The word whisky comes from the Gaelic for 'water of life'. And water is life – for the communities where we operate, for the natural world, and for our business. Using this precious resource wisely is a high environmental priority.
Water is vital to us – it is our most important ingredient, it is essential to our production processes and fundamental to our brands, and it is used widely throughout our supply chain. It is also, of course, vital to everyone else – essential for the health and economic security of humankind, indispensable for all life on earth. Stewardship of water is integral to the sustainability of our business.
While water is a global necessity, water supplies are more stressed in some places than in others. We work hard to improve water efficiency around the globe, but place particular emphasis on stewardship at our production sites in water-stressed areas, which are often in regions where our business is growing.
According to the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, water stress occurs when annual water supplies drop below 1,700m3 per person. When supplies drop below 1,000m3 per person per year, a country faces water scarcity for all or part of the year.
Our three operational targets for water reflect our responsibilities – to use water more efficiently throughout our business, to improve the quality of the wastewater we discharge, and to minimise the water wasted in water-stressed sites. Increasingly, we also directly engage with our suppliers in agriculture to encourage sustainable water use.
But because water is uniquely valuable, our approach goes beyond the footprint of our value chain. Our Blueprint Water Framework outlines three main pillars for addressing water challenges: our global operations, community involvement and collective action. Our community involvement is particularly focused in Africa, where a range of our own programmes – providing boreholes, hand-dug wells, rainwater harvesting and domestic filtration – help increase access to clean water. More information on our programmes to provide access to clean water is available here. As a signatory of the CEO water mandate we also advocate for collective and innovative solutions to help solve the global water crisis. For example this year, we lobbied the US government to direct more aid to water problems in Africa.
Last year, we improved water efficiency by 7.2%, while the amount of water wasted at water-stressed sites fell by 8.6%. The polluting power of wastewater was reduced by 9.0% compared to the previous financial year. These results indicate that, year on year, we made good progress against all our water targets and are mostly on schedule to meet our 2015 commitments. They are particularly encouraging because, since two of these three targets are absolute figures, they show continued progress even as production has increased.
The following sections describe our progress against these targets in more detail: