Water stewardship - Why businesses can do more

By Jens Rupp, Environmental Sustainability Lead, Philip Morris International
Today’s news headlines are replete with reports warning of increased water shortages in many developed parts of the world in the next two decades, unless drastic action is taken to reduce water consumption and avoid water waste.

Meanwhile, in the developing world, there are still billions of people –and often those who are most vulnerable in society— living without access to safe drinking water and sanitation.

As we mark World Water Day today (March 22), it’s an opportunity for all of us –from governments to business to individuals– to reflect on how we can become better water stewards.

At Philip Morris International (PMI), we’re setting an example in the field. Doubtless, there are some who believe that there is nothing to learn from a tobacco company, yet we have an ambition to become a leader in sustainable business practices and our efforts to improve our environmental record have been recognized globally by CPD (formerly the Carbon Disclosure Project). For the fifth year in a row we have been named on their Climate A-list for our comprehensive action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, mitigate climate change and for transparency in our reporting practices, a rating achieved by only the top two per cent of the 6,800 companies surveyed.

What are we doing? We recognize that water scarcity is a global issue and one that we can play a role in helping to address – every day, not just once a year. The first step is to realize it’s not just about reducing consumption, important as that is. It’s also about responsibly using the water without negatively impacting the needs of others.

Transforming our water usage is an integral part of our transformation to create a world without cigarettes. Our smoke-free vision brings with it many challenges but also many opportunities to enhance our environmental sustainability across our operations as we transition our business away from a traditional tobacco manufacturer to become a science and technology leader. That’s because our new smoke-free products require approximately four times more water per unit of product to make compared to conventional cigarettes. Our focus is clear: We’re gearing our efforts toward improving water efficiency throughout the manufacturing process by implementing new process designs, reusing or recycling water, and using rainwater harvesting where feasible, with a view to minimum water discharge.

In 2010, we set ourselves a goal to reduce our water consumption in our manufacturing facilities by 20 percent by 2015. We beat the target – achieving a 24 percent reduction in that time. To support our water conservancy efforts, in 2017, we became a member of the Alliance for Water Stewardship (AWS). Our affiliate in Brazil became the first company in the country to have a factory certified by AWS in March last year, while our factory in Portugal has just recently become the first PMI factory in Europe to achieve the AWS certification. And we are not stopping there: We’re rolling out plans that will make our manufacturing sites in Italy, Indonesia, Russia and Turkey all AWS certified by June this year with plans to certify a further five facilities by year-end, and achieve AWS certifications for all of our factories by 2025.

PMI colleagues receive the Alliance for Water Stewardship certification for our factory in Brazil (March 2018).

Today, businesses can no longer sit back and do the bare minimum required. We all need to be proactive and take collective ownership to help tackle the impact of climate change, while recognizing that we can achieve much more by working together. In celebrating World Water Day, we acknowledge Sustainable Development Goal 6 and “ensuring availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all by 2030”. But as the calls for action from government environmental agencies increasingly make clear, this is no longer a conversation about providing access to fresh water in areas where none exists – it’s also about good stewardship of water supplies in affluent parts of the world to prevent it from running out in the near future. At PMI, we’re committed to doing our bit and we stand ready to work with others to achieve meaningful change.

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