The need for management of water resources across manufacturing units is more paramount today than ever before. And many steps have been incorporated to reduce both consumption and waste, thereby reducing impact on the environment. A growing number of companies are now treating ‘sustainability’ as an important objective in their strategy to increase growth and global viability. This trend has gone well beyond those companies who initially labelled themselves as ‘green’, and now includes prominent names across sectors. However, much is yet to be done in India.
India ranked second from the bottom on the Global Water Quality Index and has approximately 600 million people who suffer from high to extreme water stress every day. In fact, according to a Niti Aayog report, 84% of the rural homes in India do not have any access to piped water. Since clean, high-quality water is an essential ingredient for all products in the beverage industry, majority of a company’s manufacturing units must be located near a water body. While distilling is a water-intensive process, water is a scarce resource which must be cherished with a fierce determination. Therefore, a real-time water management strategy is imperative, and technology can be the differentiator in developing it.
Finding a solution that fits
Determining a typical or constant ratio of water use for the production of spirits isn’t easy. For instance, producing malt whiskey in pot stills requires more water than grain distilling. There are several factors that may contribute to this difference in water usage. Firstly, the technology implemented across manufacturing units may differ in age, where in some places the technology used may be two years old, whereas for others, it may be 5 years old. This discrepancy in age may adversely impact the amount of water that needs to be used in the production of alcoholic beverages.
Secondly, source water quality has a hand to play in the quantity of water required as well. With malt distillation itself, grain distilling is the most water efficient because water is derived straight from the raw material. For example, if spirits are made from sugarcane juice, a large quantity of water can be used straight from the sugarcane itself. That becomes a source of water for manufacturing units. The same can be said when producing malt whiskey through grain distilling. Therefore, finding a one-size-fits-all solution is not on the cards. However, this dilemma has not stopped spirits manufacturers from taking necessary steps to optimize water consumption and increase water efficiency at a manufacturing level.
Managing water risk is a business necessity
While water scarcity is a national problem, its impacts and causes are often very local. Addressing water scarcity means catering to thousands of local water crises that are affecting the availability and quality of water. Poor sanitation, change in land use, competing demands—all these have an integral role to play in long-term water security in a region.
In some regions, water scarcity has left a detrimental impact on the lives and livelihoods of the locals, as well as their ecosystem. For example, take a locality in Rajasthan which is highly water stressed. In this instance, Water stress assessments must be done within a five-km radius so that those who are impacted can enjoy the benefit of any water conservation initiatives introduced. While some industries extract 1-million-meter³ in areas where it is convenient, this still does not solve the purpose. Therefore, the risks associated with manufacturing units must be looked at from a local perspective and the initiatives that are introduced must cater to the local population. companies extract And, manufacturing units present in this region are not immune. For instance, Diageo has 48 manufacturing units spread across 29 states in India. Today, almost 90% of these manufacturing units are close to water-stressed regions which is why it becomes imperative for a water stress assessment to be carried out every three years, forming the base for community initiatives that encourage water replenishment. Therefore, it’s never been more important to save water and efficiently manage any water-related risk that may arise.
Taking water conservation up a notch
To implement an efficient and sustainable water management strategy, alcobev manufacturers must go back to the drawing board. Companies must identify their KPIs and set challenging long-term and short-term water efficiency improvements goals. A top driven and Bottom approach will be critical in this regard. Unless the top-level management does not take the onus, water usage cannot be closely monitored. This makes the water conversation KPI, which is essentially non-financial in nature, more workable. At every step, manufacturers must consider the complexity of the process, products, water source, and quality of water. And finally, a sustainable model must be inculcated that tracks water efficiency improvement year on year.
This model can then be evolved based on the best industry practices. When a KPI (whether long or short term) is introduced, it’s relevance to the overall agenda is monitored by top-level leadership. If they think that it is not achievable, then the KPI is reset, or on the other hand, if it is overachieved, then they can include focused KPIs as well. In every step, constant monitoring and reviewing makes a world of difference. For instance, at Diageo, our 2020 targets were underpinned with the water crisis we had on our hands and the need for a comprehensive platform for accelerating best practices in water use. However, Diageo faced these challenges head on and successfully executed their 2020 strategy, against all odds.
As the economy continues to grow and the demand for water increases, the focus on the efficient use of water resources continues to hold tremendous significance at Diageo. Taking this commitment forward, the spirits manufacturer is now ready with a 10-year action plan called Society 2030 – Spirit of Progress. The goal is to reduce water usage by 30% for every drink made by 2030.
Water efficiency progress has always been a critical parameter for individual manufacturing sites. Furthermore, Diageo’s involvement in water conservation goes way beyond the confines of recycling and includes sanitation and gender equality. In fact, in Diageo India, water is cutting across themes and includes interventions in health, livelihood, women empowerment, and so forth.
Reducing the use of water in spirits manufacturing has meant changing the way we think. In the past, water was undervalued by manufacturers—despite its importance in operations. This mindset has changed since then. Companies are now implementing efficient water assessment processes which help focus their efforts on places where water quality poses a risk to the environment, people, and operations. By following the simple method of the 3Rs (Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle), companies can track water usage and conserve the resource wherever necessary. Furthermore, if we were to go beyond the 3Rs and completely eliminate the need for water from the system with breakthrough technology, then that will set the pace for manufacturing units across the country. This extended vision will help transform the scenario of water consumption in the alcobev industry and improve operations across sites in water-stressed regions.
(The above news was originally posted on indiacsr.in and was authored by Pazhani V, Head. The author Pazhani V is Head of Sustainability at DIAGEO India)