exports in 2019.
Water wastage, a by-product of production, is a huge problem in the textile industry as it pollutes neighbouring waterways. This negatively impacts the water quality and the overall standard of living for nearby communities due to the imbalance of the ecosystem and depleted biodiversity.
More technical support and expertise is needed to reduce water wastage in Vietnam’s textile sector
Major players in the textile industry are engaging with the water stewardship model. Not only does this mitigate water-related risks, it could also attract more foreign investments and meet the needs of consumers who are actively looking for sustainably produced garments.
Multinational companies, such as H&M, are collaborating with Small & Medium Enterprises (SMEs) and trade associations such as the Vietnam Business Council for Sustainable Development to transform the textile industry and identify opportunities where water can be managed more efficiently.
To date, the stewardship model has resulted in a detailed analysis of the water risks in Vietnam and a list of recommendations, such as providing more technical support on water management. This could be in the form of subsidised funding, which SMEs often lack, for workshops to inform decision makers on how to develop stricter water usage standards in the textile industry.
Challenges remain despite steps in the right direction
While the textile industry plays a crucial role in Vietnam’s economy, it is also one of the major contributors to pollution. Given the sheer number of multinational apparel brands based in Vietnam, it is imperative for them to work together with relevant stakeholders to manage water risks. Beyond the textile industry, the water stewardship model is a promising platform that should be implemented in other industries to maximise the collective efforts of sustainable water management.
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