The Alliance for Water Stewardship (AWS) is a multi-stakeholder organization dedicated to enhancing water stewardship capacity, and guiding, incentivizing and differentiating responsible water use. AWS employs three mutually-reinforcing programs to drive improved water stewardship: a standard and verification system, membership of a multi-stakeholder association, and training. Together, these programs are designed to build capacity and provide a forum through which knowledge on water stewardship can be generated, accessed and shared, helping us to address our shared water challenges. At the heart of all three programs is the stakeholder-endorsed AWS Standard.
Our Vision is that water users and managers are responsible water stewards, who protect and enhance freshwater resources for people and nature.
Our Mission is to promote responsible use of freshwater that is socially and economically beneficial as well as environmentally sustainable
Our network of regional partners make our system accessible to a wide range of stakeholders from industry, agriculture, public sector and civil society. Our innovative partnership-based approach allows global consistency to team up with local expertise, placing AWS at the leading edge of the drive for collective responses that address local water challenges.
What is Water Stewardship?
Stewardship is about taking care of something that we do not own. Stewardship approaches that focus on the management of public goods like forests, fisheries or, in our case, freshwater resources, are based on the premise that we are all accountable for the sustainable management of those resources and are, therefore, based on collective responses. We define water stewardship as
“The use of water that is socially equitable, environmentally sustainable and economically beneficial, achieved through a stakeholder-inclusive process that involves site and catchment-based actions. Good water stewards understand their own water use, catchment context and shared risk in terms of water governance, water balance, water quality and important water-related areas; and then engage in meaningful individual and collective actions that benefit people and nature.”
- Socially equitable water use recognizes and implements the human right to water and sanitation and helps to ensure human wellbeing and equity.
- Environmentally sustainable water use maintains or improves biodiversity, ecological and hydrological processes at the catchment level.
- Economically beneficial water use contributes to long-term sustainable economic growth and development and poverty alleviation for water users, local communities and society at large
- Internal actions: within the site and under the responsibility of the site management
- External: actions in collaboration with others in the catchment and including actions in the supply chain and the catchment as a whole.
- Water stewardship is intended to support and contribute to Integrated Water Resource Management by all actors.
History of AWS
AWS was born out of the realization that the scale of water challenges facing the world demands an approach that is both systematic and scalable. Drawing on lessons from other sustainability standards like the Forest Stewardship Council, the focus from the beginning has promoting water stewardship through a globally-consistent set of principles and criteria. Key milestones on the AWS journey to-date have been:
2008: Formation of the AWS by initial members
2009: Expansion of AWS Board, incorporation of AWS Inc., secondment of AWS staff
2010: Launch of Global Water Roundtable (the multi-stakeholder process to develop the AWS Standard) and pilot testing of draft regional Standards in Africa
2011: Formation of the International Standard Development committee and negotiation on the first draft of the AWS Standard. Initial development of model for multi-stakeholder governance. First Executive Director hired.
2012: Publication of first draft AWS Standard and public consultations on this draft. Consultations on multi-stakeholder governance.
2013: Publication of the Beta AWS Standard. Pilot tests and consultations on Beta AWS Standard. Further consultation on model for AWS governance and service delivery.
2014: Launch of AWS Standard v1.0. Launch of AWS membership and capacity development programs.
Global Water Roundtable
Beginning in July 2010, AWS launched the Global Water Roundtable- the name of the process that developed the AWS Standard. Based upon the ISEAL Alliance's Code of Good Practice for Setting Social and Environmental Standards, the Water Roundtable was a multi-stakeholder consensus-based process with meetings and pilots held throughout the world. Throughout the process, stakeholders were given the opportunity to provide input into how the Standard is shaped through online feedback, in-person meetings, and pilot testing. There were two formal 90-day review periods (Spring 2012, Autumn 2013), as well as general feedback opportunities at any point. The content of the AWS Standard was decided upon by a voluntary stakeholder body known as the International Standard's Development Committee.
International Standard Development Committee (ISDC)
The ISDC was the decision-making body that had the final say on the content of the AWS Standard. The ISDC was made up of 15 individuals who were appointed by the AWS Board to reflect the diversity of stakeholders throughout the world. Members of the ISDC were balanced according to region and sector.
The details of how the Water Roundtable operated, as well as the governance model behind the ISDC are provided in the Water Roundtable process document, which was published and reviewed by stakeholders in January 2011 and is available for download on the right of this page.
The ISDC met in-person a total of seven times:
ISDC 6: February 2013 in Brussels, Belgium
Hard copies of public summaries, AWS Standard v1.0 and drafts, and other materials available upon request.
Documents are on file for at least 5 years.
Participation and Complaint Resolution Policy:
To give feedback or ask questions on the Water Roundtable or the AWS Standard v1.0, please email Adrian Sym.
To issue a complaint please email Adrian Sym.
All contact information is available on our contact page.
Beta version of AWS Standard
First draft of AWS International Water Stewardship Standard
First Draft AWS Standard: Summary and Brief Overview
(PDF - 982KB)
AWS Standard Frist Draft - English
(PDF - 982KB)
AWS Standard Guidance - English
(PDF - 701KB)
AWS Standard First Draft - Espagnol / Spanish
(PDF - 1.2MB)
AWS Standard Guidance - Espagnol / Spanish
(PDF - 760KB)
AWS Standard First Draft - 中国的 / Chinese
(PDF - 1.61MB)
AWS Standard Guidance - 中国的 / Chinese
(PDF - 806KB)
AWS Standard First Draft - Francais / French
(PDF - 1.57MB)
AWS Standard Guidance - Francais / French
(PDF - 944KB)
AWS Standard First Draft - Português / Portuguese
(PDF - 1.14MB)
Water Roundtable Documents
(PDF - 1.4MB)
(PDF - 544KB)
(PDF - 136KB)
AWS brings together leading organizations from around the globe who are committed to the principles of water stewardship. Our Founding Partners are:
American Standard, CDP, Centre for Responsible Business, Centro del Agua para America Latina y el Caribe, Ecolab, European Water Partnership, Fundacion Chile, Fundacion FEMSA, Future500, General Mills, The Gold Standard Foundation, Hindustan Unilever Foundation, Inghams Enterprises, Marks & Spencer, Murray Darling Basin Authority, Nestle, Pacific Institute, Sealed Air, United Nations Environment Programme, the UN Global Compact’s CEO Water Mandate, The Nature Conservancy, The Water Council, Veolia, Water Environment Federation, Water Footprint Network, Water Stewardship Australia, Water Witness International, WaterAid and WWF.
AWS is currently transitioning to a multi-stakeholder and membership-based organization. We expect this transition to be complete by mid- to late-2014.
Once multi-stakeholder governance is implemented, AWS will be governed by its members. The highest decision making body of AWS will be the General Assembly of members. The AWS Board will be elected by the members to oversee and manage the organization between General Assemblies. A Technical Committee will also be elected by the members to review and approve changes to AWS standards and related material, and ensure the integrity and quality control of the AWS system. Regional partners play a key role in the AWS governance system by ensuring adequate and balanced representation of regional stakeholders in the governance of AWS at an international level. A full outline of AWS governance and membership can be donloaded using the link on the right side of this page.
Board of Directors
We are currently transitioning to a multi-stakeholder governance structure in which Board members will be elected by AWS members. Until this transition is complete, we are governed by our Board Organizations. Our current Board of Directors consists of designated representatives all ten of these Board Organizations. At present the Board of Directors is:
- Michael Spencer (Chair), representing Water Stewardship Australia
- Kevin Agnew, representing the CEO Water Mandate
- Thomas Chiramba, representing UNEP
- Lisa Wojnarowski Downes, representing The Nature Conservancy
- Nick Hepworth, representing Water Witness International
- Cate Lamb, representing the CDP
- Jason Morrison, representing the Pacific Institute
- Alexis Morgan, representing World Wildlife Fund
- Matt Ries, representing the Water and Environment Federation
- Tom Vereijken, representing the European Water Partnership
Adrian Sym, Executive Director
Adrian Sym joined the Alliance for Water Stewardship (AWS) as Executive Director in 2011. Adrian has a diverse range of experiences in the international development sector, including with social and environmental standards, and in running his own business. Adrian joined AWS from Fairtrade International, where he led Fairtrade’s partnerships program. Before this, Adrian worked for many years on disability-related programs in South Asia (Bangladesh and Nepal).
His diverse experience, together with his academic background (Masters in International Policy and Diplomacy), has helped to shape Adrian's view on sustainable development, believing that true development can only be achieved through effective partnerships amongst and between stakeholder groups.
Adrian is based in Edinburgh, where he lives with his wife, Natasha, and children, Delta and Jamison.
Mark Dent, AWS Regional Manager Southern Africa
Mark Dent is our Regional Manager for Southern Africa. Prior to joining the AWS, Mark was well known, nationally and internationally, for his thought leadership on water stewardship, his academic expertise and technical proficiency related to water stewardship. Mark also served on our advisory group for the Southern Africa region.
Mark holds a PhD in Agricultural Engineering, specialising in water resources research, teaching and civil society engagement. He also holds a Masters Degree in Business Leadership in which he specialised and later lectured in Organisational Change. He acted as Director of the Graduate School of Business, University of KwaZulu-Natal. For 16 years Mark managed a national computing centre for water research, the product of a public private partnership between IBM and the Water Research Commission
Mark has published and researched widely at what could broadly be described as the modelling and discipline integration space related to water stewardship. For the past 11 years he has become known nationally and internationally for his Catchment Management Agency Leadership Letters, which have contributed to shaping the discourse towards water stewardship in southern Africa.
Mark lives in Pietermaritzburg, South Africa.
Matt Howard, AWS Director, North America
Matt Howard is AWS’s AWS Director for North America. From his base within our regional partner, the Water Council, Matt leads implementation of AWS’s program in the region. Prior to joining AWS, Matt served as Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett’s Sustainability Director from 2010 to 2015. In that capacity, he oversaw the energy efficiency improvement of over 1,300 Milwaukee homes and over 200 businesses and manufacturers and launched Milwaukee’s first sustainability plan – ReFresh Milwaukee. His programs stimulated nearly $30 million in economic activity and saved tax-payers over $1 million annually while reducing emissions and pollution.
Matt also spent 11 years with the U.S. Department of Commerce in Washington, DC working on a variety of national economic issues including his creation of a national Sustainable Manufacturing Initiative. During this time, he advised Commerce's Chief Economist on the Department's first green jobs report, worked with the White House Council on Environmental Quality on implementing the Administration's Green Government directive and advised the U.S. House of Representatives, Committee on Ways and Means on trade and economic development issues.
Matt was recently appointed by the EPA Administrator to the National Advisory Council on Environmental Policy and Technology. He has a B.A. and M.A. in international economics and is a LEED and Lean Six Sigma accredited professional. Matt lives in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) Alliance for Water Stewardship
The following pages provide answers to some of the most commonly asked questions regarding the organization of AWS, the AWS Standard and related aspects of AWS’s work.
What is the Alliance for Water Stewardship (AWS)?
The Alliance for Water Stewardship Inc. (AWS) is a registered non-profit dedicated to promoting water stewardship. It is membership-based, and operates three primary programs all focused on a deep, applied knowledge of water stewardship. .
What does AWS do?
AWS operates a global water stewardship system, launched in 2014 to promote and reward sustainable use of water by users. At the heart of the system lies an international water stewardship standard which outlines globally consistent criteria for responsible water use. The AWS Standard was established, and continues to be maintained through a multi-stakeholder governance structure. Supporting the AWS Standard lies a credible verification system that enables evaluation of conformance against the Standard. Lastly, AWS, in an effort to grow the global capacity of water stewardship, operates a water stewardship training program.
Who are the members of the Alliance for Water Stewardship?
In 2009, AWS began with ten organizations, who helped steward the organization through its formative stages. In 2014, AWS was opened to general membership and began with a number of founding partners. AWS now includes: AWS Founding Partners are American Standard, CDP, Centre for Responsible Business, Centro del Agua para America Latina y el Caribe, Ecolab, European Water Partnership, Fundacion Chile, Fundacion FEMSA, Future500, General Mills, The Gold Standard Foundation, Hindustan Unilever Foundation, Inghams Enterprises, Marks & Spencer, Murray Darling Basin Authority, Nestle, Pacific Institute, Sealed Air, United Nations Environment Programme, the UN Global Compact’s CEO Water Mandate, The Nature Conservancy, The Water Council, Veolia, Water Environment Foundation, Water Footprint Network, Water Stewardship Australia, Water Witness International, WaterAid and WWF.
How can I become a member of the Alliance?
Any organization interested in becoming a member of the AWS may apply to the AWS governance body. All applicants must be dedicated to furthering the cause of the AWS and dedicated to advancing the cause of water stewardship wherever they operate. The existing membership body will have executive decision over the acceptance of new members.
What is the objective of the International Water Stewardship Standard?
The Standard’s overall objective is to encourage sites to pursue responsible water stewardship. It does this by outlining actions that help sites address their shared water challenges and mitigate their water risks. The end result is the furthering of AWS’s mission including the minimization of negative impacts and the maximization of the positive impacts of social, environmental and economic water use.
Why would I want to use the AWS Standard?
The AWS Standard is intended to help users implement responsible water stewardship that can help to mitigate against your water risks, address your shared water challenges, improve your efficiency and ultimately strengthen your reputation of a user through verified claims. Implementers of the AWS Standard may gain access to markets, address investor concerns, and help to drive innovation and new business opportunities. Promoters of the AWS Standard may be able to drive change in water resource management and thereby address their water-related concerns.
What is the difference between an implementer and a promoter of the AWS Standard?
An implementer is a specific site, facility, farm or geographically-bounded operation that is putting the AWS Standard into practice. A promoter is not directly implementing the standard, but rather encouraging others to implement and “using” the standard to advance their interests. For example, a farm that was using water may choose to be an implementer to address their shared water challenges, while the retailer that sources from that farm (or investors in the retail company), may be promoters to address their supply chain water risks.
Who is the target audience for the AWS Standard?
The AWS Standard may be implemented by a water user, but will likely prove to be more helpful for larger water users as they will see bigger benefits, as will those operating in water stressed environments. This includes implementation by farmers, factories, manufacturing facilities, water service providers / utilities, and any other individual sites that withdraw or consume large volumes of water in catchments facing challenges related to water availability or water quality. The Standard may be implemented by smaller sites and entities, but may require such sites to work together and/or gain assistance to complete all of the requirements of the Standard. Furthermore, the AWS Standard is intended to be more broadly ‘used’ (via promotion, as a framework, to inform public policy, etc.) by others affected by water use (e.g., civil society, public sector, purchasing companies with supply chain water risk concerns, investors concerned about water risk, etc.).
How can the AWS Standard be used?
The AWS Standard can be used:
- broadly used as a framework to guide water stewardship and link water initiatives/tools
- as a “how to” guide for responsible water stewardship
- as the basis for conformance under AWS verification and making AWS-related claims.
How much will the AWS Standard cost to use?
The AWS Standard is free to download and use. Implementation costs will vary with the site and context.
How will verification of the AWS Standard work?
The AWS verification system is currently developed as an advanced draft which will further solicit input from AWS members and undergo field testing before it is finalized. As such, the details of how verification will work are still to be fully determined, but will, at least, involve independent verification in some form.
I’m already working with another standard and certification system, so why do I need to implement the AWS Standard?
Many existing standards have some degree of water consideration built into them already. However, AWS has found that the manner in which they handle water is typically very limited in scope and internally-focused. Since water is a shared resource, addressing internal water efficiency and water quality is insufficient to adequately address water related challenges and risks. Accordingly, by implementing both a sector-standard and the AWS Standard, you can be sure to address both the sectoral issues as well as the shared water issues.
Will the AWS Standard have an ecolabel associated with it and who will be its target audience?
While the verification system is still under development, it is likely that AWS will offer a logo of some kind. It is likely that the target audience will be businesses, similar to a standard such as ISO 14001, however AWS has not ruled out the possibility of creating a consumer facing ecolabel.
How was the AWS Standard developed?
In July 2010, AWS launched the Global Water Roundtable- the process that developed the AWS International Water Stewardship Standard. Based upon the ISEAL Alliance’s Code of Good Practice for Setting Social and Environmental Standards, the Water Roundtable sought out a multi-stakeholder consensus through meetings and field-tests held throughout the world.
The content of the AWS Standard was decided upon by the International Standard Development Committee (ISDC). This multi-sectoral, multi-regional stakeholder group was open to applicants and selected by the AWS to represent the diversity of stakeholder interests from around the world. The ISDC, which disbanded with the launch of the AWS Standard, wasmade up of 15 individual stakeholders from eight defined regions (covering the whole world) and three defined groups: public sector agencies, business and water service providers, and civil society organizations. These members are listed on the cover of the AWS Standard (version 1.0)
What inputs did the ISDC use to inform its decision making?
During the development of the AWS Standard, the ISDC used inputs from early AWS regional efforts in Australia, Europe, Latin America and the Caribbean and North America. Specifically, it drew upon the draft Australian and European regional standards; stakeholder inputs gathered from events held in Latin America and North America; and previous work undertaken, including the initial Water Roundtable Launch report and a study on the use of water stewardship standards in Africa, were all considered by the ISDC in producing the first draft.
The AWS Standard solicited two rounds of public input (90 days and 270 days respectively)through an online platform, events, webinars, newsletters, and face-to-face conversations which resulted in thousands of comments from hundreds of stakeholders. In addition, the Beta AWS Standard (also known as the second draft), was field tested at 13 different sites in five regions and eight sectors allowing it to incorporate on-the-ground experience. All of the above information was made fully available to the ISDC and was also synthesized by the AWS Secretariat for the ISDC to incorporate into their decision making.
Will AWS also develop regional water stewardship standards?
No. At this time, the intention is to maintain a single international Standard with the exception of Europe, where the European Water Stewardship system will operate as a regional equivalent. AWS has always recognized that water issues vary not only by region by local catchment and accordingly, will expand the AWS Standard’s guidance (Appendix B) through time with member and stakeholder input. There is no timeline to establish regional guidance.
Will AWS also develop sectoral water stewardship standards?
No. Like regional-specificity, AWS recognizes that different sectors use water in very different ways. There is an expectation that, in addition to the AWS Standard’s Guidance (Appendix B), there will be a need for supplementary guidance for different sectors. Like the regional guidance mentioned above, there is no current timeline to establish sectoral guidance.
How can water utilities and service providers use the Standard, particularly in urban areas?
Many cities are experiencing profound challenges as the demand for freshwater, and the ability of service providers to meet that demand, are stretched. Water utilities and water service providers, both in urban and non-urban settings, have shown a strong interest since the formation of AWS and been identified as implementers of the AWS Standard.
The complexities of urban governance present many challenges in developing the International Standard. Individual cities have different agendas and motivations for adopting policy choices, and that these policy choices are linked to their own unique historical, economic, geographic, political and demographic profiles. The multi-stakeholder-based approach of stewardship is well suited to addressing water management challenges in urban areas and the consultation and testing phases helped us to identify how the Standard could be adopted by utilities and applied in urban areas.
Can I my site be verified to the AWS Standard?
No – not yet. AWS has an advanced draft verification system completed but wishes to wait for further member input and field testing using the AWS Standard (version 1.0) before finalizing. Accordingly, you’ll need to wait a few more months as the AWS hopes to have a system finalized and operating by the end of 2014.
Will AWS employ first party verification, third-party verification or both?
At this time, AWS has not decided on the exact nature of verification, but it is likely that an approved/accredited third-party system will play some role with Certification Approval Bodies (CABs) helping to inform the shape of the system. No matter what, as an associate member of the International Social and Environmental Accreditation and Labelling Alliance (ISEAL), AWS is committed to a credible verification system.
What will be the unit of verification?
Again, while this is still to be formally decided, it is likely that the verification system will focus on the site level or a group of sites (under certain circumstances). At this time, AWS is not exploring verification of catchments, but has not entirely ruled it out.
How do the performance levels in the AWS Standard relate to the verification system?
The AWS Standard has been built to recognize (and incentivize) higher levels of performance. It does this through aggregation of points secured from completing advanced level criteria. Accordingly, once the verification system is complete claims will vary depending on the performance of the site against the various core and advanced criteria.
How is AWS going to ensure the credibility of claims made against the Standard, especially those made by multinational corporations?
The AWS Standard is designed to promote stewardship actions at the site and catchment levels. Catchment-based actions are, by nature, collective actions. Therefore, even if an implementer of the Standard is a multinational corporation, compliance will require their site to reach out to other stakeholders in that catchment. In other words, using the Standard will require the inclusion of different actors from various sectors at the local level. Furthermore, since the
The AWS Standard also requires measurement and disclosure of both process and performance information to stakeholders. Accordingly, AWS believes that this Standard will provide scientifically-based, verifiable evidence behind claims of actions and impacts and thus prevent false claims from being made.
Participation by civil society organizations from throughout the world during the drafting of the Standard was also critical in ensuring the credibility of the AWS Standard (version 1.0).
How much will verification cost?
To be determined. It is the goal of AWS that the Standard and verification system are as broadly accessible as possible.
The costs associated with verification will likely vary from site to site and location to location. During testing of the verification system in 2014, AWS hopes to be able to generate more accurate cost information for those interested.
Will there be a product label to recognize AWS compliance?
To be determined. Water stewardship presents certain challenges related to product labelling that are less prominent in other social and environmental standards. One of the main issues to be resolved is whether verifying a site, e.g. a factory or farm, rather than an enterprise as a whole, provides a feasible basis for product labelling as, in many cases, the site would not be producing the final, consumer product. The feasibility of a product label will be determined throughout the consultation and testing phases of the Standard.
How is AWS enabling the participation of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) and the public sector?
AWS recognizes that both the Standard and the verification system cannot achieve their potential impacts without being accessible, relevant and providing benefits for public sector agencies, smaller businesses, smallholder farmers, etc. Each of those sectors also needs to be able to see that their interests are being served. AWS is taking several steps to make sure that the AWS Standard and verification system are accessible to all audiences. First, the AWS Standard was built with all users in mind and was tested in the field with a range of users, including small holder farmers and public sector utilities. Second, AWS will be employing a training program on water stewardship which will help to build awareness, understanding and capacity for implementing water stewardship. Where possible, AWS will seek to provide such courses to groups who cannot afford them. Third, AWS will likely offer group verification within its verification system, thereby allowing smallholders to work together to address the costs of verification. AWS is committed to taking further efforts, in so far as possible, to continually improve the accessibility and affordability of its water stewardship system.
How is AWS working with the Water Footprint Network?
AWS is a sponsoring partner of the Water Footprint Network (WFN) and WFN is a founding partner of AWS. Additionally, we have a memorandum of understanding with WFN which outlines our intention to work closely with each other as we develop our respective programs. The AWS Standard does not explicitly reference use of any specific water measurement or accounting tool, rather leaves it open to the entity to select the most appropriate tool for its circumstances. However, the guidance within the AWS Standard does reference potential approaches, including those offered by WFN. We are committed to working with the Water Footprint Network as our respective organizations evolve, and expect that the four major steps of the WFN methodology (scope, accounting, basin sustainability, and response) will be widely used by entities aiming to have their performance verified against the AWS Standard.
What is the relationship between AWS and ISO processes?
The International Organization for Standardization (ISO) is a standard setting body with numerous industry- or industrial sector-specific standards. Water stewardship goes beyond any single industry or industrial sector, and focuses on broader social and environmental concerns. As with WFN (mentioned above), use of ISO standards is not a requirement of the AWS draft Standard, but we expect ISO standards will be widely used by entities aiming to have their performance verified against the AWS Standard. Furthermore, use of select ISO standards such as ISO 14001 does gain recognition within the AWS Standard.
Will AWS offer equivalency with other standards?
AWS does currently offer equivalency with the European Water Stewardship system and is committed to exploring opportunities for equivalency with other standard systems, especially those which heavily impact water resources, such as food systems. We expect this to be an area that is developed throughout the coming years.
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