Water is vital to sustaining manufacturing and agriculture, to the health and hygiene of our employees and the communities we operate in, and to keeping our facilities operational. To maintain operations in areas where water remains a key risk in respect of both availability and quality, we continuously implement innovative ways of ensuring that we proactively mitigate against some of the negative impacts associated with our operations, while at the same time minimising the risk to our business. Understanding our water risk and impact is essential for the sustainability of our operations. We have also established a systematic process of managing water across our operations, and in the various communities we work with.
We follow a collaborative approach of working with suppliers, farmers, academic institutions, community-based organisations, and bodies such as the WWF and the United Nations Global Compact CEO Water Mandate.
Our focus with regards to water is largely on:
The Group applies innovative solutions for monitoring and managing water consumption across our operations. With just over 60% of all water consumed by our direct operations (stores, distribution centres, and offices) in South Africa, this space has been one of our main focus points.
Using our internal green building protocols to facilitate water-efficient design, we have implemented technologies such as rainwater harvesting, and use of alternate water supplies such as groundwater, across our operations to help us use water efficiently. In a bid to save water, preference is given to the installation of air-cooled refrigeration and air-conditioning systems. We continue to consider the conversion of the few remaining water-cooled systems in our facilities to air-cooled systems, based on commercial viability and their remaining useful lives. All Woolworths facilities have dual-flush ablution systems and timer taps on basins. Where possible, we have installed greywater systems that help to retain as much water as possible on-site for reuse. In areas experiencing a shortage of water supply, we install backup water tanks on a needs basis.
Within the Group’s supply chain, water availability and quality impact the sourcing of our raw materials, as well as the processing of finished products. We have, therefore, invested in green infrastructure through water stewardship programmes. We also engage with our suppliers, helping to implement innovative solutions in their operations to monitor and manage water usage through programmes such as Farming for the Future, water stewardship, and green factories.
Woolworths works with schools in impoverished communities, helping to educate children about the importance of water conservation, sanitation, and good hygiene. This is linked to the Woolworths Educational Programme, which aims to support education, health, and wellbeing of children at South African schools. Aligned to this, we install water tanks at schools affected by drought, as well as those with inadequate infrastructure.
More information on the focus area and our performance thereon can be found in our annual Good Business Journey Report