Over the course of the current year increasing attention has been focused on water scarcity and quality as key issues for South Africa’s development. South Africa is a water scarce country. In addition, the quality of our water is increasingly threatened, in part by industrial and agricultural activity.
The majority of South Africa’s water resource is used in farming irrigation, and Woolworths, as a major supplier of fresh produce, has to play a role in water conservation. According to WWF-SA the stress placed on South Africa’s scarce water resources has resulted in more than 84% of mainstream freshwater ecosystems being classified as ‘threatened’ in a recent national survey.
We are deeply committed to being part of the solution and have a long history of working with our suppliers to influence change. We will continue to ensure that our business and supply chain activity conserves our precious water resources.
Woolworths has committed to reducing water usage and managing waste water and water effluent. All suppliers who make fabric for our clothes adhere to very strict standards. No materials, dyes or chemicals used in the production of Woolworths clothing or textiles pose an unacceptable risk to health – or to the environment – during their manufacture or disposal. We continue to entrench our strict code of conduct regarding dyes (including the removal of Azodyes), chemicals and water management in our supply chain.
Woolworths’ programme includes the following measures:
Woolworths is the only retailer to form part of the World Wide Fund for Nature’s (WWF) Water Neutral Scheme. The scheme, launched in association with the government’s Working for Water programme, encourages corporates to become water neutral. The programme has multiple objectives of reducing the impact of invasive alien plants on our water supplies, improving the productive potential of land, restoring biodiversity and ecosystems function as well as creating jobs and economic empowerment.
Woolworths is water neutral by eliminating invasive water-thirsty alien plants on supplier farms and in protected areas, such as the Tankwa Karoo National Park. The project will release enough water into South Africa’s water system to offset the water used by Woolworths operations each year, ultimately making the company water neutral. Woolworths will also fund the training and employment of workers who will remove alien plants, thereby creating employment as well as managing its environmental impacts responsibly. The project is a 20-year commitment.
According to WWF approximately 7% of South Africa’s average annual run-off is used by alien and invasive plants. By assisting to eliminate these plants, Woolworths makes a meaningful contribution towards conserving water resources well into the future.
When evaluating new real estate opportunities, Woolworths considers if the design of the property enables the efficient use of water and water waste. This includes:
Such measures have already been implemented at the distribution centre in Midrand.
Head office facilities have shown a 24% decrease in water usage from our 2008 benchmark and we have also achieved a 27% reduction in relative usage in stores (2008 benchmark: 122 kl/m2). This is significant, not only for conservation, but also as clear proof that sustainability can deliver cost savings.
Farming for the future measures the water required for the plant and irrigation is used only if and when required. Early indications show a significant water saving. The conservative use of chemicals also prevents fertilisers and pesticides from possible fresh water contamination.
We’re pleased to say by 2012 all our locally grown fresh produce (other than organically certified produce) will be grown this way.
The farming for the future audit results have again highlighted the need for us to focus on water consumption and waste water management in the Foods supply chain. The project with the German Development Agency (GTZ) focusing on waste water management in 66 foods packhouses is going to be extended to wine and dairy suppliers.
Woolworths suppliers’ efforts
Both suppliers are previous winners of Woolworths eco-efficiency award that recognises suppliers for excellence in sustainable business practice.