Woolworths is the first retailer to join the World Wide Fund for Nature’s (WWF) Water Neutral Scheme. The scheme, launched late last year in association with the government’s Working for Water programme seeks to encourage corporates to become ‘water neutral’. Woolworths aims to become 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. This offsets Woolworths direct use of water resources, ultimately making the company water neutral as well as creating employment. The project is a 20 year commitment. Speaking at the launch of WWF’s Water Blueprint report in Johannesburg, Justin Smith, Woolworths Good business journey manager said, “At least 60% of the country’s water resource is used in farming irrigation, and Woolworths is deeply committed to preserving this precious resource. We have a long history of working with our suppliers to influence change and believe in working together to manage our environmental impacts responsibly.” According to Rodney February, Programme Manager of the WWF Water Neutral Scheme, 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. Deon Nel, head of the WWF Living Waters Partnership , salutes Woolworths for its efforts, “South Africa will, by 2025, have 1.7% less water than it requires, and at the present rate of consumption, we could run out of drinking water by 2040. We applaud Woolworths for its water neutrality strategy and believe that the company is a global example of how corporate South Africa can work with government and NGOs to find a solution that will benefit all.” The Water Neutral Scheme falls under the WWF’s Living Waters programme and is a partnership between the government’s Working for Water Programme and WWF South Africa. 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. The removal of invasive alien plants on supplier farms and in protected areas in the Western Cape is only part of the Woolworths water strategy. “Woolworths is also on target to achieve the goal of reducing relative water consumption throughout the group by 30% by 2012,” says Smith. “Head office water consumption is down by 13% and stores by 5% over the last year. This is significant, not only for conservation, but also as clear proof that sustainability can deliver cost savings, which can be added to the bottom line.” Woolworths commitment to preserve water resources and use water responsibly is inspired by Woolworths Good business journey – an ongoing plan to make a difference in our communities, our country and our world. Woolworths other water management initiatives: -Woolworths measures the amount of water used by suppliers and works with them to reduce water use and improve water waste management during growing, production and manufacture. Within the Foods unit this work includes the reduction of pesticides, fertilizers and water usage for irrigation. -Woolworths is well-established as the country’s leading retailer in certified organic fresh produce. -Woolworths has entrenched a strict code of conduct regarding dyes (including the removal of Azodyes) in the supply chain, which preserves water quality. -Woolworths works with the CSIR to identify South African arable areas that are likely to struggle with water scarcity due to the impacts of climate change and to incorporate this thinking in its supply chain strategy. -The company is committed to water conservation education. Woolworths delivers talks at learning institutions, assists to educate its supply chain and provides valuable water savings tips and advice to both customers and employees. -When evaluating real estate opportunities, Woolworths considers whether the design of the property will enable the use of water and water waste more efficiently. This includes storage and use of recycled and grey water systems, changing the air conditioning systems, retaining as much water on the premises as possible for re-use, use of indigenous shrubs and ground cover to minimize irrigation needs and allowing rainwater to be stored and used. Ends Note to editors: